I was able to do a lot of reading during the past year – now with two brand new titanium hip joints, I’m back in the fray back with tons of energy and a few book reviews! Mats Alvesson is a favourite author of mine. Have you ever found yourself at work wondering why certain problem areas or people were ignored? Where the social norm was to not raise problems and don’t tell people bad news that they don’t want to hear? Asking too many questions and spending a moment too long reflecting on a situation can make you unpopular. Or, worse, a target. If you persist in asking tough questions, it can become a career limiting move. Its a brutal work environment that leads eventually to bad outcomes – hopefully sooner rather than later so some corrective action will be taken and the damage can be reduced.
Alvesson and Spicer address this very topic. Why are so many of our organizations and/or management ‘functionally stupid’? Why do so many supposedly smart people play dumb so the status quo survives, existing power structures are maintained and the organization heads towards a disaster. What is going on? Read The Stupidity Paradox and find out.
Once again I’m packing for my return to the Copenhagen Business Summer School (ISUP). I am so looking forward to teaching Business Anthropology and Organizational Ethnography – big mouthful but basically … its people-watching with some theory thrown into the mix. Key textbook is written by a fellow Canuck, Sam Ladner who is an Anthropologist at Amazon. She has written a yummy book, Practical Ethnography – a what the heck is it and how to do it book. Great for students. Great for those who wish to explore the new worlds of understanding meaning. Ever taken a survey and found you didn’t fit into the neat little boxes? That is because traditional market research uses an ‘etic’ position – defined by the researcher. Somewhat useful but sometimes misses the mark.
Ethnography is the study of culture. As Ladner explains “Ethnographers connect details to wider patterns of social life.” It connects direct insights about people and what they care about and why. It takes what is called an ’emic’ position – being from the person’s point of view. Redefining the box or in many cases, removing the box altogether to obtain actionable insight that leads to a game changer. Ethnography puts the needs of the consumer first. And its about time.
If you care about having a competitive advantage, its time to care about ethnography. I can hardly wait to introduce it to the excellent students at CBS. People watching! in the summer! in Copenhagen! Let the educational games begin ….
Have you ever wondered why organizations keep spending thousands of dollars on leadership programs and the evidence actually indicates that our workplaces are filled with distrustful, disengaged and dissatisfied employees? Have you noticed that the qualities we select most leaders for in an organization are unlikely to produce leaders that are good for employees or long-term performance? Maybe its time to tell the truth about leadership – and the shadow side of organizational life. Jeffrey Pfeffer knows of what he writes. He teaches at the Stanford School of Business and has authored or coauthored fourteen books on topics such as power, management people, organizational design and evidenced-based management.
It may sound like a depressing topic but I find it somewhat comforting.To build a science of leadership you need reliable data. I am tired of the ‘feel-good’ stories of incredible companies that never seem to reside in my backyard. I teach a course in how to survive organizational politics for change agents. Every individual so far comes to me battered and bruised from the realities of organization life. At conferences, I am frequently asked to speak on building corporate cultures that support innovation. The topic discussions quickly come to shadow side of leadership and how to survive until trust can be rebuilt. Many people, maybe most people, have soul-crushing jobs. That is the reality in which we live. Pfeffer is blunt, yes. He states that if we don’t have baseline measurements of leader and workplace conditions it is simply impossible to know what to do to make any improvements. So … do you want to be the one to ask for 360 reviews on your leadership team? Me neither.
Research tells us that people who deliver bad news sometimes suffer adverse consequences. If we want to change the world of work, Pfeffer claims that we need to act on what we know rather than what we wish and hope for. Great leaders are rare. So what to do? What is the implication for the average person in an average organization? Pfeffer recommends becoming a skilled and unbiased observer and pay attention to what your leaders do, NOT what they say. The most fundamental principle of learning theory is behaviour is a function of its consequences. What behaviour is rewarded in your organization? Leadership for the people or leadership for profit?
This is not a feel good book about leadership. But, if you are looking for confirmation of workplace reality and some solid suggestions on evidence-based management, this book is for you. It balances the heroic tales of exceptional leadership and organizations on my shelves and gives practical advice on how to survive until you can find one (or build it yourself). Consider this book a practical survival manual if you are not in the enviable position of working with a great leader and/or a great organization. I truly believe we can get there. But, not just yet.
Fall is always an exciting time for me. Maybe because it is the start of a new school year – so therefore full of possibilities and potential. Maybe because Fall is my favourite season – transformation is literally in the air. I had an excellent summer in Copenhagen at the Business School. It is such a pleasure working with students who are dedicated to their learning and celebrate their own potential. Is that every student? No, but enough to rejuvenate my spirits and feed my soul.
One of the highlights this summer was visiting NOMA – an experience best described as living ‘food art’. Definitely a bucket-lit item for any foodie. The meal was superb as could be expected, but the experience was made transformational for me in hearing a sous-chef state: “I don’t work for a restaurant. I serve NOMA. I serve my country. I serve a movement.” The statement left me in tears, for I have never heard such a powerful statement about corporate culture. I only wish I could hear that level of commitment more. But first, it has to be earned. And that is the role of the leader.
