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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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