Thursday, December 21, 2020

Yet More Last Minute Holiday Gifts to Yourself

This will be my final posting until after the holidays, so I’ll start by wishing you all a good time and the best of whatever you wish for yourself in the New Year. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ll still be monitoring comments during my break, so please don’t feel inhibited from adding your thoughts.

Today’s posting covers the last—but very far from the least—of the gifts you could give yourself at this time of year. The two earlier postings can be found here and here.

7. The gift of simply being who you are.
Most people live under a merciless tyranny: the tyranny of constantly needing to live up to someone’s expectations. Our own expectations can be bad enough, full of unrealistic dreams and unfulfilled hopes. But when you add two other sets of expectations—those of the people around us and those imposed by our society—the combined load can be crippling. Much of the unhappiness and frustration to be found in organizations is caused directly by people struggling with unrealizable expectations. With performance appraisal season coming up, now is a very good time to see all these demands for what they are: either attempts by your own ego to increase its status, or attempts by others to get what they want by using you to provide it for them.

Whatever the reason, most of us assume that we can influence events that are, in reality, due to blind chance. And that other people are far more concerned and interested in us that they truly are—which is, typically, scarcely at all.
As if this load wasn’t bad enough on its own, we often add another: a willingness to accept responsibility for outcomes or events that are nothing to do with us. Maybe we all like to exaggerate our own importance. Maybe we need to feel some measure of control over our world. Whatever the reason, most of us assume that we can influence events that are, in reality, due to blind chance. And that other people are far more concerned and interested in us that they truly are—which is, typically, scarcely at all.

The antidote is simple: accept yourself for who and what you are. Take some time to look carefully at events, distinguishing where you can truly influence the outcome, and where nothing will change, whatever you do. Don’t take on additional burdens of guilt or responsibility for what you cannot affect. If other people try to hand you responsibility for something that is outside your control, politely hand it back.

We are conditioned by our society to value achievement. That is no bad thing in itself, but it very easily loses its moorings in reality. When that happens, you are no longer able to see when enough is enough.

Burnout, work-relayed stress, workaholism, and a slew of mental and physical miseries associated with stress and overwork, all stem from the failure to let go before harm is done.
That’s the real reason behind all the corporate scandals. Those greedy executives and obsessed Wall Street analysts had lost all grasp of reality. They could no longer understand that enough was enough, so they drove themselves onward, finally resorting to criminal acts in a frenzy to achieve still more. Many sports people injure themselves for the same reason. Climbers and other devotees of extreme sports kill themselves when they fail to accept that simple truth. Burnout, work-relayed stress, workaholism, and a slew of mental and physical miseries associated with stress and overwork, all stem from the failure to let go before harm is done.

When is enough enough?
  • When you have done your best and can do no more without personal injury, breeching the bounds of ethics, harming others, or resorting to illegal activities.

  • When it is clear that a hope, a dream, an expectation, or a vision is not going to happen.

  • When some plan is not working now, and will not work in the future, without doing harm to others, lying, cheating, or fiddling the figures.

  • When the cost of some enterprise, in terms of hours worked, people harmed, relationships ruined, or principles and values compromised, exceeds any possible benefit in anything but monetary terms.

  • When continuing in the same direction will destroy any civilized standards of workplace action.

  • When the only outcome is more money, more status, more power, or more responsibility—and you cannot spend the money, wield the power, handle the status and responsibility, or live your life, without destroying who you are and the values you want to live by.
Achievement drive is like speed in vehicle. Any vehicle has built-in design limits. Driving fast, but staying within those limits, can provide an exhilarating ride. Exceeding the limits leads to breakdown and disaster. You are no different. Accept the limits you have, or face a lifetime of problems.

Self-acceptance is the beginning of freedom from unnecessary care and anxiety. You have enough real cares in your life to absorb all your time and energy. Don’t add still more that you neither need nor can handle.

8. The courage to let go.
Everyone, at some time, clings to things they they would be far better advised to let go: past hurts and slights, emotions that no longer serve any useful purpose, relationships that are dead, hopes that will never be fulfilled.

Let them all go. Take a deep breath—and move on. And never look back.

We live in a consumer society where marketing is a daily pressure. All those marketers and advertisers have a single goal: to make you believe that you are incomplete unless to buy whatever it is they want you to purchase. Sadly, many of us are suckers for this message. That’s why people fight to obtain the latest fashion in Christmas gifts; and max out their credit cards in a vain belief that this purchase will be the one that brings them happiness and fulfillment.

. . . decades of social conditioning will cause you to feel unsatisfied unless you have achieved whatever is the current “standard” of wealth, status, and organization position deemed appropriate to your age and qualifications—if you play the game and allow this to happen.
We’ve become so used to the process that we no longer notice how all-pervasive it is. Religious groups market their beliefs by suggesting our lives are incomplete and empty without accepting their message. Political and pressure groups push the idea that those who do no share their ideologies are somehow less than fully human. And decades of social conditioning will cause you to feel unsatisfied unless you have achieved whatever is the current “standard” of wealth, status, and organization position deemed appropriate to your age and qualifications—if you play the game and allow this to happen.

Let it go. It’s your life. You should be free to choose your own goals, standards, and aspirations. If you allow others to force their ideas on to you, or sell them to you as panaceas for a good life, they will drive you mad.

Let it all go. Take a deep breath. Be yourself.

If that is the only gift you give yourself this year, it will be more valuable than anything money could buy.

Happy Holidays!

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, December 20, 2020

More Last Minute Holiday Gifts to Yourself

Like yesterday’s posting, this one focuses on holiday gifts that you can give both to yourself and others. Gifts that will make your life better and your work and career more satisfying.

5. The Gift of Change
We don’t often think of change as a gift. Many people treat it as more of a curse: something that upsets the steady, smooth passage of their lives; a threat to their stability and security. Of course, it may be all of these, but consider the opposite for a moment. The same old same, day in and day out. Nothing to stimulate or excite. No prospect of anything being better. No differences to offer hope.

Lots of people find work unsatisfactory, and it's mostly because they are bored. They hang on more out of fear of change than any attraction to what they do.

A change of pace, a change of scene, even a change of career can be a wonderful gift to yourself. It can restore all the exciting possibilities of the new and unexplored. If currently you rush around without a moment to live, try slowing down. Let the change of pace give you a fresh perspective on your work and life. Look out for all those things you missed because you were whirling past too quickly to notice them. Take some time to enjoy what you never had time to enjoy before. The old saying that a change is as good as a rest is wrong: the change is often even better.

Most companies insist that they are different than the competition. In this, most are lying to themselves as well as everyone else. They are as alike as two peas in a pod. But the organizations (and people) that truly have impact are always the ones that are different; the ones that do something the others haven’t even thought about. Why not make 2007 your Year of Living Differently?

6. The Gift of Permission
How many things do you avoid, or shy away from, or even ignore altogether because you have some belief that they are not allowed for you? Many of us block ourselves from large aspects of living, because we have grown up with a kind of policemen in our heads, telling us that we’ll get into severe trouble if we go to those places inside us.

One of the biggest blocks to life and work satisfaction is excessive reverence: too much reverence for the past, unthinking reverence for social norms, excessive reverence for authority, unthinking reverence for the way things have always been done. There’s nothing wrong with showing respect where it is deserved, but respect should never mean unthinking acceptance, let alone suppressing your self in favor of some idea whose time is long past.

Here are some permissions that you could give yourself in the year to come. I guarantee that they will offer untold opportunities for positive change and development:
  • Permission to question the unquestionable and think the unthinkable. So long as you block yourself from certain areas and questions, you will never know what you may find there. After all, if you don’t like what you find, you do not have to do act on it. But if you do discover that there are ideas or possibilities that might be better than what you have today, you have given yourself a major step forward. Don’t censor your own mind. There are more than enough other people who are all too eager to do that for you—if you let them.

  • Permission not to know all the answers (and still go on asking the questions). Asking good questions is the royal road to knowledge and development. Finding the answers (if there are any) is no more than the icing on the cake. Our society today is fixated on having definite answers. That leaves us prey to every charlatan and demagogue who claims to possess what we are seeking. It also leads us to settle on an “answer” that is far from satisfactory, because it feels better than having no answer at all. That's rubbish. Even when you think you have a satisfactory answer, you should never stop questioning. You might find a better one.

  • Permission to accept that the universe is full of ambiguity. Inconsistency is not a crime. Often there are no answers—especially to the questions that matter most to us. What purpose can I find in my life? What is the right career for me? What is the right job right now? There are no clear-cut answers. Give yourself permission to do the best you can with what you know today—and the permission to go on looking at the same time. Maybe you will find that “one, right place in the world” for you. I hope that you do. But, even if you don’t, you’ll learn a great deal (and have the opportunity for a lot of fun) just by looking.

Tomorrow will complete this series of posts. Then I shall be taking a short break for the holidays. But I will still be watching the site and responding to comments, so keep them coming.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, December 19, 2020

Last Minute Holiday Gifts . . . to Yourself

In all the hype and rabid consumerism of this time of year, you should take a few moments to think about the best gifts you could give to yourself and your career. Today and tomorrow, I’ll offer some ideas.

Don’t expect these gifts to be free. They all carry some cost, usually in terms of effort and determination. But, like all the best presents, the benefits they will bring far outweigh whatever may they cost you to obtain.

