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Hamburger Management


Why understanding risk is essential to living the way that you want.

Risk is in everyone’s mind at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they understand what it is or how it works. That’s the main reason why so many people, including some supposed experts, constantly get into a mess. Here’s how to avoid joining them.

Risk is one of the most misunderstood ideas in the world today—especially the business world. Despite all the time and effort devoted to risk evaluation and risk management, corporations constantly find themselves subject to far greater risks than they imagined.

The reason for this is rather simple: they confuse risk with probability and try to deal with it primarily by statistical or mathematical means.

Probability is, indeed, numerical. It’s the study of the likelihood that some event or outcome will happen—an attempt to understand the inner workings of chance.

Risk is something quite different. The easiest way to describe it is to say that risk is simply a substitute for knowledge.

How are risk and knowledge linked?

The more you understand something, the less risk is associated with it.

Suppose you want to see your favorite team win the next time you go to a match? What’s the risk that you’ll be disappointed?

The more you know about your team, the more certain you can be about the outcome.

Probability could tell you the odds of your team winning, given their recent record. But knowledge can go much further. If you know that the opposing team is a weak one, its star player will be absent, and its coach was fired two days ago, you’re already well on the way to being fairly certain of the result. Add your knowledge that your own team is the best in the league, will be at full strength, and hasn’t lost a game in 4 months, and you can see the risk of being disappointed is minimal.

Can you eliminate all risk?

Unfortunately not. Nothing in this world is a total certainty—not just because there is an element of randomness in nearly everything, but because our knowledge is never absolute. Even natural laws cannot be treated as lacking any risk, though they come as close to complete certainty as makes little difference. The law of gravity isn’t likely suddenly to stop, though there is, I suppose, always the theoretical possibility that it could.

If knowledge and risk are more or less opposites, it’s clear that having greater knowledge about anything is going to greatly lessen the risks that go with it. The more you know, the less risk you need to take.
Why does this matter?

Throughout life, people constantly find themselves facing the necessity of making decisions in circumstances they know very little about.

That’s why life is risky. It’s peoples’ lack of knowledge or understanding in key areas of of their lives. They must choose, yet lack enough knowledge to do so with any degree of certainty. Sometimes the requisite knowledge simply isn’t available; sometimes they don’t know where to find it; sometimes they haven’t tried to look; sometimes there isn’t time anyway.

So what do they do? The decision has to be made, so they make it.

In most cases, they do so by falling back on some pretty risky substitutes for knowledge:

  • They do what everyone else does, in the erroneous belief that there is safety in numbers. The media encourage this myth by treating opinion as fact. “80% of people believe this,” they say, with the strong implication that it must therefore be correct. “Chosen by 93% of consumers.” There was a time when 100% of living humans believed the earth was flat. Go figure.
  • They follow some folk-saying or rule of thumb. I guess the assumption here is that such sayings must contain some truth to have lasted so long. Maybe so, but it might well be precious little.
  • They stick as closely as they can to what they’ve done before. It isn’t nature or conviction that makes most groups of people conservative. It’s ignorance and fear. Ignorance increases the risk that any change might go wrong and fear makes that possibility appear terrifying. The more ignorant and fearful the group, the more conservative they will be.

There’s only one way to manage risk

Knowledge is the only answer to risk. That’s why learning is so precious: it takes away a great deal of the risk we would all face otherwise. The greatest benefit of modern science is neither medical advances nor soaring productivity: it’s the ability it gives us to live in a world that no longer contains a massive proportion of the daily risks confronted even by our recent ancestors.

Of course, sometimes no knowledge is available and you have to wing it. Or your knowledge stops at a critical point. But, even then, knowledge in principle—conceptual knowledge—can help you to make educated guesses.

Making educated guesses

A little while ago, I wrote an article on how to recognize a civilized organization. A reader took me to task, writing that my ideas would work only from the inside, not if you were seeking a job.

