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:
- Workplace Taboos and Change
- In the workplace, some things can't be discussed — they are taboo. When we're aware of taboos,
we can choose when to obey them, and when to be more flexible. When we're unaware of them, they can
limit our ability to change.
- Piling Change Upon Change: Management Credibility
- When leaders want to change organizational directions, processes, or structures, some questions arise:
How much change is too much change? Here's a look at one constraint: the risk to management credibility.
- The True Costs of Cost-Cutting
- The metaphor "trimming the fat" rests on the belief that some parts of the organization are
expendable, and we can remove them with little impact on the remainder. Ah, if only things actually
worked that way...
- 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.
- How to Find Lessons to Learn
- When we conduct Lessons Learned sessions, how can we ensure that we find all the important lessons to
be learned? Here's one method.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
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- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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