What today’s four suggestions have in common is that they offer immediate benefits. As soon as you give them, the benefit begins; and it will last for many years ahead—perhaps for the rest of your life. And, since this is the “Slow Leadership” site, each of these presents is also something that you could consider giving to those who work for you. What benefits you is equally likely to be of benefit to others.

1. Time Off
My first suggestion is to use this holiday season to grant yourself the priceless gift of time away from busyness and constant activity. Don’t treat the holiday as yet another opportunity to spend all your waking hours in frantic activity: rushing from place to place, group to group, driving or flying hundreds of miles in an obsessive attempt to do everything in the shortest possible time, hurling yourself into the post-Christmas sales the moment your turkey has settled in your stomach.

Slow down. Relax. Spend some of your time in reflection and introspection. Allow your body and mind the time they need to recover and refresh themselves. Allow your friends and family time with you. Not with any special purpose in mind, but simply time to hang out and enjoy life and whatever comes along. Take time to read something new and challenging. Exercise your mind on something more pleasant than monthly profits and cost reductions.

Most of all, give yourself the time to do nothing at all. Forget striving and getting. Forget about work. It will still be there when you have to go back. Until then, let it all go.

2. Space
My second suggestion is to give yourself space to grow and develop. Don’t hem in your life and career with too many expectations, too much advice, or too many obligations. It’s very easy to load up on all kinds of set demands. They may be fine individually, but taken together they can leave you no elbow room or flexibility to adapt to life’s changes.

When people deny themselves the space to respond to whatever life brings them, they force themselves into narrow confines that cramp their development. Just like the ancient Chinese practice of forcing women's feet into tiny shoes, the result is a distorted, misshapen, stunted, and deformed kind of growth.

Let go. Open yourself to a fresh range of possibilities. Allow yourself to spend this holiday season exploring new ways to live and work. Go window shopping for new ideas. You never know what bargains you may find.

3. Forgiveness
This is probably one of the best gifts of all, for you and everyone else. Cut yourself (and those around you) some slack. Step aside from all the deficit thinking and concentration on “gaps,” weaknesses, and self-criticism that disfigure conventional thinking on work and life.

Acknowledge what you do well, and allow yourself to enjoy your achievements. Sure you screwed up sometimes. So did everyone else. Stop beating yourself up for being fallible. Stop focusing on what’s wrong with the world and the people in it. Let go of the guilt and nit-picking.

Kindness and mercy are two human characteristics we need most at this time. Perhaps you could start with giving both to yourself? After all, if you can’t forgive yourself, how will you ever manage to forgive anyone else?

4. Indulgence
The holiday season is all about indulgence. But the kind that I have in mind as a present to yourself isn’t what people usually have in mind: indulgence in over-spending, over-eating, over-drinking, and going overboard in spending even more hours in front of that new, flat-screen TV you’ve just mortgaged your future to buy.

I think your gift to yourself should be some indulgence in irrational optimism, in enjoying the thought of how things could well work out just fine in the future. Stress, overwork, anxiety, and pressure all produce depressive thoughts. The future, like the present, is painted in the blackest of tones. Everything looks grim and miserable.

So sit back, ignore the doomsters and nay-sayers, and indulge yourself in some happy thoughts. Have fun. Enjoy life for a few days. It’s the only one you get, so why make it a burden? So some people will accuse you of being unrealistic. Big deal! Let them have their fun being miserable. You take yours in a different way. Remember Scrooge. He wasn’t just a miser, he was a miserable old fart too. It took three ghosts to cheer him up. I’ll bet you can do it on your own.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, December 18, 2020

Understanding Burnout (Part 3)

How to Get Out of the Hole You’ve Dug Yourself

This is the third and final part of a three-part posting on burnout. Part 1 was posted last Thursday. Part 2 appeared on Friday. Today’s segment looks at ways of coping with potential or actual burnout, wherever you may be on the burnout curve, or (better still) preventing the problem occurring at all.

It’s worth repeating the image of the “Burnout Curve” that went with the first segment of this posting. It’s a downward slide into misery, depression, and eventual collapse. Depression is never something to be taken lightly, since it can be a serious medical condition, so I’ve marked a point on this chart suggesting that when things have gone from bad to worse, and then even further down the slope, you should seek competent medical advice and support. Don’t try self-diagnosis or treatment of depression. People end up as suicides that way.

However, assuming that you have dealt with any medical issues and started to pull yourself around, there is a series of steps that you should take to get away from that pit of emptiness and worthlessness that is burnout. The goal is to re-ignite your love of life and find satisfaction again in whatever work you choose to do.

The steps go like this, moving from low to high back up the burnout curve:
  • Take a long break. If you’ve reached somewhere near the bottom of the curve (true burnout), it’s going to take you a significant time to get yourself together again. Trying to hurry the process will likely cause it to fail. You need plenty of rest, peace, and a complete break from whatever caused the problem to arise. if that means giving up your job, so be it.

  • During this “sabbatical,” renew and repair your mental and physical resources. Burnout will leave you exhausted and depleted in mind, body, and spirit. Before turning to anything else, you need to repair the damage. Most of all, you need to recover your resilience. Even when we are down, life has a nasty habit of continuing to kick us. When we’re feeling good, we can ride with the punches. When we’re not, they become crises that threaten to overwhelm us. Take a vacation. Take up a new hobby. Spend time outdoors. Get back in touch with yourself and the world around you.

  • Reconnect with friends and family. One of the commonest symptoms of burnout is a growing level of detachment from other people. Families are ignored. Loved ones are treated as unimportant. Friends are avoided or left behind. The workaholism that drives burnout steadily pushes you away from all social and emotional sources of support. You need them. We all do. Research has shown that people who have poor support structures suffer more sickness and die earlier than those with a solid network of friends and loved ones. Getting your friends and family back may well mean eating a lot of humble pie, but it will be worth it. If they’ve packed up and left altogether, you need to find some new ones.

  • Become completely disillusioned. No, I’m not mad. Being disillusioned is an essential stage in finding a wiser way to live. All those illusions we carry around—that hard work will always be rewarded, that promotions will go to the best performers, that the bosses will look after the good guys, and that this is how working life has to be—were a large part of what got you into this mess. Remember that burnout is the result of massive disconnects between expectations and outcomes. Dump the illusions. Deal only with reality from now on. It may not look so pretty, but it won’t cheat you or trick you into expecting what you won’t get.

  • Quit blaming others. When people are headed towards burnout they go through a long phase where all the problems they face are seen as someone else’s fault. The trouble with that is that it makes you powerless. If “they” are cheating you and doing you down, however hard you work, only “they” can put things right. Once you stop blaming “them,” whoever “they” are, and accept that this is your life and that you’ll have to take responsibility for sorting it out, your future is back in your own hands. Don’t expect any group of “them” to be concerned about you. Take charge of your life, as far as you can, and start relying on your own thought, care, and rational decisions, instead of simply throwing all you have into work and naïvely assuming it will work out somehow.

  • If you’re going to be in charge, you need a plan. Don’t jump to accept the first ideas that come to you. Don’t blindly follow someone else’s advice. Stop . . . and take all the time you need to work out your true priorities. Any parts of our lives that conflict with our core values will feel unsatisfactory or worse. Dig down to what you value most and build your life around that. Get real. There will always be setbacks. You will always need to work hard sometimes. It isn’t hard work alone that causes burnout. Many people work horrendous hours and still flourish. Their secret is that they love what they are doing. It doesn’t feel like work. That’s what you need to aim for. Analyze, as carefully and honestly as you can, exactly what will make your life most worth living. Then go for it—whatever it is. Better to be a blissfully happy and poor nobody that an exquisitely miserable, burned-out millionaire.

  • Set an end point and keep your eyes on it. Even though you are now back on the right track, there will be those setbacks and upsets. The idea that doing the right thing will make life smooth is one of those illusions you’ve left behind, remember? It’s still entirely possible that things won’t work out as you want. So set yourself a goal and a time limit. If you aren’t very near your goal within that time, cut your losses and try something else. Killing yourself in pursuit of an impossible goal is another part of what caused your burnout. Don’t do it again.

  • Ration your efforts. None of us have unlimited reserves of resilience or strength. Wise investors in the stockmarket know that one of the keys to making money is to back your winners and cut your losses quickly. This advice works just as well in the rest of life. Don’t throw good energy and effort after bad. Save your efforts for where you get the best results. That’s another mistake workaholics make: they throw maximum effort into everything. They are so afraid of failure that they are prepared to kill themselves seeking success where it simply isn’t to be found.

  • Accept—once and for all—that hard work is not the answer. Nearly all of us have been brought up on the myth that those who work hard will always reap their just reward. They won’t. The universe is not just. Sometimes hard workers do well; sometimes the lazy bums do better. Outcomes are as much or more to do with blind chance as any individual efforts—let alone what you think that you deserve. The best way to insulate yourself from future descents into the hell of burnout is to accept that the only reason to work hard is because you enjoy it. If it isn’t fun, give it up—now. All that Puritan Work Ethic talk is total eyewash. If you are having a wonderful time working hard, go on doing it. If not, stop. Hard work will not, repeat not, guarantee that you will prosper. Sometimes it won’t even help. Do what you need to do, see what happens—and if it doesn’t work out, try doing something different.

