A Caveman Can Do It

Revenue, cost and profit are seen as foundational components in business and those viewing cost as a cause likely focus on a simple linear equation—(Profit = Revenue – Cost)—as the basis of their view.  After all it is quite straightforward since for a given amount of revenue cost determines greater or lesser profit.  Accordingly if one can get cost to zero (or to approach zero) then profit will be at its maximum—the very business of business is assured.  But is not so simple.  There is a missing piece to this.  Continue reading

Oil And Water Don’t Mix

Reflecting on  “America’s Descent Into Madness” by Henry Giroux, we most certainly don’t but need to provide learning experiences in and through public education that will facilitate every person’s development.  What should we all seek to develop?  Our personhood, our humanness!  That is, we should all strive to become fully human in support of us—each other and all others—realizing progress toward becoming a more humane society.  How could we have a more humane society without its constituent members expressing the human qualities of kindness, care and concern for others?  Obviously we can’t, and clearly we haven’t!

Preparing people to become instruments for wealth accumulation was never right but it surely is effective for preparing people to be objects for exploitation.  James Boyce in Pursuing Profits – or Power?, asserts, “although corporations could benefit from the bigger pie produced by a better-educated labor force, there’s a tension between what’s good for business and what’s good for the business elite.” As currently framed the conduct of business is designed for wealth accumulation not to further human progress.  In other words, maintaining power over others is central to the practice of American capitalism, which has also captured society and colonized democracy.

The Incompatible No Alternative

Thus efforts toward educating people alone will in all likelihood fail.  Why?

As Giroux said quite succinctly, “rather than work for a more dignified life, most Americans now work simply to survive in a survival-of-the-fittest society in which getting ahead and accumulating capital, especially for the furling elite, is the only game in town.”  So it is the way we’ve tacitly learned to roll.  Seemingly most have accepted the there–is-no-alternative argument (TINA), remaining unaware that we will all lose as each seeks his/her own gain.

David Kristjanson-Gural, professor of economics, said it best “Capital will continue to corrode democracy, as certainly as oxygen corrodes iron, as long as a few hold sway over investment and jobs and are committed to using the wealth that we generate to undermine the will of the people.”  It is designed into the system!

The incongruence between our system of economics and a (humane) democratic society is far too significant—it is oil and water, both figuratively and literally.  Specifically, it is the central precept of our egoistic capitalistic system of economics—that people are primarily if not solely driven by material self-interest—that is the primary cause of the circumstances we are experiencing.  The vast majority have tacitly learned to believe they are at base the most intelligent animal whose aim is to have it all for one’s self—the one with the most toys wins!

People unconsciously assume that to be human is to structure life as the pursuit of one’s material self-interest, so they unceasingly strive to have more, thus forsaking them being and becoming more human. Unfortunately the getting of the toys in all likelihood will only be realized by a privileged fortunate few—as Adam Smith himself had essentially acknowledged in The Wealth of Nations that while the many won’t gain (in this system) it does keep them industrious to the benefit of the few.

There Are Alternatives

People must acknowledge that for a viable and sustainable (humane) society there are alternatives to oil but not for water!  So clearly we need people to awaken to their human potential in order for the critical mass necessary to affect a fundamental transmutation of society—piecemeal reform will not do.  Again Giroux astutely asserted, “It will not be enough only to expose the falseness of the stories we are told. We also need to create alternative narratives about what the promise of democracy might be for our children and ourselves.”  Educating people in an effort to develop their capability to think critically is paramount, but more is needed!

We must also understand that unless the system of economics is re-cast to serve all humankind then the system will continue descending us into madness.  We can’t continue with making it fit!  Because the conduct of business is deeply interwoven throughout the lives of so many a self-serving and narrow focus of attention creates a broad swath of destruction.  In a recent report on a decade of historic rising profits and stagnant wages, Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute state that “an economy that does not provide shared prosperity is, by definition, a poorly performing one.”   It is poor performing for the many because it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t serve!

Again we can’t continue with trying to make it fit, as if there is no alternative. Simply, we can’t continue to be so myopically focused on profit and shareholder value—which serves but a few—if we wish to be a sustainable society.  Exploitation and extraction as a means of wealth accumulation must end!

It should be clear that the intent of business must change to where concern for people’s development and wellbeing are paramount.  What should be placed ahead of the development and wellbeing of people?  The answer should be obvious, nothing!

Moreover, because we are so deeply interdependent, individually and collectively we need everyone to actualize his/her potential as a human being—developing toward becoming more fully human—and correspondingly to be stewards of our natural environment.  Given that the future is where (our) life and those who come after us (yes the children) will be lived, we mustn’t waste a single moment.   That is, the future begins now in this moment hence it is imperative that what we enact in this moment be a life-enabling and life-furthering act.  Decisions and actions that diminish our viability are wrong decisions and actions, so we must cease making and taking them.

