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:
- Plenty of Blame to Go Around
- You may have heard the phrase "plenty of blame to go around," or maybe you've even used it
yourself. Although it sometimes does bring an end to immediate finger pointing, it also validates blame
as a general approach. Here's how to end the blaming by looking ahead.
- Definitions of Insanity
- When leaders try to motivate organizational change, they often resort to clever sloganeering. One of
the most commonly used slogans is a definition of insanity. Unfortunately, that definition doesn't pass
the sanity test.
- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
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issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
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- Organizational Roots of Toxic Conflict
- When toxic conflict erupts in a team, cooperation ends and person-to-person attacks begin. Usually we
hold responsible the people involved. But in some cases, the organization is the root cause, and then
replacing or disciplining the people might not help.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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