  • Set yourself only realistic expectations from now on. Every common soldier does not have a potential future as a general. Almost none of them do. Every child does not have the potential to become President of the United States. That’s a fairy tale. Every athlete is not able to win at the Olympic Games, provided he or she trains hard enough. The vast majority have neither the talent nor the determination. We’ve become so eager to avoid any taint of elitism, that we’ve gone way over the edge into fantasy. What you can achieve in life depends on luck, talent, brains, some degree of application . . . and still more luck. Being realistic isn’t defeatist or cowardly. It nearly always takes far more courage than mouthing off platitudes about everyone being able to get to the top. Only fools try to believe that the world—and whatever abilities the universe has given them—is not what it is. Only organizations destined for collapse set themselves, and their workforce, objectives taken from “The Idiot’s Book of Wall Street Fantasies.”

Burnout is the result of a chronic chronic mismatch between expectations and results, made worse by trying to cure that mismatch by working harder and harder. It's an increasing hell of unabated ambition to succeed in situations where success is impossible and frustration never ends. Setting realistic expectations, becoming totally disillusioned, and maintaining a proper work/life balance will save you from going there again. All you need to do is stick to your determination to be yourself, not some fantasy version based on media hype and folk tales.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, December 15, 2020

Understanding Burnout (Part 2)

Macho Management is a Major Culprit

This is part 2 of a three-part posting on burnout. Part 1 was posted yesterday. Today’s segment looks at how poor management practices make the likelihood of burnout greater. The final segment, to be published on Monday, will turn to ways of dealing with potential burnout, wherever you may be on the burnout curve.

What indicates burnout best is a feeling of inner emptiness: a sense that work no longer matters because success is impossible to achieve, not that getting there is too hard or laborious. When people start to feel that there is no correlation between effort put in and satisfaction gained as a result, they are well down the path towards suffering true burnout.

Unfortunately, many aspects of modern management styles—especially Hamburger Management—are particularly likely to induce such feelings. Here are some of them:
  • Constantly increasing expectations, coupled with continual cuts in resources. Staffing cuts and continual demands to “do more with less” are all steps along the descending curve of burnout. It’s already becoming common for people to come in to work while sick, or cut short vacations, simply because they cannot face the idea of yet more work piling up in that overflowing in-basket. If you begin to feel that no amount of effort, however superhuman, is ever going to result in emptying the in-basket, even for a day, you’re getting into the burnout zone.

  • Success “rewarded” with higher challenges. When people do finally get a result, and look for some recognition (or even a simple “thank you”) and a chance to rest for a short time, what they get instead is an new set of objectives with still higher demands. The continual escalation of demands swiftly produces a sense that doing well is only going to put you under more pressure—until you cannot handle the extra demands any longer, and so crash and burn.

  • Hard work coupled with limited or no rewards. All the authorities on burnout agree that a prime component is a mismatch between expectation and outcome. People generally expect some reward for increased effort. If this doesn’t materialize, they feel cheated and devalued.

  • No control over your own workload. It used to be that one of the defining characteristics of “professional” work was being trusted to manage your own time and workload. Nowadays, many so-called professional staff are subject to closer supervision and greater controls that even unskilled manual workers were in the past. Not being able to control your own workload induces feelings of helplessness and low self-worth.

  • No time to do work properly. It’s hard to get any sense of satisfaction from work that you know you have had to rush. And if you need to finish as quickly as you possibly can (or quicker), then jump to the next task without a pause, there’s no time to develop any feelings of accomplishment. You are on an accelerating treadmill.

  • Pressure to cut corners and lower quality. The feelings of low job satisfaction are made infinitely worse if you know that the work you just did was skimpy and sub-standard. It doesn’t matter that you also know it wasn’t your fault. Feeling some pride in what you have done is an essential component in job satisfaction.

  • Exhaustion treated as “weakness.” From this point, things start to go downhill very quickly and a critical situation emerges. In World War I, many soldiers suffering from what we would now call battle fatigue or post-traumatic stress syndrome, were court-martialed on charges of cowardice. The term used for their “crime” was “LMF” (Lack of Moral Fiber). Many were shot. The same attitude is around today in more than a few organizations. Anyone admitting to feelings of exhaustion or burnout is told to “shape up” and accused of “not being able to cut it.” The implied, but very obvious, threat is demotion or dismissal. By forcing such people to try yet again or face punishment—even though they are already in dire need of professional help—is callous in the extreme. Organizations that condone this type of behavior by executives have stepped across a moral threshold into evil territory.

  • Demands to compromise ethics. Once an organization has signed a metaphorical pact with the Devil to sell their corporate souls for profit, no dishonesty is out of bounds for long. And since dishonest acts need to involve others, they are forced to play along or face ejection. There is now no sense of pride left an any work done.

  • Growing belief that expectations are impossible. Hopelessness is a major component of burnout. When organizations lose touch with reality, and make foolish claims to shareholders and analysts that the staff then have to make good on—usually in the “good cause” of increasing bonuses and stock options for those at the top—being asked to do the impossible has become the norm. No hope is left.

  • Constant fear of punishment for failure. Organizations that have strayed into territory like this, face the problem of getting people to work under conditions that even those at the top must realize are little short of slavery. The “high fliers” who comply are given huge rewards, plus the promise of joining the select clique at the top who reap 90% of the rewards. For the rest, if lying won’t work (and it usually won’t), the final step is constant punishment for any form of dereliction. That is why some professional firms plan for at least 30-40% turnover annually. Those who cannot be driven any further must be cleared out to make way for new staff, as yet unaccustomed to what they will face.

  • Sense that it will never end. there is an enormous difference between “pulling out all the stops” to deal with a crisis, or achieve some spectacular result, and working in all-out crisis mode on a daily basis. Despair is the final stage in burnout. Believing that your misery will never end is what makes such despair absolute.

In the final part of this series, due on Monday, we’ll look at how to reverse progress down the burnout curve and rescue yourself, or your organization, from a steady descent into corporate Hell.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, December 14, 2020

Understanding Burnout (Part 1)

An Epidemic of Burnout is Only a Few Steps Away

This is part 1 of a three-part posting on burnout: its nature, its causes, how modern management is exacerbating the problem, and how best to avoid it altogether.
Recently, I found a lengthy, but extremely thorough, article on burnout in the New York magazine. The author, Jennifer Senior, explains burnout as more a feeling of hopelessness than a classic sense of being stressed or overtired. I suspect that is right. Burnout is something like writer’s block: a feeling that whatever you do—however hard you work and however much you appear to achieve on the outside—none of it means anything, or has any real worth. It’s a sense of withdrawal and distancing from things you once found absorbing; to the extent that, after a while, you can scarcely bring yourself to do anything more than “go through the motions,” and sometimes not even that.

Psychotherapist Herbert Freudenberger, who first coined the term, noticed that when people became too discouraged, they would often push harder and harder at their jobs, only to feel as if they were achieving less and less. Not only do people suffering from burnout become mentally exhausted, they develop severe cases of cynicism and contempt for whatever they were doing that led to the burnout. I have felt the same things myself, in the past: a feeling that whatever I did wouldn’t make the slightest difference; and that the rest of the world was largely composed of idiots too self-obsessed and shallow to care about my work anyway.

Many sufferers from burnout are perfectionists, for whom anything less than winning in some truly spectacular way is tantamount to failure. I suspect they may be specially prone to the condition, not just because they tend to deal with any setback by throwing all they have into harder and harder work, but because they cannot accept the reality that much of the world is apathetic towards them anyway.

Hyper-extended expectations are the starting point of most cases of burnout. When impossible expectations collide with reality, something has to give. At first, people try to overcome reality by excessive work and effort. When that fails, they still cannot bring themselves to admit that their original expectations were little better than childish fantasy. Instead, they blame the organization, the people they must deal with, the f****ing bosses, idiot customers, or just about anyone else for their condition. It’s a short step from there to deciding none of it matters and experiencing the sense of hopeless emptiness and weariness that characterizes true burnout.

I wonder how common burnout really is? Just as many people claim to be suffering from the 'flu (quite a serious disease), when what they have is a heavy cold, I suspect that many cases of burnout are closer to simple mental exhaustion. Burnout isn’t necessarily caused by long hours or overwork. They are more the symptoms of people’s efforts to counter the anxiety and bad feelings that burnout induces. If a week’s holiday, or easing up for a few days, is enough to restore your equilibrium, you weren’t suffering from burnout. You were just overtired.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue this post with part 2 and a listing of the factors in modern management that most contribute to burnout and the pain it causes.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, December 13, 2020

One Step Forward, One Step Back . .

Organizational Schizophrenia About Working Hours and Staying In Touch 24/7

Recent press reports show the sad fact that, while some companies are getting the message about trusting their workforce (and reaping the rewards that can bring), others are stuck in 19th-century attitudes of master and servant.

Nothing sums up the schizophrenic state of organizational attitudes to matters of work/life balance and the long-hours culture quite a neatly as two posts I found 24 hours apart on the Management Issues web site.

The first gives the good news. Here’s a sample:
Work should be something we do. Yet to an overwhelming extent, it has become somewhere we go, leading to the pervasive belief that productivity is somehow linked to presence.

So to hear a major-league U.S. CEO who has spent their entire career adhering to the "presenteeism" model admit: "for years I had been focused on the wrong currency. I was always looking to see if people were here. I should have been looking at what they were getting done" comes as something of a bombshell.
This refers to a BusinessWeek article about the retailer Best Buy, which has:
. . . embarked on a radical--if risky--experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for "results-only work environment," seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours.
So far, so good. At last one business that is trying to do something about pointless meetings, ridiculous working hours, and all the paraphernalia of detailed scheduling. The results even show benefits for the business, as well as the employees. The article says that productivity has risen an average 35 per cent in departments that have switched to ROWE.