They would undoubtedly work best from the inside, since more knowledge would be available. But they would still work for recruits, provided you used knowledge in principle to make some educated guesses.
The greater the knowledge and education people have—and, critically, actually use—the better they tend to handle risky situations.

Why? They take just as many risks—only those steps don’t look very risky to them. Their conceptual knowledge minimizes the riskiness.

That’s why haste, arrogance, denigration of thought, and reliance on rules-of-thumb—all the hallmarks of Hamburger Management—are at the root of so many of today’s problems. It’s self-induced ignorance, which produces self-induced risks. The macho fools leap in, believing taking risks makes them into instant entrepreneurs.

If you want to lower the risks in your life, and increase its stability and focus, simply slow down, think more, and learn all you can.

There’s no other way.

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The perils of seeking success “on the cheap”

Whether it’s financial returns, business profits, or personal achievement, doing it on the cheap is packed with risks. In the last few days, there have been multiple instances of what happens when people try to get what they want on the cheap. Sadly, there’s little sign that anyone is learning from what has been going on. The temptations will always be there, but wiser heads know that what seems too good to be true nearly always is exactly that.

Hedge funds and investment banks had a bonanza in recent years, fueled by cheap credit and the kind of belief in personal invulnerability usually associated with hot-headed teenagers. They not only ignored the risks of what they were doing, they came to believe in some strange way that the risks weren’t even there. You could make vast sums of money by borrowing other peoples’ cash and speculating with it. It was the primrose path: financial success on the cheap.

One of the nation’s largest toy-makers also appears to have believed that they could make big profits without it costing them anything like what it should have done, by outsourcing all the production to China, doubtless driving a hard bargain even there. Now they have discovered lead in the paint and other hazards, and the withdrawals will cost them millions and a large slice of their reputation. There’s nothing inherently wrong in buying products from overseas, but did it never occur to them to spend a little more money on constant testing and quality control? I guess not, given the number of toys being recalled.

We seem to be suffering a whole business culture constructed on the notion that you can produce constantly escalating profits and build mighty organizations on the cheap. All that matters is the bottom line. Never mind paying ordinary people good salaries; just reward the few at the top. Forget about providing a route to adequate pensions or health care; that costs too much. Forget about giving consumers quality or a pleasant buying experience; pile it higher and higher and sell it cheaper than the next guy. But don’t cut your profits. Keep them high by cutting everything else: staffing, quality, systems, standards. Business on the cheap.

What’s the deal?

An article by Charles H. Green in The Huffington Post caught my eye. It’s called We’ve All Caught the Detroit Disease and refers specifically to the woes of the US automakers, but sums up the attitudes of management on the cheap perfectly:

The truth is, Detroit had and still has an American disease. It has a few key symptoms:
  • Belief that we are the biggest, standalone market, immune from global competition, and that the Big 3 [General Motors, Ford, Chrysler] had dominant market share.
  • Belief that GDP growth drives auto sales, that growth means growth in market share, and that buyers are price-driven.
  • Belief that, in the immortal words of Lee Iacocca, brought back a few years ago from the taxidermist to re-appear on TV, “the most important thing is the deal!”

That last point is crucial: belief in “the deal” as the basis of everything.

If everything comes down to “the deal,” there is no place for humanity, ethics, foresight, or even commonsense. Life and work are reduced to simple financial transactions, with an underlying assumption that the best deal is the one that gives you the most in return for the least: the foundation stone of Hamburger Management in all its current manifestations. Never mind the quality, or the value. Look how cheap it is.

In a society based on “the deal,” every transaction becomes competitive, since the deal is there to keep the score. If people complain that politics has become polarized, you can see why. Who wins in “the deal” that has to be made to get any legislation passed? Who comes out best in terms of spending allocated to pet projects?

In business, relationships also become deals: an exchange of favors and influence, with the winner being the one who gets most and gives away least in return. Buying and selling are deals too: how little can I, the seller, give you for your money; how little can you, the buyer, pay to get what you want. Even consumers caught the disease, leading to the spectacualr growth of discount, big-box stores. Low prices are everything, we are told. All consumers are fundamentally price-driven. Utter drivel!

