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
Is your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!
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:
- Look Before You Leap
- When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even
in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll
them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts.
One approach that works well is the simulation.
- 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.
- 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.
- When Change Is Hard: I
- Sometimes changing organizations goes smoothly. More often, it doesn't. Whatever methodology we use
— and there are many methodologies available — difficulties can arise. When change is hard,
what's happening? What makes change hard?
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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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.