Then, just as things are looking up, comes the inevitable setback.

The second article reports a survey carried out by U.S. executive recruiting network, ExecuNet. Here’s the essence of the report:
According to its survey of 155 executives, six out of 10 are expected to be accessible outside working hours and a further three out of 10 said that while being available after hours and on the weekends is not mandated, it is certainly implied.

That leaves just one in 10 clinging onto the precious gift of being unavailable once the office door has closed behind them.
It seems that two-thirds of those surveyed said that they regularly work remotely out-of-hours, spending an average of 11.4 hours a week performing business-related tasks outside of the office. So far from being trusted to get the job done and still arrange a sensible amount of time for the rest of their lives, these folk are being made to set work demands above everything else.

And while eight out of ten working people in Great Britain claim that flexible working would improve quality time with children, boost their productivity, and increase their loyalty, research from Eclipse Internet suggests that few companies are willing to respond to the desire for greater flexibility in working hours.

It seems that most bosses are still obsessed with the old-fashioned, Hamburger Management attitudes that being personally in control comes before everything else; that employees cannot be trusted to do what they are paid for unless you keep them constantly in sight; and that paying someone a salary is more or less equivalent to owning them, body and soul, for 24 hours out of every day.

It’s a crazy, crazy world out there.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, December 12, 2020

Is Anyone at Work Trustworthy Today?

Here’s a survey finding that seems to sum up much of the distrust that is everywhere in business today:
It speaks volumes about levels of trust within organisations that as far as most of us who have problems at work are concerned, our boss is one of the last persons we would think of turning to for advice. An on-line survey of more than 3,000 employees, mostly middle to senior-level managers, by CO2 Partners, a Minnesota-based leadership development firm, has found that only one in 10 (11 per cent) would turn to their immediate boss for workplace advice. In contrast, a quarter of would turn to a colleague within their organisation for help and around one in six to another senior person at work (15 per cent), a friend outside work (14 per cent) or a mentor or coach (13 per cent).
What strikes me is how low all of these numbers are. Only one even gets above 20% (a quarter would ask a colleague). Is anyone at work trustworthy? Or is no one willing to ask for advice from anybody else?

I suspect that what this survey shows is less about how untrustworthy bosses are, and more about a corporate culture where asking anyone else for help and advice is seen as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Part of today’s arrogance among Hamburger Managers is the fiction that they know everything they need to know, can do everything they need to do, and need nothing from anyone else.

With that kind of mindset, asking for advice is a dangerous game. It marks you out as a loser: someone who accepts that they aren’t perfect. A person who knows what they do not know and is willing to take the time and trouble to find out. The fact that it may well save you from making some horrendous mistakes counts for little.

Hamburger Managers are as lacking in many areas of necessary knowledge as anyone else—probably more so, since admitting your ignorance is the first step in any form of learning. But when the slightest weakness may be taken as an excuse for passing you over in the cutthroat world of corporate competition we have invented, hiding your vulnerability behind a façade of bravado and “spin” is the norm.

Nobody is trustworthy who would stoop to take advantage of another person’s genuine request for help or advice to put them down. And that applies whatever their position in the organization.

You do this, you’re a jerk. And you can trust me on that.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, December 11, 2020

Be Careful What You Teach

You Might Be Passing On Harmful, Long-term Lessons

Anyone in a position of influence or authority continually gives lessons to those around and below them in the hierarchy—whether they plan to or not. Success, deserved or undeserved, confers credibility. People imitate their bosses—and just about anyone else who seems to have made it. Besides, pleasing the boss is probably the most basic way that people strive to get on in the workplace.

You may want others to do what you tell them, but not always what you do. Life doesn’t work that way. Some people will carefully sift your good habits from the bad ones before deciding what to copy. Many won’t, or will misinterpret what actually brought you your success. What you do will always have a greater impact than what you say.

. . . loud, aggressive, and egotistical leaders often get more credit for being “effective” than they deserve. Their behavior catches peoples’ attention. The quiet leaders who truly made it all happen are quite likely to be overlooked.
Human beings are primarily visual animals: we trust what we see much more than what we hear, or what others tell us. We also link vivid images with outcomes much more readily than subtle ones. If subordinates see you indulging a spectacular outburst of temper just before things start to happen, they will likely assume that the tantrum was what set things in motion—and ignore days or weeks of careful preparation that were almost derailed by a momentary loss of temper. If they see you working extremely long hours, they may see that as the path to success—even if all you were doing was catching up on routine you didn’t have time for earlier, maybe because of bad planning or attending pointless meetings. That’s why loud, aggressive, and egotistical leaders often get more credit for being “effective” than they deserve. Their behavior catches peoples’ attention. The quiet leaders who truly made it all happen are quite likely to be overlooked.

What lessons are today’s Hamburger Managers passing on to their subordinates? We know that those who are bullied and abused are more likely to become bullies and abusers themselves. That holds good both inside and outside of work. If toughness and harsh treatment of others seems to be what works, a surprising number of otherwise entirely pleasant people will imitate the tough-guy behavior.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to study a group of managers who worked for an extremely aggressive, harshly dominant chief executive. Over a period of some five years, I was able to follow every new appointment to this executive team, internal or external. Who did well? Who left or was fired? Were there any common factors?

For those above a certain threshold of “natural” assertiveness, success was practically assured. Everyone below the same level would fail. Nothing to do with intelligence, skill, experience, or contribution to the business. You either fell in line with the jerk at the top (and became steadily more like him), or you left within 12 months or so.
The results of this study turned out to be surprisingly clear. Among this group of appointees, those who were themselves aggressive and demanding tended to remain and prosper. Yet—and this was far more interesting—they became steadily more aggressive and egotistical, the longer they stayed in the chief executive's orbit. Less assertive people all left or were fired, typically within a year. It was possible to predict this outcome with a high level of accuracy. All you needed was a measure of the person’s assertiveness at the time of joining the top team. For those above a certain threshold of “natural” assertiveness, success was practically assured. Everyone below the same level would fail. Nothing to do with intelligence, skill, experience, or contribution to the business. You either fell in line with the jerk at the top (and became steadily more like him), or you left within 12 months or so.

Hamburger Management is short-term, aggressive, uncaring, manipulative, venal, and often unethical. With a group of Hamburger Managers in charge, you will only get more of the same.Those who oppose, or try to avoid, such an uncivilized style of leadership will either leave or get fired. The ones who remain will steadily become more and more like the most prominent (and usually extreme) of the current leaders. Dishonesty breeds more dishonesty. Callous bullying creates a cadre of bullies waiting in the wings to take over. Leaders who habitually take life at breakneck speed create a culture of obsessive haste.

When I was a teenager, a teacher once told me always to take a long, hard look at the mother of any girl I was ever tempted to marry. “That's what the girl will be like in fifteen years or so,” he said. He was a cynical person and his advice tended to be pessimistic. Still, he was probably more right than wrong (though my first wife’s mother was sweet—and her daughter turned out to be more like her father, who was a miserable old cuss). Bad bosses train future leaders to be as bad as they are—if not in absolutely every case, at least more often than not.

Be very careful about how you behave, if you hold a leadership position. That is how you are teaching others to behave around you. Most likely, they’ll copy whatever behavior of yours is most striking. If you are responsible for choosing leaders, look at them very hard. Don’t focus just on how successful they have been in the short term in financial or similar terms. Leadership positions should never be used as rewards for past success. If a person's typical behavior is unpleasant, discriminatory, aggressive, or callous (or all of these), that is what they will “train” their subordinates to imitate. Whatever kind of person the leader turns out to be, you will likely get many more of the same in the future.

Luck plays an enormous role in business—though very few people are ready to accept openly that they simply happened to be in the right place at the right time, and their “achievement” had almost nothing to do with them directly.
As subordinates, we can break this cycle by thinking carefully about the boss’s actions before imitating them. If you suffered under a jerk, why pass that suffering on to others? Stop. Use that bad behavior as an object lesson in what not to do when your time comes. And if things are too bad, get out fast. Don’t risk becoming contaminated. Just because some behavior is obvious, or seems to coincide with some example of success, it’s never wise to assume cause and effect. Luck plays an enormous role in business—though very few people are ready to accept openly that they simply happened to be in the right place at the right time, and their “achievement” had almost nothing to do with them directly.

If bad behavior breeds more of the same, the same holds true for good examples. Nearly every revered leader learned from someone earlier who showed them the power of doing the right thing, regardless of what others around them thought. The best predictor of good leadership is having worked under good leaders. If you choose your actions well, you can produce a generation of leaders who match up to, or exceed, your highest expectations.

Jerks produce jerks. True leaders produce true leaders. How do you wish to be remembered?

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, December 09, 2020

Corporate Slash-and-Burn Cultivation In Action

Outsourcing may be the next bubble to burst

The rage for outsourcing to “low wage” economies has yet to run its course, but there are already signs that companies coming into the game late will find the process far harder.

An article in The Economist for October 5th 2006 (subscription required) pointed to a growing problem affecting the world-wide corporate phenomenon of job outsourcing: a severe shortage of talent. It seems that corporations hastening to outsource skilled work to low-wage economies, like India, are finding the supply of skilled people is no longer there to make the process work as it did.

