got golden handcuffs?

Last week the cover of the Economist headlined BE AFRAID, Occupy Wall Street grew by giant steps around the US (in Portland, OR, where I live, the mayor and police joined ‘the 99%’,) and the balance of power shifted yet again in Syria.

David Berreby’s excellent article in Strategy & Business argues that we modern humans are actually well-adapted to live in this kind of a world.  It’s a fresh and well-researched view of what it means to be fit for the Information Age reality, what puts us at our best, and our natural urge for freedom.  One CEO
… put an end to all the complaints in one swoop, when he switched the teams from salaries and work rules to a hunter ethos: a team gets 26 percent of the company's take from a client. How and when it works is up to the team. Productivity has almost doubled… 
Freedom and responsibility are the very best golden handcuffs there are…
I happened also to review this TED talk by Harvard researcher Dan Gilbert, arguing that,  no matter what happens, we’re psychologically adapted to be happy about it.  (Predictions to the contrary, a lottery winner and a new paraplegic are equally happy one year after the event…)   Most of us our are short on friends who are happy about the Euro crisis and the financial industry in general, nor are they likely to happy about it in a year’s time, but there’s some good pondering here.  Gilbert’s research shows pretty clearly that we’re strongly inclined to make it all OK.  And yesterday a BBC health news article goes further into how the brain ‘rejects negative thoughts.

I am inclined to agree. The weak ties that enable innovation, as Richard Ogle demonstrated in Smart World, are key to forging new ways to thrive in our fast-changing reality.  Berreby argues that they come naturally
Perhaps the information economy, that purely human creation, reproduces our ancestral environment, replacing literal landscapes and foraging with a virtual version.
changes promote autonomy, flexibility and "weak ties" and that the "changes associated with post-industrial systems" are "more compatible with humans' biological nature than those occurring in earlier ones.
You probably believe that the ability to learn is the sine qua non in business.  And maybe you’re on to your own and others' desire for freedom and autonomy as the ultimate golden handcuffs.  Certainly some leaders have learned to put them to good use.

So we like to learn, we’re good at change - but we have a tendency to tell ourselves that things are better than they are.
How much trouble are we really in?

And how might we know? What combination of models and thinkers might help us see beyond our biases and blindness?

Got any ideas?

Immune to Change?

One of the toughest parts of leading is the amount of change facing an enterprise: economic, social, climatic, political, demographic, technological. It can feel like an assault, and typically it feels like it’s ‘out there’. That’s part of the problem.

There are many reasons why it’s hard for businesses to change appropriately in response, and many factors to address grasping the challenges of current business fitness and getting in shape for change. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey take a cognitive tack in their book, Immunity to Change, providing a practical model and a nice set of examples. Executives are invited to illuminate the hidden commitments that are opposing their good intentions, and preventing them from realizing desired objectives. Armed with this information, they can revisit objectives and action plans, making them more effectively.

It’s well researched, well-written, and well worth a read.

my kinda guy

We recently lost one of our great thinkers, C.K. Prahalad.
“To me, the problems of greatest interest are things that you cannot explain with the current prevailing theory.”
I often wish I could ask him about items that flash on my screen, eg Is the US Bankrupt and Nobody Knows?  Are the Feds finally facing the reality of the ‘recession’?

This recent article from Strategy & Business is a treat: a highly accessible and altogether inspiring peek at C.K.’s genius.  While he tended to write about large systems, everything he says is as relevant to micro-business and non-profits as giant multinationals.  I invite you to take a moment, step back from whatever you’re working on, and let C.K.’s thinking have its way with your molecules.
“What is the essence of entrepreneurship?...Having aspirations greater than your resources.”
Sound like a good fit to your current reality?

Management thinking prior to his writing looks medieval.  Remember how organizations appeared before the concept of core competence?  When resources were purely financial? Or strategy took place in a fixed world? In their groundbreaking 1994 book, Competing for the Future, he and Gary Hamel
“argued for strategy as a stretch: by definition, creating a misfit between your resources and your aspirations… If you want to create entrepreneurial drive in a large company, you have to create aspirations that lie outside your resource base…”

“Gary and I said strategy is about creating new competitive space. This foreshadowed ideas like strategic architecture, shaping your future, expeditionary marketing, and so on.”
Having addressed  those small matters, in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, C.K. went head-on with what seemed impossible: profitably serving the [then] 2.5 billion people living on less than $2/day. I’ve often wondered about the source of that thinking; it’s revealed in the excellent S&B interview by Art Kleiner.  When asked how he came up with such different ideas,
“…both are about the movement of ordinary people into new relationships with power.”

“I started as an industrial engineer, but all along I’ve been struggling with the same question: What makes societies work?”

“Conventional strategy didn’t even consider individuals. When a company looked at its resources, it considered its financial situation: could it afford another employee or not, for example, rather than what kind of new employee must it bring aboard.”

“But when you look at an organization’s core competencies as its most valuable resources, you can begin to think of learning, creating strategy, and innovation as parts of a single long journey. The journey is iterative, interactive, and full of small steps. Nobody gets a big aha one day. Instead, there is searching; there are missteps, experiments, and doubt.”
Perhaps a nice dose of C.K. will put you in shape to redesign how you're putting your resources to work?

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Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?