A Place To Begin

If only the leaders of business organizations took the long view and critically thought about businesses’ place in society and thus businesses’ responsibility they could change the why and how of business.  They would clearly see that there are alternatives.

We can realize a changed-for-the-better society by changing our practices—we can realize change by enacting it now, one decision at a time one business at a time.  If those in authority of a business enterprise are in deed leaders then they ought to exercise (their) authority over the resources they oversee for the betterment of all those they affect.  If they can’t or won’t do so then they must cease trying to selfishly influence the future of society.  They must either exhibit the courage to lead or get out of the way of human progress.  Let’s ask again, what should rightfully be placed above the development and wellbeing of people; what’s more important than a human life fulfilled?

On Being Instrumental, A Tool

We’ve all heard in so many ways by so many that the customer is important to (our) business.  Why is the customer important to business?  Simply, the customer is the one who purchases the goods or services that a business sells; customers can bring profit to a business! That is to say, customers are instrumental to revenue generation that in turn can lead to profit.  So all you customers out there must feel pretty important, huh?  Continue reading

No Progress To Be Found

In their article on labor relations Ellen Dannin and Ann C Hodges remind us that when companies compete on price the most prevalent approach is to cut wages and benefits—globalizing labor is the latest means to this end. Labor (aka employees, people) is viewed as a cost against the business of business that is profit. Correlatively to ensure that employees remain powerless individuals and not become a powerful collective voice they inhibit (and even obstruct) the formation of unions. Why? Continue reading

Unsustainable Contradictions

In spite of the persuasiveness of the business minded about both the management prowess in business and superiority of markets to serve the needs of citizens—privatize society—there are a few contradictions hidden in plain sight that we must heed.

The business minded contend competition is required for a business enterprise to innovate and/or to provide quality to its’ customers. That is to say, business leaders need to be forced to foster creativity and provide quality. The underlying assumption is that the business minded do not care enough or are responsible enough to provide the organizational environment for creativity and quality to emerge—they need to be acted upon to do the right thing.

Business leaders, at times vehemently, resist regulation claiming they don’t need someone (especially government) overseeing to ensure they conduct business in a socially responsible way. That is, they claim they are quite competent and should be trusted to conduct business responsibly—only they know what’s best—hence they don’t need others to act on them to do the right thing.

The contradiction is striking! Out of one side of their mouth business leaders say they need outside forces to do what’s right and yet out of the other side they say they don’t need outside forces to do what’s right.

What underlies this contradiction is an addiction, where profit is the substance of choice and the measure of (their) life.  And as with all addictions greater and greater quantities are needed to bring satisfaction. It is this self-serving compulsion for increasing level of profit that is the basis of both arguments.  Hence to them there is no contradiction—it is all the same and quite rational.

Yet another contradiction advanced by the business minded is that (free) markets are efficient and most effective, except of course when it comes to what business leaders desire.  The captains of business/industry know full well their wants mustn’t be left up to the market to satisfy—markets aren’t as efficient and effective as they tout—hence their quid pro quo lobbying to fix the market in service to their particular desires.

Can the captains of business/industry be trusted to act responsibly or to provide sound guidance in the governance of society and the providing social services to citizens when the business of their business is their very own profit? Should capitalistic principles dictate the practice of democracy–a grand contradiction?

It should not be surprising that this manner of governing society is as irrational in regards to the common good as it is, given the influence profiteers have upon policy.  A system—be it a society or a business enterprise—led or governed in this way is an addictive system and thus not sustainable.  All addictions have the same future, thus continuing with such contradictions is self-destructive.

Business Management Education—Think Again

In an HBR Blog Network article Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Director of the Management Acceleration Programme at INSEAD, spoke to the question are business schools clueless or evil?  Professor Petriglieri’s answer is “business schools are neither clueless nor evil. They are—like most students that flock to their classrooms—in transition.  Overtly working to improve their competence and image and covertly wrestling with questions about identity and purpose.” Continue reading

Effectiveness Is Not Enough

Stephen Covey’s The 7-habits of highly effective people presented a discussion on Habit #1 about the relationship between one’s circle of concern and one’s circle of influence as a way of explaining the difference between being proactive versus reactive—the subtext being that effective people (such as leaders) are proactive.  In the presentation, which is based on the premise that “we each have a wide range of concerns—our health, our children, problems at work, national debt and nuclear war”, the circle of influence portrayed is within and smaller than the circle of concern.

 

Because the circle of concern was larger than the circle of influence it seems Covey, in referring to the circle of concern, was actually offering a way of discerning what is in one’s control.  However, if one’s circle of concern is larger than one’s circle of influence then there is an increased likelihood of experiencing a sense of helplessness and angst.  Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” offers great guidance in this situation.

