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Doubt, Conformity, and “Hamburger Management”

Doubt, Conformity, and “Hamburger Management”

When you write an article on a topic, it’s traditional to start with the problem, explain the causes next, then move into offering a solution. On the Slow Leadership site this week, I took things more or less in the opposite order, starting on Monday with part of the solution, giving my views on the reasons for the problem mid-week, and finally explaining the problem itself on Friday. This wasn’t intentional. Each article was conceived as a separate piece. It was only when I reviewed them for this posting that I noticed the reversed order.

So, let’s start with Friday’s post and the problem itself. The idea for Slow Leadership came from the slow food movement: a world-wide grouping of people seeking to re-establish quality in our food against the pressures of all that fast food has come to stand for—cheap ingredients, masses of chemical additives, limited menus, and even more limited taste and nutritional value. There are close comparisons to be made with many of today’s conventional management styles: the same emphasis on whatever is quickest, cheapest, simplest, and most likely to turn a quick profit, regardless of whether it is any good for human beings in the longer term. That was the subject of Hamburger Management Revealed: a review of three recent news stories giving evidence of the practical effects of Hamburger Management in action.

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It is a basic belief of Slow Leadership that most people truly want to do good work. Sure, there are some lazy bums, but they are far from being that common. Good work is satisfying, interesting, and makes you feel good when you have finished it. That’s why being forced into cutting corners and skimping on quality demeans everyone involved. In Authoritarians Need Conformists, I explored the idea that organizations build up “scar tissue” from botched attempts to deal with mistakes and problems. In time, there are so many rules and procedures around from all these past hurts that the organization becomes stiff and rigid. So sweep all the unnecessary rules away! Easier said than done, because there are two powerful—and linked—groups of people in nearly all corporations who work hard to retain them: conformists and authoritarians. Conformists feel safe being told what to do. Authoritarians feel big when they can do the telling.

Is your organization suffering from hardening of its arteries? Is the life blood of open communication and personal freedom to do one’s job unmolested becoming clotted and clogged as it tries to move through the veins of the business? Don’t just blame the authoritarians in positions of power. Blame those below them who accept the constant imposition of petty rules, and substitute compliance for true performance.

And so back to Monday and the solution to these issues—or part of it.

We all need doubt. It’s the driving force behind change, creativity, and independence of thought of every kind. Authoritarians and conformists—no surprises here—much prefer faith in fixed dogmas, including those of management: all the “truths” taught in MBA programs and hallowed by years of mindless repetition. In In Praise of Doubt . . . and Middle Managers, I offered two ideas. Firstly that doubt, in all its forms, should be fostered and nurtured wherever it can be found. And, secondly, that the worst place to look for creativity and new ideas is at the top of the organization. Those who have made it that far typically have absolutely no doubt about the value of preserving current system. After all, it brought them to the top, didn’t it? It must be good. The best place to look for creativity is, in fact, in the usually rather despised and neglected ranks of middle managers. These good people are not yet heavily invested in any system. They are much closer to the real needs of the organization. They haven’t given up their doubts about what is done today (nor about the supposed infallible wisdom of their boss’s way of doing things). Best of all, they have enough experience to see what needs to be done and direct their creativity to the right spots.

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There you have it. We are suffering from an epidemic of Hamburger Management: styles of leadership that focus on what is cheap, quick, and generates most short-term profit. The result is shoddy business, shoddy goods and services, and shoddy conditions for those who must work in these businesses. Because of the emphasis on doing things quickly, and never sparing the time to think things through properly, such organizations suffer from hardening of their arteries and a build up of ill-thought-out, hastily-imposed rules dreamt up in a hurry when things go wrong. Their management ranks become dominated by authoritarians and conformists, each group needing the other to operate. And a good part of the solution is to encourage doubt and cherish creative middle managers, who are not yet tainted with obedience to the Hamburger Management regime. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

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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.

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Last Updated on January 2, 2020

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

4. Be Who You Are

It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

5. Slow Down and Let Go

Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

Final Thoughts

What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

More About Stepping Out of Comfort Zone

Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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