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Monday, February 20. 2012
One of the most annoying situations you can run into at the office is inertia. The belief that something is done, or happens, just because "that's the way it happens." I've lived my corporate life (for better or worse - usually worse, for me) in a relatively idiosyncratic fashion. I have never enjoyed being a 'Yes Man', and if I sensed groupthink, I'd usually ask a question designed to break the logjam, even if I agreed with the emerging groupthink pattern:
Sometimes these approaches don't work, and you don't win friends this way.
Winning friends is what moving up the corporate ladder is all about. But so is promoting efficiency and progress, something typically related to individual initiative. I wrote about Schumpeter and entrepreneurialism a few months ago. Schumpeter showed how the entrepreneur keeps markets moving forward and promotes progress. He essentially said "Be an agent of change for efficiency and improvement."
A solution to groupthink companies could utilize is to designate, on a revolving basis, one person to be 'Captain Obvious'.
The position would have to revolve in order to avoid having the job being defined by the job - which is all too common in modern companies. Each person holding the title would approach it differently, improving its viability.
The goal of Captain Obvious would be to keep even large organizations 'thinking small'. Too often we let things happen simply because "that's how things are done." We shouldn't. The colloquial term "Captain Obvious" is sometimes used as a pejorative. While many believe the role of Captain Obvious is redundant, in corporate culture it is an excellent title for someone who can articulate what is so clearly evident, nobody else sees it.
There are, of course, other solutions companies can employ such as cultural auditing. Another would be to designate a "Yoda" in every meeting. While a "Yoda" could keep meetings on track, the larger issue of finding a way out of poorly thought out policy decisions seems to suggest a full-time role for a Captain Obvious.
There is always a way to make sure a good idea gets a positive hearing. It's not always straightforward. You can't always put an idea out there and expect it to be accepted. But even if it is rejected, there are ways to get from where you are to where you want to be. When I was younger, I felt the best way to achieve this was to simply oppose the groupthink and do things my way. It would be useful if companies and groups were willing to accept the people who think differently as part of the culture. I have often been told that diversity isn't about ethnicity, it's about ways of thinking. But corporate culture, even in adopting diversity, has yet to understand that good ideas often come from places management tends to ignore.
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"When I was younger, I felt the best way to achieve this was to simply oppose the groupthink and do things my way. It would be useful if companies and groups were willing to accept the people who think differently as part of the culture."
Same here. When employees get older and have more at stake (supporting a family, mortgage, etc.) they are less likely to rock the boat. Corporate rot then sets in. (See my take on it at link.)
This sounds way too much like the corporate culture at Borland, where the company board held weekly status meetings (meaningless to most of us when I worked there) that took up all of Friday afternoon and began with a beach ball being tossed around the room.
Boy, could they have used a Captain Obvious. But they'd just have fired him before he could get out one paragraph.
I forgot to mention that one point in nominating a "Captain Obvious" would be the role is non-firable during the tenure, and for one year after completion.
This enables people to do the job legitimately, without fear of immediate 'retribution', during the course of the job of afterward.
I worked for a company where they had problems with turnover. The pay was OK, the people were great, the company was doing well - nobody wanted to leave. Nobody was getting rich, but nobody was setting the world on fire, either. We were moving along very nicely.
Some people think this is a good thing. As the VP said to me "I could roll a hand grenade down the hallway and nobody would leave." It's actually quite unhealthy for an organization to have that much stasis.
A Captain Obvious role would've done several things, not least of which is possibly cause Captain Obvious to become uncomfortable in rocking the boat and, while recognizing he/she is safe for 2 years, perhaps should be looking for a new job because people were not happy.
On the other hand, if Captain Obvious was respected, he/she would be likely to stay and others would feel inclined to seek employment elsewhere.
Corporate culture, despite being almost 100/150 years in the making, is still in its infancy.
Even though this arguement was stated in positive terms and the author was proud to stand up against what was referred to as inefficiency and anti-progress, what is really at issue is the anti-social acts of those who simply disagree for the sake of being disagreeable. Some psychological shortcoming or mistake in upbringing creates an anti-social pathology which the individual usually learns to claim is innovative and brave rather then stifling and disruptive. Usually these "tilters at windmills" are short term employees but even their brief presence can cause a company considerable problems and often force productive and promising employees to go elsewhere.
Knowing the difference is important.
There are definitely troublemakers in some organizations. Then there are others that think differently and are still part of the team, but are viewed as outsiders because they do think differently.
Anyone who undermines a working organization regardless of whether they have a better (or different) option is a troublemaker.
Anyone who offers a different point of view, though they may be doing their job at a very high level and only trying to get their voice heard, is not.
I've told one story, which I experienced, several times. A person who was a high level, high performing salesperson. Best on the team (later proven after they were forced out, and became the best performer at a competitive firm).
The VP simply didn't like what they had to say, and created a situation which made this person's life difficult. Took away clients, rigged the results (I know, since I was supposed to be doing the reporting, but the VP took it upon himself to 'fix' the numbers, and told me so), and created a generally intolerant atmosphere.
He went so far as saying "the problem isn't having people 'on the bus' it's having 'the right people on the bus'".
Um, yeah. That's not correct. It's having everyone realize your vision is accurate and viable, which convinces them that this is the 'right bus to be on'.
End result? That salesperson was forced out, and gets a lawsuit going along with several others who were forced out. They move on and are successful.
The company (which I left before all this came to a head), eventually started to have problems similar to those I'd originally been hired to fix, and was sold because of low expectations on performance.
Eventually, the lawsuits forced out the old VP.
I agree - there are troublemakers. They are usually very evident. I tell my team to not come to me with problems unless they have a solution. I can't solve problems if I'm not aware of what options exist.
More importantly, I tell them to come to me with ideas, that no idea is a bad one, but not to expect every good idea to get a fair hearing from upper management.