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:
- When Fear Takes Hold
- Leading an organization through a rough patch, we sometimes devise solutions that are elegant, but counterintuitive
or difficult to explain. Even when they would almost certainly work, a simpler fix might be more effective.
- Good Change, Bad Change: I
- Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from
bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants
doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
- The Restructuring-Fear Cycle: I
- When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, spin off, relocate, lay off, or make
other adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Often ignored is the fear these changes create
in the minds of employees. Sadly, that fear can lead to the need for further restructuring.
- Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as
if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people.
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- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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- 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.