As a result, in life and at work, many people want to do deals with reality, trying to get as much as they can with the least input. Never mind what career might be best suited to your talents; go for the work that will allow you to earn most fastest. Don’t wait for anything; buy now, borrow the money, and worry about paying it back sometime—maybe never, if you can go on borrowing and borrowing. When the loans run out, as they are doing now, life suddenly turns very bad for the most vulnerable and those who made a fortune lending to them.

Undoing the mess

Charles Green sums up the effect that the cult of “the deal” has had on the automakers like this:

The Japanese in particular always believed it was a global market, far bigger than the US, and that they, including Toyota, were small players on a global stage. For them it was always about growth, not share. And for them, price was not something you jacked up with leader models and white-walls and radios, it was something you set low, for growth, and built in all the quality you could, until you earned the right to sell at higher price points. It was not “the deal” — it was, profoundly, the relationship. They were—oh, what’s the word?—right.

What has being constructed in recent decades is a culture based on the belief that whatever you want can be had at half of yesterday’s price (and one third of its quality) so you can get still more things to replace those that have already failed or proved worthless. Quantity rules. Quality is old-hat. Life success is measured in dollars and shoes, not in happiness or satisfaction or the value you have brought to this life on earth.

Stop the world. Some of us want to get off here.

How can we undo the mess? First we have to reverse the attitude that you can get a good life on the cheap: that it’s laudable to cut corners, live off credit with no chance of repaying it, walk away from obligations when they have served your purpose, and treat relationships with others as “deals” you can “win” by short-changing them. “No money down” isn’t free. The bill will turn up sooner or later—often at the time when it’s least possible for you to meet it.

Live now and pay tomorrow still means paying. Short-termism is what the word says: looking at the short-term and ignoring the longer-term consequences until they come crashing down on you. Just ask those poor folk, persuaded by wonderful “deals” to take out mortgages they couldn’t afford; the ones who are now facing foreclosure and loss of everything. Were the short-term benefits worth the pain they’re facing today and will continue to face into the future?

Reality doesn’t do deals with you or me or anyone else. It is what it is, and real, lasting success takes what it takes. No discounts. No easy credit terms. And reality’s bills always, always have to be paid in full. You can’t declare bankruptcy and walk away from what you owe it.

We would all do well to remember that.


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Use of euphemisms—or a ton of BS—should alert you to areas where actions are shameful

It’s commonplace for people and organizations to use euphemisms and polite circumlocutions to try to hide dirty deeds. That’s why you should be on the alert whenever you hear one—or use one yourself.

When someone wants to mention an action they feel shame about, they nearly always resort to a vague form of words that sanitizes their meaning without actually naming the deed openly.

Our society has many taboos. Sex is one of them, so descriptions of sexual acts are hidden behind jokey circumlocutions or disarmed by ponderous, scientific wording. Death is another unmentionable. Listen to the TV or radio and you’ll discover that almost nobody today ever dies. They “pass” or “pass over.”

The world of work is riddled with similar ways of referring to actions that those in charge feel sufficiently uneasy about. People are rarely fired by the organization to cut costs and boost profits. The business is “downsized” or “right-sized”, which sound more like objective activities that only accidentally result in people losing their jobs.

Top executives naturally, are never fired at all. They “leave to pursue other interests” or to “spend more time with their family” which seems a rather sudden change of heart, since many of them spent almost no time anywhere save at their executive desks or in swanky hotels while they still had their jobs.

A wave of passivity

The other common verbal trick is to express all doubtful actions in the past and with the passive voice.

Not only does this have the advantage of making it sound as if it’s all over and done—so opponents can be accused of raking up up old, long-dead issues—it avoids attaching any name to the action which might point the blame where it rightly belongs.