I have seen other news stories suggesting that the job outsourcing “bubble” is coming to an end. Writing in The Guardian for October 14th 2006, Ashley Seager said:
The rush to outsource work to countries such as India where labour is cheaper appears to be easing with the size of the global outsourcing market likely to shrink for the first time this year, research suggests. The third quarter has been the slowest for four years as the level of outsourcing by IT firms has fallen back, according to research from offshoring advisers TPI released yesterday.
That article suggests that the market is now “maturing,” and no future large-scale expansions are expected. The value of outsourcing contracts by companies around the world fell by 2% in the first nine months of this year, the first drop in a decade.

One possible reason for the decline is that everything that can easily be outsourced has already been sent overseas. That could, of course, be a part of it, but The Economist’s article suggests another process: poorer, Third World countries do not have the educational resources needed to maintain a constant supply of skilled people; and those now trained and experienced tire of working for low salaries at home. They take their skills and move to work in the very countries that earlier sent work their way! India is a prime example. A few years ago, it had a large pool of skilled, but under-utilized and under-paid people, especially in IT specialisms. As a result of India’s cultural emphasis on the importance of education—plus the legacy of English-style schools left from the days of the British Empire and the widespread use of English among educated people as almost a first language—it was ripe for British and American corporations to move in and exploit the waiting talent pool.

If this process continues, there will soon be fewer and fewer low-wage countries with a sufficiently educated workforce to allow for extensive outsourcing. Globalization is a two-edged sword: you can globalize work, but you will also globalize expectations and the market for scarce talent.
Now, it appears, outsourcing may be a victim of its own success. The school systems cannot keep up. More and more talented people are moving overseas in search of better incomes. As new corporations try to move in—too late—there are problems in finding enough skilled people for their work. Wages are rising as talent becomes scarcer. I wonder how long it will be before India is no longer a high-skill, low-wage haven for Western businesses? China is introducing labor reforms to outlaw sweatshops and exploitation and increase wages (a move strongly opposed by foreign employers, with American manufacturers to the fore, according to the Sunday Times). With their accession to the European Union, citizens of the former Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern Europe can work anywhere in Europe, following the natural urge to seek higher salaries than are paid in their home countries. If this process continues, there will soon be fewer and fewer low-wage countries with a sufficiently educated workforce to allow for extensive outsourcing. Globalization is a two-edged sword: you can globalize work, but you will also globalize expectations and the market for scarce talent.

Besides, outsourcing was only ever a quick-fix expedient to boost corporate profits in the short-term. In this, it is exactly like peasant slash-and-burn agriculture in countries like Brazil and elsewhere.
Outsourcing isn’t the first panacea likely to turn out to be a short-term “bubble,” and it won’t be the last. Like most of the others, those who got in early (and get out soon) will make a good deal of profit. For the rest, trailing along later and dumbly following what is, supposedly, best practice, there is little or nothing to be made and probably a great deal to lose. Besides, outsourcing was only ever a quick-fix expedient to boost corporate profits in the short-term. In this, it is exactly like peasant slash-and-burn agriculture in countries like Brazil and elsewhere. Those who grab a piece of virgin rain forest, cut down all the trees, sell the timber, and burn the rest of the vegetation, can grow massive crops in the hitherto undisturbed soil . . . but only for few years. With no nutrients put back, the soil fertility crashes and the crops fail. The farmer has “cashed out” many thousands of years of slow accumulation of nutrients in a few harvests. Now it’s time to move on and grab another piece of rain forest, leaving devastation behind.

It’s the same with outsourcing. Grab a short-term benefit by dumping expensive Western workers in favor of underpaid foreigners. But don’t put anything back into the countries whose people you are exploiting. That would raise costs again and ruin the economics of outsourcing. If local wages start to rise, move on elsewhere and repeat the process. First India, then China then . . . maybe Vietnam. But like the rain-forest, Third World countries where English is spoken and education has been almost to Western standards are finite in number. In time, you will run out of places to go. Then the party comes to an abrupt end.

We aren’t there yet, but maybe the early signs are just appearing. Then those organizations that stayed behind and invested in their original workers may have the last laugh.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, December 08, 2020

Synchronized Stupidity

There are more ways than ever before to pander to paranoia and boredom in the workplace

Electronic communications continually provide people with yet more frivolous ways to waste their time. Overwork may be endemic, but there’s no need to add to it by wasting a good part of every day on pointless communications and mind-numbing trivia. The culprits are fear and boredom—and there are better ways to deal with both.

Kathy Sierra’s post “The Asymptotic Twitter Curve” is both a fun read and a serious call to stop frittering away your time and attention on pointless communications. It seems that there is no end to the ability of organizations to find new ways to help people spend time doing nothing (except being exposed yet more advertising), and no limit to people’s willingness to do exactly what they want.

All this got me wondering why people act this way.

The first answer I came up with is pretty much the same as the one that Ms. Sierra offers: fear. Specifically fear of being left out, of being “out of the loop,” of being ignored and treated as irrelevant. To this you can add other sources of fear: that people will criticize you behind your back and you won’t be able to defend yourself; that some unexpected “goody” will be on offer and you’ll miss it because you weren’t in the know; that you will miss out in the competitive race through lack of inside information.

Our crazy, competition-obsessed corporate cultures unwittingly encourage this type of paranoia. So does Hamburger Management, with its trademark mix of continual control and management by measurement, along with fear of being in the next round of pink slips. Heaven knows how much time is wasted in such organizations through paranoid watching (and copying) of e-mails, attendance at pointless meetings, and all the behind-the-scenes communication of rumors and gossip. In the attempt to stop people from wasting working time, more and more is wasted. It’s a mad cycle of escalating idiocy.

Is there a cure? Indeed there is. It’s called rational thinking.

When you think rationally, you can quickly work out the following insights:
  • Although you may fear that others are talking or thinking about you, they are not. People spend the vast bulk of their time and attention in thinking about themselves (just as you are doing when you think they are thinking about you). Their concern with you and your affairs is minimal at best.

  • What you are mostly missing if you step out of the loop is other people obsessing about whether they are missing anything. If something important is happening you’ll hear about it, especially if it’s bad. Other people won’t be able to wait to tell you.

  • People will always talk talk about you behind your back. If you are present, personally or electronically, they’ll find another time when you are not. Get over it.

  • If you spent all the time you now waste in useless communication in focusing on your job and your own development instead, the only things people would be saying about you would be along the lines of: “How ever did he or she get to be so successful?”

  • Will you miss out on some “goodies?” It’s possible, I suppose, but there’s no need to worry. Anything put out to be snapped up by the first comer won’t be much. Organizations are not totally stupid. They give serious tasks and opportunities to those whom they wish to have them, not the first person who happens along.

  • Are you paranoid, or are people out to get you? If they really are trying to screw you in some way, the obvious answer is to go somewhere else. And if you are paranoid, you need professional help, not a BlackBerry.
Fear isn’t the only reason why people waste so much time “staying in touch.” There is boredom too.

A great many people are totally bored with their jobs. Of course, if they were logical about it, they would leave and get work that interests them. Sadly, most don’t. Instead, they “manufacture” cures for terminal boredom out of surfing the web, sending silly e-mails (usually containing bad jokes they found while surfing the web), sending Instant Messages, or going to sites like You Tube or Twitter. They fill their heads with this kind of stuff and leave little room for anything else.

It used to be that you had to get up from your desk or workplace and go somewhere else to annoy your colleagues with banal chatter. It was fairly obvious who was actually working and who was simply wandering around the place gossiping, making more visits to the bathroom than a dog with a bladder problem, or hanging around the water cooler in the hope of another fifteen minutes of pointless gossip. Thanks to computers on every desk, the Internet, and electronic communications of every kind, such folk can now stay where they are, try to look as if they are working, and interrupt others at the same time.

That’s the problem with the workplace pest who is bored: he or she wants something to relieve their boredom, but can often only get it by demanding attention from someone else. In a way, all those who waste time with on-line shopping malls or pornography are less of a nuisance. At least they are only wasting their own time. The jerks who send constant e-mails and IMs, chatter on the phone, or pollute the airwaves with text messages are wasting everyone else’s time as well.

So . . . if you find yourself eager to “stay in the loop” all the time, you send messages to all and sundry, you spend hours at work on the Internet, or you join in every meeting that’s going, ask yourself this: “Am I bored or afraid?” It will be one or the other.

If you are bored, get another job, perk up your career, start your own business, go back to school, or do something else sensible to cure your boredom and stop being such a nuisance. If you are afraid, work out what is frightening you and do something positive about it. If you can’t find a rational reason for your fears, they are imaginary. Give them up. If you are afraid little green persons are sending secret text messages about you, seek out a competent psychiatrist right away.

And whatever else you do, keep right away from sites like You Tube or Twitter. Getting an addiction to them will wreck your life as surely as cocaine. Get a life instead.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, December 07, 2020

How to Avoid Burnout

Suffering from burnout is a voluntary choice that no one has to make

If you look at the six major causes of burnout carefully, it’s clear that all of them are choices, either by management or staff or both. That means you can choose not to suffer burnout. The key is putting your personal values before purely material rewards.

Penelope Trunk has an interesting post about burnout that is well worth a look. It has lots of meat and good references, but one relating to six areas of burnout caught my eye.