Simon Sinek has written a great book about leading an innovation culture. How you get it and how you keep it. What if you got up every day and could not wait to get to work? How many of us can actually say “I love my job” let alone “I serve” as above? The title comes from a marine general who states that leaders go to the back of the chow line and the most junior soldiers eat first. Why? Because it symbolizes in no uncertain terms that the role of a leader is to sacrifice individual comfort in service to the good of those in their care. Walk the talk. What a novel concept and what a shame it is so rare. Have you had an experience of that type of leader? I have. And would follow them anywhere.
Sinek also covers his topic from a biological/sociological perspective which provides additional insight into how cultures thrive. If you are contemplating any initiatives this Fall, as part of your own organizational transformation, this book is a must. It is one of the best business books I have read in a while. And for this book addict, that is high praise indeed. A Fall Feast for you.
If you are serious about understanding your customers, you need to hone your ethnographic skills. In plain english, how you watch and listen to people in order to obtain actionable insights. My favourite go-to book for advice is a gem from Hy Mariampolski. It is a practical guide to understanding ethnography – for those of you who didn’t study anthropology. Some business schools are getting smarter and suggesting business students study both anthropology and psychology in order to obtain better and faster customer insights. As Mariampolski states: “The greatest challenge for market research nowadays is to deliver value by linking findings to the strategic business decisions that confront corporate decision makers. Ethnography responds to this challenge by observing consumers in the their ‘natural’ environments and then turning these consumer encounters into ideas that transform brands and product categories.” The book gives you basic theory and very practical guides to implementation. For beginners or experts, this is a great reference guide. A recommended text for my business anthropology classes in Copenhagen and here in Canada.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch The door is round and open, don’t go back to sleep. – Rumi
Another exceptional find for you from the Spirituality and Creativity in Management conference in Barcelona. Judi Neal has written an exceptional book about those who walk on the leading edge of creativity and innovation. A friend of mine calls it ‘the bleeding edge’ – as you can bleed to death out there. It is not a place for the faint-hearted. Judi Neal has courageously walked this path all her life.
Judi Neal is the retired director of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas. Judi has been one of the earlier and consistent professionals and academics dedicated to the topic of Spirituality in the Workplace over the past years. She created the Spirit at Work association and website more than a decade ago, played an essential role in creating and establishing the Management Spirituality and Religion interest group within the Academy of Management and developed the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace from 2009 to 2013 as its first Director. Judi is an officer at the Academy of Management and co-founder of the Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion. She has earned her place as an Edgewalker and moves freely across the bridge she has built.
Edgewalkers tells the tales of those change agents who wish to truly revolutionize the role of business in the world. Edgewalkers are those that don’t ‘fit’ the conventional roles in an organization. Edgewalkers have a strong sense of their purpose in life. Edgewalkers are the ‘bridge builders who link different paradigms, cultural boundaries and world views’. Judi speaks to five major attributes of all Edgewalkers: self-awareness, passion, integrity, vision and playfulness. Who do you know that has these traits? She believes that Edgewalkers are the leaders of the future and calls them the corporate shamans who walk into the invisible world and bring back wisdom and guidance for their organizations. Any organization that embraces and nurtures their Edgewalkers will have a unique competitive advantage. I couldn’t agree more!
This book provides both stories that inspire and practical tools to enhance your edge walking skill. So … will you come to the edge?
Recently, I attended the Spirituality and Creativity World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. I was presenting a couple of papers but focussed on the other presentations offered rather than my own. I was fascinated by a presentation by Sandra Waddock of Boston College entitled “Intellectual Shamans and Difference Makers: Creatively Working to Heal a Troubled World”. I immediately bought her book, inhaled it … and now, am sending it out to you. There are many of us in academe who are here because we love teaching, love our students and hope to make a contribution to our field. It may not be the public perception of teaching, but I assure you, we are not here for the money! The hidden pressure in academe is to conform, to repeat what has been done before and to not “rock the proverbial boat”. To go against the norm, to innovate educational programs or create new (thus different) bodies of work is not encouraged and can limit if not ruin your academic career. Keep your head down and your citations up.
Waddock’s book “Intellectual Shamans: Management Academics Making a Difference” rocked my world. She defines intellectual shamans as scholars “who become fully who they must be, and find and live their purpose, to serve the world through three capacities: healing, connecting, and sense making, and in the process seek or come to wisdom.” Waddock interviewed twenty-eight thought leaders who have dared to challenge and then change the face of education. She tells their stories truthfully … meaning the painful trials and tribulations of questioning the oldest priesthood on the planet. People who now are revered in management education tell tales of how they were laughed at, ridiculed and in some cases fired for being ‘different’. It is a book that gives me hope, much needed inspiration and maybe even a kick in the butt to try a little harder. If you live now in academe, or are considering graduate work in any field, this book should be compulsory reading.
Waddock states: “If we reinvent education, if we reinvent universities, if we reinvent organizing, if we reinvent societies, economics, and sustainable enterprise of all sorts, we can perhaps tap the potential within human beings to reinvent our relationships with each other and change our world for the better. We have to dream a new world into existence.”
It gives me courage to keep going. I hope you read it.