Business leaders solemnly admit that “mistakes were made” and never explain by whom. They are willing to agree that “certain decisions proved to be less than optimal” (whatever that means), but carefully avoid saying whose decisions those might have been. Thus they tacitly acknowledge the mess, even as they neatly side-step any responsibility for it.

Steaming mounds of BS

If all else fails, there are always the trusty tools of jargon and BS.

Either of these manglings of the language effectively robs whatever words are used of any force or meaning. Together, they produce an effect on the understanding like a thick fog: clinging, wet, and impossible to see any light through.

An organization committed to “optimizing stock holder returns in the face of the increasing pressures due to globalization” is probably saying that it intends to increase the share price and boost profits by outsourcing all production to Outer Mongolia—but it’s quite hard to be sure.

One that is “seeking to attract the highest calibre of executive leadership by reviewing the available incentives to persons of outstanding talent and innovative ability to make their careers with this organization in the light of the global nature of current talent management” is really saying that it intends to pay favored executives more than anyone else in the world.

All this would be an irritating, if largely harmless, exercise in “double-speak” were it not for the way each euphemism or case of BS points clearly to an area that people are too ashamed of to express openly.

A lurking sense of shame

Do macho organizations and leaders have a conscience? Are they ever ashamed of what they do?

On the surface, the answer appears to be “no”, but underneath that feeling of unease is still there. Whether it’s called “using spin” or “being alert to the PR implications”, the words leaders use constantly give them away.

The more opaque the language, the less pride or confidence those using it have in whatever they are describing.

For the rest of us, such words should be an immediate warning that something is happening that we should be concerned about. No one uses euphemisms, jargon, or BS to describe what they are proud of. “I won”, they say; not “in a competitive circumstance, based on the presence of a number of persons or organizations, each seeking to optimize the eventual result in their favor, success was achieved on our part such as to result in the most favorable outcome possible.”

Coming closer to home

How often are you also responsible for using euphemisms or jargon to describe actions that you would rather nobody else noticed?

If you hear yourself using weasel words or polite circumlocutions; if you notice that the passive voice has become your natural way of speaking or writing, stop and take note.

You can run from the rest of the world behind a cloud of BS, but you can’t hide from your own consciousness. What you won’t describe openly, you shouldn’t be doing. Never mind the polite words. A jerk is still a jerk, whatever other names he or she hides behind.


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Why truth matters more in business life than many currently believe.

Truthfulness is often an early casualty in the path of macho management. Such “soft” virtues as honesty and truthfulness are treated with disdain by hamburger managers, obsessed as they are with getting results and winning by any and all available means. This is a bad mistake, and one that is nearly always punished in due course.

Here’s an interesting piece from yesterday’s Huffington Post on the topic of trust. The starting point is the case of the CEO of Whole Foods and his anonymous blogging that hyped his own business (and even praised his hair style) and knocked the competition.

A few short extracts will give you the flavor:

What signal does Mackey’s behavior send to Whole Foods executives and employees? That deception is practiced by their CEO and therefore an acceptable practice? What signal does this send to Whole Foods suppliers? That representations may not be what they seem?

Stephen M.R. Covey’s important recent book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, reminds us of the business case for being trustworthy and being seen as trustworthy. Character is first among equals in leadership requirements. Reputation takes years to build and seconds to destroy.

And Thomas Friedman’s excellent op-ed piece (“The Whole World Is Watching”) underscores a new fact of life these days: your behavior, words and deeds are part of a permanent record, enabled by the internet.

Hopefully, we are coming to an end of the tolerance given to unethical and unpleasant behavior by leaders, just as long as it “produces results.”

Of course businesses need results: their survival depends on them. But how those results are obtained isn’t irrelevant. Business is part of life and our society. It isn’t some separate sphere with its own rules and standards, independent of the demands of a free and civilized way of living.

People have always held their leaders accountable for their behavior—eventually. It may take a while. There’s often a period when leaders are given the benefit of the doubt; or when the novelty of an approach, or the presence of a fresh face, can obscure what is going on. Yet in the end, even the most ruthless and devious leader will make some error. At that point, all the envy and dislike that has been building up tends to come out and cause a violent delight in hastening their downfall.