When you look at each of these carefully, there is a common factor: choice. Nobody is compelled to fall into any of theses traps. Every one is the result of a conscious choice, probably made on the basis that it either seemed to promise some short-term benefit, or it meant “fitting in” with the prevailing norms and corporate culture. It’s worth going through them in some detail.

Working too much
Why do people take on too much work, or accept cultures where overwork is the norm? The most usual reason is the hope of reward: promotion, status, recognition, money. Now you need to ask whether the reward given is worth the effort, since burnout is caused mostly by a mismatch between what people expect as a result of their efforts and what they get.

Working too much sets you up for disappointment. Senior positions and large rewards are not awarded only (or even primarily) on merit. Organizations are extremely political environments. Who you know and how much effort you put into building a constituency of support often counts for much more than effort or even results.

Overwork on a consistent basis is a clear choice. It’s based on the belief that the rewards will be worth it—and that they will be delivered reliably. That belief is very often mistaken.

Working in an unjust environment
People usually feel a sense of injustice when they don’t get what they believe they deserve as a result of their hard work. It’s like adding salt to a wound. Sadly the world is not a just place, and nor are most organizations.

Justice creates expectations. But how many people ever check with the boss whether their expectations, which are always based on their own sense of what is fair, align with what the boss expects to give them? If the results don’t match up to “just” deserts, it’s likely that both parties will feel aggrieved: the subordinate, because he or she feels cheated and let down; the boss, because he or she never promised anything and now feels unjustly accused of reneging on a non-existent promise.

Most organizations are unjust, to a greater or lesser extent. But people increase their own sense of injustice by setting up hidden expectations in their minds and expecting others to deliver on them. That’s a choice.

Working with little social support
Organizations are social environments. There’s much talk of “team players” and supporting one another. The reality is different—again through choice.

What we have today are organizations based on unfettered competition: for jobs, for salary increases, for promotions, for bonuses. People are encouraged to be cooperative on the outside, but competitive in reality. You cannot expect others to support you in tough times, if they know that you are trying to screw them as well.

Most corporate cultures mimic sporting competitions. Everyone is competing for the big prizes. The myth is that, despite all the competition, people will remain “good friends” and sportsmanship will prevail. Tell that to the marines! Organizations have chosen to use competition as a spur to output, and ramp it up by making almost everything competitive in one way or another. Lack of real support and kindness is the result.

Working with little agency or control
The “command-and-control” ethos in most organizations destroys trust and rewards bosses who micro-manage or rule their teams with an iron hand. Besides, many bosses are lousy leaders, with neither the skills nor the aptitude for the job. They go on trying to do what they believe won them a leadership position in the first place: being a sales person, or an accountant, or a “hot shot” programmer, or whatever. Instead of allowing their subordinates to get on with the job, while they concentrate on leading, they try to do the work themselves. Or, rather, they offload all the dull bits onto their team and keep the interesting, high-profile tasks firmly in their own hands.

The result of this choice? A working environment of hard-driving, macho, control-obsessed leaders (habitually stressed and overworked by trying to lead and do most of the work themselves too); plus subordinates bored out of their skulls and checked and measured every moment of the day. Not a bad recipe for increasing burnout.

Working in the service of values we loathe
You don’t have to stay. Compromising your values for the sake of a job is a choice: about the worst, most foolish, and most personally damaging choice you can make.

There’s nothing more to say about this, other than don’t do it—ever. It would be better to starve in the gutter and retain your integrity than prostitute yourself like this. The load of inner self-hatred that you will build up will poison you from within, wreck your life and relationships, and turn you inexorably into a monster. That is, if mental breakdown doesn’t get to you first.

Working for insufficient reward, whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback
This brings us full circle. Burnout doesn't arise merely from overwork. Many people work ridiculous hours and thrive on it. That’s because they believe deeply in what they are doing and get more than adequate rewards as a result. Often, the rewards they get aren’t material ones either. They work around the clock for a vision, for an ideal, for love, or for compassion.

Forget monetary rewards or prestige for a moment. Doing something purely for money is prostitution. That’s fine if prostitution suits you. Otherwise, think about what really matters to you—your core values—and work for those. Whether you make money as a result or not, you’ll be happier, more satisfied and far less likely to suffer from burnout, however long your working hours.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, December 06, 2020

The Realities of Organizational Power

There has been considerable publicity in recent years for the prevalence and effects of unchecked corporate greed. There’s no doubt that there are many greedy executives, but not all are obsessed with money. Power is often as much of an attractor as cash. But the lure of power attracts people who often prove to be extremely poor leaders. Our current laissez faire attitude has produced some amazing monsters in top positions. It’s time to accept reality and stop pretending that those who lead our organizations are generally there through merit.

Lust for power has been an obvious characteristic of tyrants and rulers down the ages. The power to get your own way, the power to reward those faithful to you, the power to punish all those who oppose you. There’s a strong link between money and power, of course: having a great deal of cash—or producing high and consistent levels of profit—often confers power. It’s more than likely that the reason why so many executives are fascinated by increasing their personal earnings has less to do with yet more money to spend than with the power it promises to bring them.

Writing in Management Issues, Robert Heller expresses the conventional view on management power:
In fact, the power of the CEO has always been conditional, the largest element by far in the complex network of influence and authority in which all managers participate and which gives each of them a measure of individual power. Among these conditions is that all these holders of power have to justify their position by their performance, both in results and relationships in the eyes of their superiors and subordinates. The CEO is no exception, and rightly so.
In this view, power is conditional on job performance. Yet “the complex network of influence and authority” Heller mentions uses many criteria besides job performance: political influence, the trading of favors, the impact of status and recognition, even the effects of polite blackmail.

There is no reason to assume that those who amass the most power will also prove to be the best performers, either personally or organizationally. In fact, experience suggests that the amount of time necessary to play the political game, and the pure assertiveness and ruthlessness often needed to push your way to the top, tend to interfere with paying sufficient attention to job performance. Donald Trump has been highly successful in a material sense, and especially in terms of personal status, fame, and influence. Is he an outstanding business leader, judged on pure leadership ability and technical, business, or management know-how? The evidence doesn’t support this. Mr. Trump is largely famous for being the kind of person he portrays himself to be. Increasingly, he is famous for being famous.

One recent survey seems to suggest that remarkably few bosses show even acceptable leadership skills, let alone good ones. Wayne Hochwarter and two of his doctoral students from Florida State University surveyed more than 700 people in a variety of jobs about the way they are treated by their supervisors or managers. They found that between 30 and 40 percent of managers failed to give their staff due credit for performance, criticized them behind their backs to superiors and colleagues, failed to keep their promises, or gave subordinates the “silent treatment” to bring them to heel. Around 25% of bosses blamed their subordinates in an attempt to cover up their own mistakes. This isn’t unusual. As the article says:
Canadian Professor Robert Hare published findings in 2004 suggesting that sub-criminal psychopaths tend to show up more in management ranks than elsewhere, while Australian psychotherapist, Glyn Brokensha, believes that around one in 10 managers exhibit such behaviour. Meanwhile, a survey of visitors to the wonderfully-named in 2005 found that almost half of U.S. workers wanted to fire their boss and a third thought their boss should get assessed by a psychologist.
It’s probably wise to take subordinates’ psychological diagnoses of their bosses with a pinch of salt, but the point remains that boss:subordinate relationships don’t present the rosy picture that they should, if gaining organizational power depended mostly on job performance.

Very many leaders (perhaps even a majority)—defined as people holding a recognized leadership position—are simply not effective in basic leadership tasks. Some are downright poor. British workplaces, it is claimed, more often than not resemble a crumbling marriage, with the relationship between managers and their workers characterised by poor communication and low levels of trust.

Let’s be clear about the reality of life in organizations. Leadership positions ought to be held by those best fitted to hold them, in terms of job performance and leadership skills. In fact, many such positions are obtained by political influence, brown-nosing, naked competitiveness, and even simpler means: lying, taking credit for others’ success, bullying, and promising to help those who help you.

The argument about whether leaders are born or made is pretty much irrelevant. Showing excellent leadership skills, in the accepted sense, is only one of the ways to get to the top—and not usually the quickest or the most effective. Lust for power is a common human trait. As long as organizational leaders wield power over others, often unchallenged even by their peers, leadership positions will attract those for whom power is nearly all that matters.

Instead of merely accepting this, it might be better if we stood back and asked ourselves if that is how we want our society to function. If it is not, the answer lies in our own hands. You cannot stop unsuitable people wanting the top jobs. But you can refuse to appoint them. Do it often enough and organizations would be transformed.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, December 05, 2020

The Untold Power of Concentrated Weakness

When I look at the state of business and leadership today, it’s easy to become angry. Worse, it’s very tempting to believe that mankind is such a wretched, flawed kind of creature that there is little hope for any better future. The comments sent in to me and to this blog contain so many heart-wrenching stories of abuse by bosses and organizations. It’s enough to dampen the most optimistic outlook. Yet I am still hopeful. While realism must be faced and all the failures pointed out, there is really no point in doing even that, if no change is possible. We can build a better kind of organization, as long as enough people want to do it.

Greed, arrogance, and meanness are everywhere. That is true. Too many bosses are bullies and jerks. That is also true; even one jerk in a position of authority is one too many. Organizations are frequently short-sighted and obsessed with quarterly financial results, even though that usually harms them in the longer term and frequently limits their success. “Business as usual” too often means making all the same old mistakes, over and over again, as if no one had a brain capable of learning from experience or grasping the inevitable relationship between cause and effect. Most executives are highly educated and, presumably, well above the average in intelligence. Yet there are times when they act like the most foolish, intellectually-challenged of creatures. Most pet cats have a greater sense of the need for balance between action and reflection (often alas, in cats, indistinguishable from sleep) than do the inhabitants of the boardrooms of major corporations.

