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The Onward March of Folly

The Onward March of Folly

Despite all of mankind’s technological progress, some patterns seem rooted in human behavior. One of these is the tendency to grab for short-term gains and ignore the longer-term consequences, even when those are almost entirely predictable.

This attitude has been illustrated this week by the announcement from the Ford Motor Company of still more lay-offs, plant closures, and buy-outs of workers’ contracts. For years, Ford’s cars have been becoming less popular; so much so that Ford has been losing heavily on the operation of its car divisions. You would think this would be something the management would have made a high priority and tackled long before firms like Toyota and Hyundai could establish strong positions in the US market. However, there was some tempting, low-hanging fruit, in the shape of truck and SUV sales, that seems to have distracted management with the promise of strong, short-term profits, even while they more or less ignored the clear but long-term issue of how to make Ford cars competitive again.

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With management asleep at the wheel, its eyes fixed on the massive profits Ford made on sales of trucks and SUVs, no one considered what might occur if anything happened to those cash cows. Along comes a huge increase in gas prices in the United States. Now Ford’s gas-guzzlers no longer seem attractive to consumers and sales plummet. What had been merely a problem—how to counter Toyota’s rise to market-leader in cars—now became a crisis. Hence the panic measures to cut costs and dump non-performing assets, while Ford shareholders have to absorb the news that there will be no dividend and the company is unlikely to return to profitability before 2009, if then.

Of course, some people love a crisis, mostly because it gives them an immediate “high” of excitement. I wrote about such “Adrenaline Junkies” earlier this week: people who live their whole lives in a state of permanent crisis, even creating them if they don’t arrive naturally. The post produced an extremely perceptive comment from one reader, who pointed out the following paradox. If you exercise foresight to deal with a problem before it becomes pressing, people see what you have done as obvious. If you wait until the problem reaches crisis proportions, then step in to solve it, you are a hero. So if you want to be noticed, the answer is to avoid using foresight or planning to head off any long-term consequences, at least openly. Wait until people feel real pain, then step in as their savior.

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Short-termism isn’t the only source of today’s rapidly advancing folly. Another is the fashion for setting objectives based on statistics instead of understanding. In “Occam’s Razor”, I pointed out that a good part of the overwork and pressure that infects business today comes from people either collecting data to satisfy this organizational mania for measurement, or facing objectives that have been produced by statistically illiterate bosses. To deal with it, I proposed “Carmine Coyote’s Cutthroat”—a maxim that reads: “Do not invent unnecessary measurements and statistics to manage anything.” I don’t know whether it will catch on, but it would save people from a great deal of heartache and anxiety if it did.

By the end of the week, my concern with human folly, especially among otherwise intelligent leaders, shifted to the manipulation inherent in today’s macho styles of management. In “Integrity Versus Manipulation,” I tried to draw attention to the fact that many of the management fads and fashionable techniques around today are thinly-disguised ways of manipulating people to do what is probably not in their best interests. Macho management is highly manipulative; alternately brutal and bullying, or full of appeals to heroic sentiments, but always about getting people to work harder and faster to benefit others—mostly the executives of the business and the shareholders.

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Folly seems to be firmly in control today in many boardrooms. By a combination of quick fixes, short-termism, and “management by numbers,” executives ignore the obvious long-term consequences of their actions and focus only on short-term wins—even as they risk wrecking the company by doing so. In reality, leaders have ethical duties as well as financial ones, and many management decisions are as much moral as economic. It’s time to slow down, allow reason to replace emotions and adrenaline-fueled hyperactivity, and start facing up to the consequences of foolish decisions at every level.

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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 posts 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.

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Last Updated on October 9, 2018

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

Most of you made personal, one sentence resolutions like “I want to lose weight” or “I vow to go back to school.” It is a tradition to start the New Year with things you want to achieve, but under the influence resolutions are often unrealistic.

If you’re wondering when will be a good time to write a mission statement, NOW is the time to take a personal inventory to make this year your most productive year ever. You may be asking yourself, “How am I going to do that?” You, my friends, are going to write personal mission statements.

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A large number of corporations use mission statements to define the purpose of the company’s existence. Sony wants to “become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products” and 3M wants “to solve unsolved problems innovatively”. A personal mission statement is different than a corporate mission statement, but the fundamentals are the same.

So why do you need one? A personal statement will help you identify your core values and beliefs in one fluid tapestry of content that you can read anytime and anywhere to stay on task toward success.

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For example, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire came to the realization that he had lost track of what was important to him. After writing a personal mission statement, we saw him start his own business and he got the girl, Renee Zelleweger. Not bad, wouldn’t you say? A personal mission statement will make sure that, through all the texting, emailing and constant bombardment of on-the-go activity, you won’t lose sight of what is most important to you.

Mission statements can be simple and concise while others are longer and filled with detail. The length of your personal mission statement will not be determined until you follow this simple equation to create your motivational springboard for 2008.

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To begin your internal cleansing, you will need to jot down the required information in the following five steps:

  1. What are your values? Values steer your actions and determine where you spend time, energy, and most importantly, money. Be specific and unique to yourself. Too much generalization will not be as effective. It is called a “personal” mission statement for a reason.
  2. What are three important goals you hope to achieve this year? Keep your list of important goals small and give them a date. It is better to focus on the horizon and not the stars. Realistic goals are keys to ultimate success.
  3. What image do you hope to project to yourself? How you see yourself is how the world will view you. Think about this carefully. Your image should encompass what you look like and feel after you have achieved your goals.
  4. Write down action statements from each value describing how you will use those values to achieve your three goals. Start with “I will…”
  5. Rewrite your statement to include only your action statements. Make portable copies for your wallet, car or office.

If you followed the steps above, congratulations! You have just written your first personal mission statement. Your personal statement will change over the years as your goals change. You can have more than one statement for the different compartments of your life such as your career, family, marriage, etc.

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Writing a personal mission statement is an effective method to ensure your productivity is at its peak. It is an ideal tradition to start so that when next year rolls around, the outdated practice of resolutions will be something you permanently left in the past.

Featured photo credit: Álvaro Serrano via unsplash.com

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