Truth is too precious to ignore

Truth is the basis for all civilized societies. Without knowing, truthfully, what is happening, democracy is neither effective nor, ultimately, possible.
No one can be truly free if they are being kept in ignorance at the same time.

Truth is also essential to trust. Despite the faux-sophisticated sneers of macho managers and financial whiz-kids, all business depends utterly on trust. You have to believe that, in the vast majority of instances, people will honor contracts, deliver what they promised, and pay what has been agreed. Where there is no trust, every small thing has to be checked constantly; no one can be allowed to work without constant supervision; no message can be transmitted with being checked and re-checked every step of the way.

No truth = no trust = massive waste of resources

Can you imagine what all this would cost? How much every transaction would be slowed down by all the checking and auditing involved? How much time, energy, and money would go to waste on the conflicts, lawsuits, and bickering that would result? There is enough erosion of trust as it is to suggest just a tiny fraction of what would happen if trust broke down more significantly.

There used to be a time when society forced business leaders to practice greater honesty and trustworthiness. Sayings like “my word is my bond” summed up the prevailing notion that dishonesty and lying were not to be tolerated among those who controlled the business world.

Of course there were rogues too. There always have been. But they weren’t praised and excused in the way that they are today. Making money was more often seen as a slightly distasteful business: an activity that had to be conducted with one hand held over the nose. To be rich through business might well not win you respect in polite society. The only way to avoid the stigma of “trade” was to be known for your absolute probity—even if it cost you some of the potential profits.

This seems quaint today, when being rich can appear to absolve you from every character flaw and sin. In reality, that isn’t true. Lying, cheating, and betraying others to enrich yourself are still, I believe, intensely distasteful to most people. The public may be dazzled for a while by fame and glamor, but it always wears off.

For long-term success, the truth isn’t just something, it’s everything

From time to time, people ask me how they can choose the right path in life; how they can avoid stress and burnout; how they can be happy.

If I knew all those answers, I would be some kind of superman and I’m not. All I know are a few of the most important questions. And I know that telling and facing the truth is such an essential part of any answer to life’s problems that it’s hard to overestimate its importance.

If you don’t tell the truth, especially to yourself, you are living a lie and are so far off any sensible course that disaster seems inevitable. How can you find any answers to the problems of your life if you won’t be truthful about them, even to yourself? How can you get people to help you if you lie to them?

If you won’t face the truth, you’re a fool. You may be able to convince yourself of your deceptions and evasions. You may be able to convince other people too, at least for a time. But you can never, never, deceive reality. Try all you want, reality will proceed on the basis of a strict adherence to the facts. It will treat your fantasies with contempt and you with impersonal accuracy. All you will have done is compound any problems by closing your eyes and letting them come at you out of the dark.

Whether what the CEO of Whole Foods did was malicious or just foolish is almost beside the point. What really matters is that so many leaders believe that deceptive actions and suppression of the truth are acceptable. That’s the thing to worry about.

When our leaders become ethically blind, they ought to forfeit the right to lead. It’s up to all of us to enforce that law, before the universe enforces it for us.

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Despite its popularity, macho management has many severe drawbacks.

If macho management is not a sensible way to operate, it must be possible to show why. Organizations won’t be convinced by saying it’s unpleasant, so long as they believe that it works in their interests. Here’s why it doesn’t.

Macho management has become the norm because organizations have convinced themselves that it works to drive up profits better than the alternatives. They’re also convinced that the downsides are minor compared to the benefits.

I believe that they are mistaken; but the proponents of macho, financially-biased management are so many—and so convinced of the correctness of their position—that it needs to be the opponents of conventional management who must make their case to overturn what has become the norm. That’s what this article tries to do.

Here are what I see as the most obvious drawbacks of macho management. There are probably more, but I have tried to consider my list from the point of view of managers, not ethicists.