So why do I remain optimistic? Simply because we got ourselves into this mess, consciously and deliberately, and we can therefore get ourselves out.

We created today’s organizational nightmares by focusing on the short-term, by putting money before everything else, and by clinging to a faulty assumption that immediate profit is the sole interest of shareholders. Because most managers are clever and hard-working, and applied these mistaken notions diligently, they built organizations that are extremely efficient at making quick money and supremely ineffective at making the majority of those who work in them happy or satisfied.

What might happen if leaders took a long-term view? If they saw money as only one of the potential ways of measuring the success and value of an organization?
Suppose you changed the focus and the assumptions? What might happen if leaders took a long-term view? If they saw money as only one of the potential ways of measuring the success and value of an organization? If they assumed that shareholders might be interested in owning part of a business that made them proud of its achievements, as well as producing steady returns on their investment?

Probably some of you will object that this is all very well, but is hopelessly idealistic. I agree—but reject the “hopelessly.” Pragmatism won’t change the world—or even the outlook of a single organization. Pragmatism demands fitting in, following the current trends, doing what appears to work on the basis of current assumptions. No pragmatist ever took the opposite point of view from the majority. It’s an excess of pragmatism that helped bring us into the sad state we are in. Only idealism ever caused anyone to see what others are doing and decide, deliberately, to do something else.

Human beings are an odd mixture of exalted ideals, tremendous capacity for love and altruism, and an equally extensive ability to be mean, petty, selfish, and downright evil. Few are angels. Few are total devils. Most stand somewhere in between, sometimes leaning in the direction of better behavior, sometimes towards what is worse. We have the capability to create a more civilized, less destructive society, if that is what we want.

It’s so easy to complain privately, but go along with the status quo in public. We assume we are the only ones who dislike the way things are and want to change them.
We don’t use that capability enough, not because it is too weak to serve, but because we don’t have sufficient confidence in ourselves and our ability to change things. It’s so easy to complain privately, but go along with the status quo in public. We assume we are the only ones who dislike the way things are and want to change them. In reality, we are part of the vast majority of people: eager to see a better world, if only we had the courage to walk away from things as they are, and the vision to know what to put in their place.

We can do it. It doesn’t need riots, civil disobedience, or even fights with the boss. All it needs is to hold on to our ideals and try, every day, to put them into practice whenever and wherever we can. We don’t need some massive uprising by a few. We need millions upon millions of random acts of kindness and civility by innumerable people. The Grand Canyon was not cut out by a sudden cataclysm. It was cut away, fragment of rock by fragment of rock, by untold billions of gallons of water over millions of years. What needs changing in our organizations is far softer than rock and has been in place for less than a century. Imagine what could happen if it was systematically attacked by all those ordinary people, each one chipping away at at some part of the edifice.

Remember the power of random drops of water. Random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can be just as powerful.
Don’t despair. You can make a difference, today and every day, even if each one seems tiny. Remember the power of random drops of water. Random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can be just as powerful. So can taking a few moments out of the rat race to think and refresh your mind. We built our organizations the way they are. We can pull them down and build something better, even if it has to be one brick at a time.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, December 04, 2020

Avoiding Contagion

Bad leadership and aggressive management practices are highly contagious. So are bad attitudes. If you spend your time around mean-spirited, aggressive, dishonest, and narrow-minded people, you will find that some of it will rub off on you. The same goes for listening to cruel gossip, constant backbiting, and formation whining. Like germs and bacteria, behaviors of this type gradually undermine our resistance and destroy our mental and spiritual health.

Organizations and executives that tolerate—let alone encourage—negative, mean-spirited, and aggressive behavior in the cause of driving up profits and shutting out the competition defile themselves. Why do they do it? Because they focus only on the outcome. It's that myopic emphasis on the bottom line. Yet the true bottom line, the only one that really counts, is the result of all additions and subtractions—not just the financial ones. And a toxic culture—bosses who treat their staff like dirt; staff who whine and complain, and indulge in backbiting and dish the dirt on one another—and executives who happily pocket the cash and hold their noses, are huge subtractions that can turn just about any level of purely financial profit into a thumping great social, emotional, and community loss.

I have seen reasonable, ordinary, basically decent people treat their colleagues in cruel and malicious ways—quite thoughtlessly—under the influence of a boss who made that kind of behavior both acceptable and necessary to keep his favor.
It’s very easy to get used to what you experience every day. In time, it becomes almost normal. It doesn’t feel too bad—or too hard to put up with. I have seen reasonable, ordinary, basically decent people treat their colleagues in cruel and malicious ways—quite thoughtlessly—under the influence of a boss who made that kind of behavior both acceptable and necessary to keep his favor. I’m sure those people no longer felt that what they were doing was particularly unpleasant, let alone wrong. It was “business as usual” and “the way we do things around here.” The unpleasant boss’s attitudes had rubbed off onto everyone else. Days and weeks spent in a poisonous atmosphere of jealousy and political intrigue had hardened people without them even noticing.

We all want to survive. We all find it easier (and much more comfortable and safer too) to fit in, rather than stand out against someone who seems to have the power to harm us or our careers. If that is what we do, over time the pain and the dissonance between our true feelings and how we have convinced ourselves to think and act lessens. It is no longer so hard. The famous experiment is well known where students were persuaded to administer strong electric shocks to their colleagues as part of an experiment (in reality, to actors who mimicked being given agonizing “punishment”). The students did it because that was what they were told to do. That was what they believed was expected and required of them. By moving them slowly from administering small, apparently totally harmless shocks towards inflicting what seemed, on the outside, to be severe pain, they were induced to treat the whole process as “acceptable.” Their minds denied what they were seeing. Most claimed afterwards that they assumed that it had to be safe, however much the supposed subjects yelled in pain.

. . . they have gradually been induced to believe that this is “normal.” This is how business has to be in the 21st century. This is what it takes to succeed.
That is what happens when you spend too much time in a toxic environment. You become hardened. You no longer notice what is going on. And that is what is happening in too many organizations today: people working horrendous hours, driving themselves and others ever harder, treating subordinates like servants, and allowing themselves to become part of unethical, even sometimes dishonest business practices—all because they have gradually been induced to believe that this is “normal.” This is how business has to be in the 21st century. This is what it takes to succeed.

The ends cannot ever justify the means. That is the one all-encompassing, underlying truth of ethics—in business and everywhere else. Howyou do something is as important as what you do. Achieving even great results by dishonest, disagreeable, or downright noxious means removes any benefit or luster from the outcome. It becomes tainted and worthless.

The ends cannot ever justify the means. That is the one all-encompassing, underlying truth of ethics—in business and everywhere else.
Contagion requires frequent contact. It needs you to breathe the same air, share the same office space, inhabit the same environment, laugh at the same jokes, as the source of infection. Jerks, bullies, unethical weasels, and domineering, egotistical fools spread the infection of their attitudes and opinions wherever they go. Keep away from them. Keep away from the contagion of bad, Hamburger Management. Treat it as you would a bucketful of germ-ridden, noxious sewage. For that is what it is, and it is slowly poisoning our organizations—and our business values.

We do not have to allow this to happen. We can fight back and we can win. Mankind has conquered many of the infections that used to make human life nasty, brutish and short. We can do it again. If enough people quietly refuse to allow themselves to be tainted, the contagion will stop spreading. If enough organizations refuse to turn blind eyes to those who deliver profits by unacceptable means—and root out the bullies, the petty dictators, the cheats, and the assholes—such behavior will ultimately be ended. It is simply a matter of choice.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, December 02, 2020

Corporate Ethics . . . How Far Has Business Got with Reform?

Standards of ethics in business have not advanced much in decades, despite all the fine words and codes of practice. The public seems to have given up on expecting business leaders to display any greater honesty or integrity. Since this cannot be acceptable in a civilized country, we need a way to bring organizations and their leaders back into line. Only a rising tide of moral outrage will be capable of forcing politicians to take notice and use their powers to curb a stubborn culture of ethical expediency in business.

When it comes to corporate and business ethics, it’s questionable whether we have advanced very far over the years. That’s certainly the view of Mirko Bagaric, a professor at Deakin Law School, writing in the Australian newspaper “The Age:”
. . . the golden rule in business, so eloquently stated by Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, [is]: “The social responsibility of business is to maximize profits.” While this statement was made almost 40 years ago, corporate behavior has not moved beyond that mantra. The bottom line in business is still the profit line. Business has not taken a single step up the moral mountain.
James H. Quigley writing in “The Chicago Sun-Times,” takes a similar line:
There's no quick or easy fix for the erosion of public trust in much of corporate America. It's disturbing that a mere 16 percent of respondents in a recent Gallup Poll believed business executives had “high” or “very high” standards for ethics and honesty. While many of the significant events that put us in this predicament occurred several years ago, we’re all left with the stigma—and the responsibility to improve our ethical business culture.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's first female lieutenant governor (and the oldest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy), speaking to an American audience about ethics and trust in the business world put the need for change this way:
It is important for businesses to build trust and integrity in the 21st century. To do this, we need to build a culture of trust within business.
The sheer power of business in these days of globalization has caused ethics to become more important than ever before. Sadly, while more people seem to be talking about ethics, there is precious little sign that any of the talk is turning into action.

