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Finding More Entrepreneurs . . . and Fewer Jerks

Finding More Entrepreneurs . . . and Fewer Jerks

I have two topics this week: the present-day obsession with clinging grimly to the status quo, when we have rarely needed change and entrepreneurial flair so much; and the obnoxious jerks whose presence in leadership positions disfigures too many organizations. These topics are linked by a recurring theme: the way that Hamburger Management—that dismal system of cutting corners, hounding people to reach crazy targets, and driving down every cost except the money paid to the guys at the top—blinds us to the reality that the way our workplaces function is a matter of choice, not some inevitable law of nature.

Entrepreneurs and Outrage
In an article for The Financial Times last week, Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, attacked business schools for their built-in conservatism and over-emphasis on accounting in place of entrepreneurial ability. She made the suggestion that the strongest drivers for overturning the status quo are discontent and outrage. That got me thinking, and what she says seems right to me (“Divine Discontent”). Significant change always demands energy, courage, and strong faith in an alternative vision. Complacent, satisfied, comfortable people do not support or desire any change. Nor do those who have been convinced by business schools—or anyone else—that the way things are today represents the only kind of business world that is possible. You do not find entrepreneurs among those who prefer things to stay as they are. It is obvious that the people most likely to drive change forward are those filled with discontent and a sense of outrage at the current state of affairs. Dame Anita is right in saying that we should hold to our sense of outrage and use it to fuel our determination to force change—whether or not business schools actively help or hinder the process.

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Organizational Dinosaurs
Imitation is so rife in organizations. They follow one another like lemmings, even though a moment’s thought can show you that doing what others have done first is an extremely poor way to create any kind of competitive advantage (“Industry Worst Practice”). Current management fashions are a rare case of evolution running backwards. Where competition in the natural world seems to drive species forward into ever more complex and demanding ways of outwitting their predators, recent years have seen our organizations proceeding resolutely backwards, relying instead on the simplest and crudest ways of competing: cutting costs as a way of life and trying to increase productivity solely by making everyone work harder, and for longer hours, without increasing pay (“Evolutionary Backsliding”.) This is the status quo that is so beloved of our hyper-conservative business establishment. It may provide a benefit for a short time, but such limited, instinctual responses are a dead-end in the competitive stakes. Any organization that resists this foolishness and keeps on working to produce smarter, more complex, and more effective ways of releasing human creativity will walk right over such organizational dinosaurs.

The Sad Biology of Jerks
I’m not the only person who feels a sense of outrage at all the small-minded, short-sighted, and self-centered behavior shown by people who ought to know better. Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford, will shortly be publishing a book that shows how to recognize and deal with the jerks and assholes that infest organizations everywhere (“Jerk-infested Waters”). Just like us here at Slow Leadership, Bob’s objective is to help create a more civilized, less stressful, and more enjoyable workplace culture, free from the actions of those who are so blinded by short-term profit that they can’t see the mess they are making of everyone else’s life. Get the book, read it, and fortify yourself.

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One of the saddest aspects of the status quo—and of Hamburger Management in general—is the belief that people only do things when they are “measured” on what they have done and suffer in some way for failure (“Measurement Versus Trust”). No one is trusted to do what they have been convinced is right. No wonder so many managers are grossly overburdened. We are trying to turn our managers into a legion of control freaks, when what we need for greater efficiency is a workforce that can be trusted to do the right thing without waiting to be told—or checked on after the event.

Bringing Life back to Organizations
That brings me full circle to Dame Anita and her suggestion that accountancy is not the answer to our need for more entrepreneurial and creative people in business. The audit mentality that measures everything and knows the value of nothing is squeezing the life out of organizations (and maybe many business schools too). Should we simply accept that as inevitable? I don’t think so. It’s time to give our discontent free rein and fire up a sense of outrage at the mess. Only strong emotions like those are likely to bring change—and we surely, surely need it.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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