  • Pushing too hard. If too little effort is demonstrably bad for results, too much is probably worse. It leads haste and over-extended organizations; to harassment of customers and suppliers, careless mistakes, snap judgments based on inadequate data; to over-eager grasping of ill-understood opportunities and the taking of poorly calculated risks; to the forced suppression of contrary views, to lowered creativity, and to the alienation and loss of talented employees.
  • Arrogance and egotism. Macho kinds of behavior come easiest to egotists. Research has shown that egotistical leaders are more likely to take both high-risk, even rash decisions and decisions based purely on self-interest.
  • Blinkered viewpoints. In the rush and fury of macho culture, a constant is the tendency to see the world in black and white. Decisions are straight up or down. People, ideas, opportunities are good or bad. This departs so far from reality as to be dangerous.
  • All-or-nothing bets. Macho managers aren’t patient enough for slow, incremental wins. They want massive, public success and will often take risks on a similar scale. All-or-nothing easily turns out to be the latter.
  • Riding roughshod over others. Lots of macho managers have very short fuses—many are even proud of the fact. Their response to anything short of total agreement is to throw a tantrum. Intimidation is a way of life. All this produces is resentment and a desire to get even.
  • Domineering attitudes. Command-and-control is the hallmark of every macho culture. Those at the top have to be in charge of everything. Lower manages are subservient upwards and tyrannical to everyone else. This is a great breeding ground for lawsuits, labor disputes, excessive turnover, poor morale, sabotage, and low quality work.
  • Love of a good fight. The macho manager only shines during conflict. If there isn’t any, he or she is very likely to generate some. Conflict also wastes money, lowers productivity, promotes discord, and destroys creativity. Go figure.
  • Fear-based decisions. Macho cultures are saturated with fear at every level. Fear of those with more power, fear of being stabbed in the back, fear of losing out, fear of failure and disgrace. People compete all the time—not so much to win as to avoid losing. The results include lying, cheating, trying to harm competitors, concealing errors, manipulating figures, and putting personal survival above everything else.
  • Rampant office politics. In macho cultures, politics are everywhere. Where you stand in the political pecking-order is almost all that counts. Employees, customers, business ethics, rules, laws, and just about anything else become tools in various political fights between opposing barons.
  • Inability to cooperate or share. Macho managers only share with their toadies, and then as little as possible. No real cooperation is possible. You can’t assist a potential rival—and no one who isn’t a rival is worth notice. Besides, all those barons have to maintain their status and influence against real or assumed rivals. In a macho culture, there is usually more strife internally than with external competitors.
  • Constant turf wars. Not only are macho cultures extremely territorial, everyone constantly tries to steal territory from everyone else. Like bull seals competing for beach space and females, macho managers spend most of their time posturing, roaring, bickering, and trying to grab bits of territory. How this helps the organization is beyond me.

Given so many and such obvious drawbacks, it seems odd that macho management has so many followers. I think the answers are both simple and depressing:

  1. Once you have macho managers in place, everyone with a different outlook leaves or is forced out. The macho guys despise them. Macho management is the ultimate self-perpetuating system.
  2. In macho cultures, money is viewed as almost the sole measurement of results. That’s why you typically find macho people in charge and hordes of accountants keeping the score. It’s hard to imagine a more soul-destroying environment—or one more likely to ignore everything that does not come with a price or a score attached.
  3. Changing a macho culture almost never happens peacefully from within. The status quo is strong precisely because it suits those in charge. It’s their status quo. It made them the people they are and guarantees their survival. That’s why they will try to squash anything that threatens it. And, being aggressive and action-oriented, macho managers are some of the world’s best enforcers.

All that anyone can do is to keep pointing out the drawbacks and handicaps of macho cultures. In the end, they tend to destroy themselves, but the process is lengthy and painful. Far better to heed reason long before then and do all that we can to stop the spread of such a debilitating organizational disease.