What is happening? A recent survey found that fewer than half of the people around the average boardroom table are fully engaged or committed to their jobs. The study, covering six countries—the U.S.A., Great Britain, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden—found that just 47 per cent of chief executives, managing directors and other board directors admitted to being “fully engaged.” And a British survey suggests that many managers in that country believe that their efforts are going largely unnoticed by their bosses. A two-year study by the Chartered Management Institute has found high degrees of cynicism among managers, many of whom believe that networking among “good old boys” and an obstructive organizational culture block their career progression.

Uncommitted top executives? Cynical, disappointed managers? A culture of "good old boys?" No wonder no one in business itself is taking much notice of the clamor from the public at large for higher ethical standards and fewer scandals. Nor has there been any significant progress on other matters of fairness and equality. Here’s a quote from Management Issues:
Nearly half of the 1,000 largest U.S firms have no women in the upper echelons of their senior management, and a fifth of the rest have only a symbolic presence, damning new research has revealed. The study by Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth found a complete absence of women executives in 48 per cent of the largest U.S. firms. . . The study, concluded the business school, clearly showed why women had not broken through the boardroom glass ceiling in greater numbers—and why they were unlikely to do so in the future.
This type of “business as usual” is the norm for far too many organizations, especially since it appears to mean ignoring the demands of equality and social justice, putting profit before principle, developing elastic ethical principles, and indulging the egos of those at the top; many of whom, as the research quoted above seems to show, have little loyalty or attachment to the very organization that pays their salaries and bonuses and hands out their stock options.

Ethics, whether in business or anywhere else, isn’t about fine words or lofty sentiments. It isn’t even about following set moral codes, let alone the kind of wishy-washy “codes of practice” beloved of politicians and corporate lawyers. Ethics is the application of reason and intelligence to issues of right and wrong. It’s working out what it is right to do in any given set of circumstances—then doing it, regardless of favor or criticism.

Maybe it’s the politicization of business that has undermined people’s ethical concerns. In the past, situations were closer to black and white. A good many nineteenth and early twentieth-century industrialists were what the English poet laureate John Betjeman memorably described as “a thumping crook.” There was little doubt about their dubious methods or their total lack of scruples. But at least they were honest about their dishonesty. Today, there are probably just as many crooks, but they’ve learned to hire spin-doctors and PR consultants to conceal their misdeeds behind a facade of fine words and meaningless platitudes—exactly like politicians. Larger-than-life monsters of the past, like J.P. Morgan, for example, were hated, but often secretly admired too. Today’s preening CEOs and fat cats, despite their predilection for manipulating stock options and claiming unearned bonuses, are actually rather a dull crowd: more shady accountants than crooked tycoons.

That’s maybe why it is harder to generate enough outrage in the public mind to force the natural allies of this kind of business leader, shady politicians, to bring them to heel. I gather there is now a move to water-down the enforcement of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, in the cause of making U.S. capital markets “more competitive.” The weasels are busy and progress of stronger business ethics is once again coming in for stealthy, behind-the-scenes dilution.

Forget the speeches and declarations. Forget the codes of professional practice and compliance officers. What we need is more good, strong, moral outrage: the kind that gets politicians thrown out of office and forces dishonest business leaders to curb their greed and natural tendency to expediency in everything—or face some honest time to reflect . . . in jail.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, December 01, 2020

Instead of More, Try Different

You can’t out-compete others simply by doing more of whatever they do: going ever faster, cutting costs ever deeper, or working your people ever harder for longer hours. The Law of Diminishing Returns will ensure that. Besides, the Law of Unintended Consequences often turns such well-intentioned actions into surprising disasters. There is only one way to respond to competition that works long term.

In recent years, responding to competition has lost its way. Its has come to mean little more than doing more of what everyone else does. Time is money, so organizations continually try to go faster. Greater productivity and output per person is pursued simply by firing some people and working those who remain harder and for longer hours. Offering the customer discounts leads to a discounting price war. Tactics like this are ultimately futile, because they are a one-way street. Organization A cuts costs and is countered by organization B cutting even more costs. Working your staff for longer hours leads to others working their people for still longer ones. In time, such simplistic behavior crashes into the Law of Diminishing Returns—and often the Law of Unintended Consequences as well.

You cannot go on finding “savings” for ever from a finite set of resources. There is always a limit. And the closer you get to that limit, the less return you get for the same level of savings.
The Law of Diminishing Returns ensures that competition by means of cost cutting, staff reductions, overseas outsourcing, and the like will only work for a limited time. Once everyone is running headlong down this same track, additional cuts must swiftly become so deep that they start to harm the business itself. As the supposed “fat” is trimmed away, further cuts bite into muscle and bone, weakening the business’s longer term vitality—all for the sake of staying ahead in this short-term “arms race” of escalating cost reductions. We are already seeing rising wages and skill shortages in countries such as India, which were the first recipients of the outsourcing boom. That so-convenient surplus of skilled, English-speaking staff, who were willing to work for very small wages, has rapidly disappeared. The law of diminishing returns is always waiting to snatch away the prize, despite the effort put into winning it. All it takes is for everyone to jump onto the same “more profit by greater cost savings” or “more sales by bigger discounts” bandwagon—exactly what is happening today. You cannot go on finding “savings” for ever from a finite set of resources. There is always a limit. And the closer you get to that limit, the less return you get for the same level of savings.

That’s the Law of Unintended Consequences at work. Instead of getting what you want, you get something else—something logical and inevitable, but far less welcome.
The Law of Unintended Consequences can ruin you long before the Law of Diminishing Returns has its inevitable effects. Think about this carefully before before deciding there is no practical alternative to getting on to the bandwagon of imitation. Consider the discounts being offered to try to sell stockpiled cars and SUVs. Customers quickly get the idea that whatever “savings” one manufacturer offers must quickly be trumped by the rest. So they wait before buying—the very last thing the manufacturers want—to take advantage of the lowest possible price. Now the idea has spread. Bursts of holiday shopping are coming later and later, and retail price cuts and sales are starting earlier and earlier. What used to be post-Christmas sales to try to dispose of unsold goods have turned into pre-Christmas sales to try to sell anything at all. That’s the Law of Unintended Consequences at work. Instead of getting what you want, you get something else—something logical and inevitable, but far less welcome.

Here is another example. Through all the cutbacks, headcount reductions, and the like, organizations have (unintentionally, of course) been teaching their staff to be as disloyal to the organization as the organization has been to them. Many, many skilled people, especially in sough-after disciplines, keep their resumes polished and ready at all times. Quite a few have them permanently posted on Internet recruitment sites. You cannot blame them. They have seen their friends and colleagues thrown out without any scruple. Maybe they have themselves received pink slips, with all the cant about how sorry the organization is to have to let them go. Losing their job no longer terrifies them. They accept it as normal, and plan for it accordingly.

Organizations and their leaders have been engaged in a gigantic game of “chicken.” They have pushed one another further and further down the road of short-termism and pure expediency.
For years, organizations have relied on cutbacks and cost savings to drive up short-term profits and please shareholders. It is so much simpler and less demanding of leadership than increasing business—or creating more profitable and effective ways of doing the business that they have. When the Law of Diminishing Returns arrives to plague them, they still cut harder and harder to drive up profits faster than the competition are doing. Is it any wonder that the media are full of stories about looming shortages of skilled people? That too is simply the Law of Unintended Consequences coming into play. These “sudden” and “unexpected” skill shortages are merely the inevitable result of years of cutbacks in staffing and training. Now, so it seems, we may be facing a decades-long “war for talent.” With a huge rise in retirements ahead, as my generation (the “baby-boomers”) become too tired and ga-ga to go on working, our organizations are seeing red lights, huge potholes, and crash barriers along that nice road of easy profits from staff reductions.

Organizations and their leaders have been engaged in a gigantic game of “chicken.” They have pushed one another further and further down the road of short-termism and pure expediency. They have leapfrogged one another in their haste to become the “lowest cost producer,” seeking more and more “savings” in every budget—except the one for top executives’ salaries and bonuses. They have not dared to be the one who blinks first. In their arrogance and folly, they have challenged one another to stay longest on a path that can only lead to misery on a truly colossal scale, as the two laws (Diminishing Returns and Unintended Consequences) come down upon them. We have already seen the once mighty Ford Motor Company pawning virtually all its material assets to raise enough cash to stay alive. Who will be next?

There is another way: Doing more of the same can be replaced by doing something different. And “different” offers an almost infinite range of possibilities. One that is unlikely to run out in anyone’s lifetime.

Innovation is the only long-term source of genuine competitive advantage. Leave imitation to the also-rans, who don’t have the vision or imagination to do any better.
Here, at last, is a good use for all those tedious studies of “industry best practice.” Look at them carefully and take notes; this is what not to do, because it is already in use. This is what to avoid whenever you can. Don’t follow the herd. Think hard, be as creative as possible, and do something different. Strike out on your own. If what you do works, others will follow you, but (for a while) you will be out ahead with little or no serious competition. And when others do catch up, let them keep on down the road towards diminishing returns, while you repeat the process and step aside into something new.

Innovation is the only long-term source of genuine competitive advantage. Leave imitation to the also-rans, who don’t have the vision or imagination to do any better. Cherish your creativity. Hone and polish it every day. In the end, it is the only killer advantage that you will ever possess.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.