Everything that we consider "conventional wisdom" was once a radical new idea — the gene, monotheism, and relativity, to name a few. Each innovative concept that becomes a piece of the conventional wisdom either displaces, covers over or extends something that was already there. But often, an idea becomes so solidly accepted that nobody ever questions it again. When that happens in management, it creates an opportunity.
To achieve leadership,
question conventional wisdomWhen people question what we all accept without question, they sometimes create something new, useful, and even powerful. For instance, many once believed that for an organization to be a leader, it needed a powerful mainframe computer, and a terminal on every desk to connect everyone to it. They also believed that people had to work in the office, not at home.
To achieve leadership, first identify, and then question the conventional wisdom. Here are some examples of conventional wisdom in brainwork. They're from different perspectives, but often their adherents believe them completely. All of them are sometimes true, but all of them are questionable.
- People work better under pressure
- With today's technology, there's no advantage to working in the same building (city, country, …)
- We must lower costs because we can't raise revenue
- Numeric performance ratings are meaningful
- Cubicles are cheaper than offices
- This is a young person's game
- Only a seasoned veteran can handle this
- People can't manage others who are more experienced
- We can get this done with 10% fewer people
- We can save money by keeping our computers one more year
- We can't afford training
- Contractors are the cheapest way to go. No, wait, outsourcing is.
- People are most motivated by money
- The most qualified person is someone who's done it before
- Adding features increases market share
- Charging more decreases unit sales
- Being first is more important than getting it right
- We have to because customers are pressing us
- Competition is the best way to stimulate creativity
- If we add people (reduce requirements, increase the budget, announce it publicly) they'll finish sooner
- If we tell them they have to do it, they'll find a way
- If we tell them we can't do it, we'll be fired
- Product Development people are clueless about Marketing and Sales
- Marketing and Sales people are clueless about Product Development
- HR is just clueless
- We need the most modern technology
Although these dogma constrain our industries, our companies, and ourselves, the constraints are effective only to the extent that we don't notice the dogma. Becoming aware of the assumptions we make, and questioning them, is the first step along the path to higher performance and achievement. Sometimes. And sometimes not. Top Next Issue
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For a careful look at one of the more commonly-invoked "truths" of organizational life, see "Definitions of Insanity," Point Lookout for January 17, 2007.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- He's No Longer Here
- Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of
the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves.
Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we
do about it?
- The Ties that Bind
- Changing anything in an organization reveals how it's connected to its people, to its processes, to
its facilities, and to the overall context. Usually, these connections reach out much further into the
organization than we imagine.
- On Beginnings
- A new year has begun, and I'm contemplating beginnings. Beginnings can inspire, and sometimes lead to
letdown when our hopes or expectations aren't met. How can we handle beginnings more powerfully?
- Training Bounceback
- Within a week after we've learned some new tool or technique, sometimes even less, we're back to doing
things the old way. It's as if the training never even happened. Why? And what can we do to change this?
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Informal
- Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found
in organizations. Here's Part II of a little catalog of authority, emphasizing informal authority.
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- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.