 

Effective Relative to What

The implication for those aspiring to be a leader is to become proactive by expanding your circle of influence in order to ensure you are working on things you control and can do something about, thus improving your effectiveness.

 

But effectiveness is not an absolute term: Its’ meaning is always connected to the desired end of one’s efforts—often reflected in what one uses to measure effectiveness.  The measures most often used guide us to place focused attention on one thing rendering us blind to the unintended consequences of our actions.  Thus depending upon what one is seeking to do being effective can be either constructive or destructive.

 

Al (Chainsaw) Dunlop was effective in realizing the single-minded end he desired—maximizing shareholder value thus reaping gains for himself and major shareholders—but in his wake he left considerable destruction.  Though he severely diminished the viability of companies such as Scott Paper and Sunbeam, destroying the livelihood of many people, he made for himself a fortune and was proud of it!

 

If we look through the lens of systems thinking we see because of inherent interdependencies we influence far more than we realize.  Thinking systemically reveals to us that everything is connected to everything else; that we can’t do just one thing.  In other words our actions reverberate throughout the system.

 

The implication here is, if ones’ circle of concern is less than one’s circle of influence then there is a increased probability that acting solely in consideration of one’s concern will lead to the degradation of one’s environments—which includes social, industrial, economic and natural.  In light of the many social and environmental problems created through past decisions and policies set by those in authority, the circle of concern has been considerably less than the circle of influence for far too many in these positions.

 

Broad Concern

In regards to corporate executives primarily concerned, if not solely, with increasing shareholder value—coupled to the fact that they have a considerable influence upon the lives of others—pose a considerable threat to the wellbeing of people and society as a whole.  It appears most of these executives believe the corporation stands a part from and independent of everything else and its survival alone is paramount.  What seems to be not understood is the unit of survival cannot be the legally defined corporate entity but rather it must be the corporation plus its environments.  Polluting the environmental systems—nature, humankind, society—as a way of satisfying self-interest and getting what you want will not make for a livable world. The concern must be more than shareholder value if there is to be a viable future.

 

Therefore, those aspiring to be a good leader mustn’t limit their concerns to that which is in his/her (direct) control.  They need to expand their circle of care thus bringing the wellbeing of those they effect into their circle of concern.  Leadership requires increasing one’s circle of care, especially as one’s circle of influence expands with the attainment of higher positions of legitimate authority.  To do otherwise would no doubt increase the likelihood of harm and destruction.

 

Congruence Counts

When people are given the legitimate authority associated with a position in an organization or society’s government, he/she is necessarily required to demonstrate care and concern for those over whom he/she has been given formal authority.  Sadly far too many become intoxicated with their newfound circle of control—and correspondingly the prospect of getting it all for themselves—that they ignore their responsibility for the care and concern of those whose lives they touch. Upholding this latter responsibility—bringing into congruence the circle of influence and the circle of care—is in large measure what separates the heroic leaders from the toxic leaders.

 

Toxic leaders are effective in turning organizations and societies over which they exercise control into black holes wherein potential is trapped and people are unable to develop and flourish.  Until a sense of caring grows beyond concern for what’s in it for me those to whom we give positional authority will effectively do what’s good for them alone.  Such effectiveness can’t help but to be detrimental to all concerned.

 

What we need is an increasing number of people striving to expand their circle of care and to bring it into congruence with their circle of influence.  When people do this invariably they come to acknowledge their I-We nature.  With this acknowledgement comes a deep and wide sense of caring and so those upon whom we bestow legitimate authority within our organizations and government will most likely exhibit the leadership we so desperately we need.

 

Until more begin to care about more of us our best efforts will continue to fall horribly short.  To paraphrase Deming, best efforts absent of knowing what to do—without the guidance of principles—will result in a lot of damage. As Deming said, “think of the chaos that would come if everyone did his best, not knowing what to do.”  Well look around, chaos is quite evident, is it not!  We should remember that a narrow focus of attention is nothing if not a limited sense of caring.  Need we continue holding onto our self-interest maximizing ways?

 

 

Redesign for Capability Not Flatness

In an HBR Blog Network essay by Ron Ashkenas titled “More direct reports make life easier”, the case is made for increasing the span of control so that it becomes “possible to compress the number of hierarchical layers or levels.”  Why do this? Continue reading

Challenging The Chain of Command

If management can control things then management can be effective and efficient in realizing the desired results and sustaining the business. You will find very few who would disagree with this if-then thinking.  This thinking is so common that it is rarely, if ever challenged—until now. Continue reading

What We Know That Ain’t So

The paradigm that emerged in the 17th century set humankind as the conqueror and manipulator of all things for tangible ends. Moreover knowing something meant that it is expressible and explainable in the language of mathematics (i.e. numbers, measurements), as everything that was anything must be quantifiable and quantified if it is to be understood.  Accordingly everything in the universe became an object to be measured and modeled into exact laws of cause-and-effect.  Continue reading