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One of the less-noticed problems with today’s cult of speed is that it promotes superficial thinking and mental laziness.

If you feel you have no time available, the temptation to cut mental corners and jump to some well-known, supposedly tested solution can be overwhelming; even if you feel, deep down, that it’s not really the right solution to your problem. There’s no time allowed for anything else. But cheap, superficial thinking is like cheap, shoddy manufacture: it won’t stand up long to the normal wear and tear of life.

I’ve often written about Hamburger Management because the comparison with fast food is so close. People in a constant rush delight in fast food because it’s . . . well, fast. You can make your choice, get your order, and gulp it down in a few minutes. It’s easy, convenient, and—above all—quick. Fast food is also designed to deliver a swift burst of flavor, via high sodium, high sugar, and high fat. We all know it isn’t healthy, but, hell, it’s quick, cheap, takes no real thought to order, and it tastes kinda good at the time.

Hamburger management is exactly like that. It uses whatever approach is quickest, cheapest, takes least thought, and delivers an immediate burst of feel-good results. And, just as a diet of fast food takes time to produce obesity, diabetes, and a myriad other ills, the problems only show up later.

The more organizations put pressure on managers to handle impossible workloads and provide instant, infallible answers, the more they force them into macho, quick-fix styles of operation. Speed becomes almost the only criterion for choosing how to manage. Leaders become obsessed with pre-packaged answers, with following “industry best practice,” with copying the latest fashion trend in business. All because they can no longer allow themselves the patience, the time, or the energy, to think for themselves. In time, they forget how to do. Many even teach those following them that independent thinking is an impractical idea.

“Management by in-flight magazine”

Many organizations run on what many have termed “management by in-flight magazine.” That’s making choices based on the kind of 300-word lists of “The 10 all-time best management/marketing/leadership/business tips” you find in in-flight magazines. Why pick on those publications? Because many of these managers are almost constantly in transit and being on a plane provides one of the few times they ever have free for reading.

When you’re drowning in data and wordy, jargon-laden reports, brief tips are like a life-belt. They’re easy to grasp, quickly absorbed, and simple to digest. For the Hamburger Manager, anything that can’t be taken in and applied within a few minutes at most is dismissed as “impractical.”

There goes just about all theory, all discussion, all exploration, and all careful consideration: dismissed as “impractical” on no better basis than that he or she hasn’t the time to read it, let alone think about it. No wonder we live in times when superficial articles written by journalists (also on crippling deadlines), and simplistic books by self-appointed gurus, have far greater impact than careful works of scholarly analysis and critical appreciation.

Slow down . . . for your mind’s sake too

Slowing down isn’t only good for your physical health. It’s vital for your mental abilities and intellectual development too. The world cannot be expressed only in neat, 10-item lists and questions with multiple-choice answers, however convenient and time-saving that might be. It isn’t possible to swallow true understanding in bite-sized, batter-coated nuggets. Seeing the right way to proceed takes time and effort. If you aren’t willing, or able, to make that effort, you shouldn’t be in a leadership position.

To be successful in the long-term, you must think for yourself. You must be able to distinguish between superficially attractive, jargon-laden platitudes and genuine insights. You must be able to ignore snake-oil sellers in favor of genuine thinkers, even if the mental food those thinkers offer takes a great deal of careful chewing.

Investors quickly learn that if something appears too good to be true, that’s what it is. Sadly, many managers have still to learn this simple fact. Instead, rushed, harried, and confused, they rely on mass-produced cliches and patented nostrums to solve their problems. They’ve become physically hyper-active and mental coach potatoes at the same time. And at a time when organizations in developing countries are catching up fast, the organizations that promote such managerial styles in cause of quick profits are risking their futures to innovations discovered elsewhere.

The empire of Rome collapsed when the Romans relied on paying outsiders to do their fighting for them. I wonder what will happen if today‚Äôs major corporations go on relying on superficiality, while paying consultants (who aren’t much better) to do their thinking for them?

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