This is the sixth installment of my ongoing series exploring widespread beliefs that are either smack-upside-the-head wrong, or sometimes right but believed to be universally right, or too often misapplied. In their most dangerous form, these beliefs come wrapped in eloquent, memorable slogans we all recognize and accept as universal truths. When we quote these adages to one another in debates at work, their power usually changes minds, and that power can even bring debates to catastrophically erroneous conclusions.
To protect ourselves from these mistaken beliefs or from over-reliance on occasionally useful insights, we must examine them more carefully than we usually do in the heat of debate. Here are four more examples of wacky words of wisdom.
- Lean and mean is the path to success
- Perhaps not coincidentally, we hear about "lean and mean" strategies when things aren't going so well. Possibly this happens because so many believe that converting to a "lean and mean" operation requires cost cutting. And when things aren't going well, cost cutting can be very appealing because it makes the project or organization seem healthier financially — at least, in the short run.
- But meat-axe-based organizational reconfiguration might not be the right approach. Although reallocating resources can be a smarter course than reducing resources, it can be difficult politically, especially if it involves removing resources from politically powerful organizational units and applying them to politically less powerful — but potentially more successful — units. Reducing all budgets proportionately can be politically easier, even when it's strategically misguided. A more fitting strategy might entail investing (or cutting) where investing (or cutting) achieves a more strategically desirable business objective.
- All great accomplishments come from the energy and sacrifices of heroes
- Some organizations When we quote these adages to one
another, their power usually changes minds,
and that power can even bring debates
to catastrophically erroneous conclusionshave hero cultures. They encourage heroic acts and selfless dedication to the enterprise. They depend for success on individuals taking personal risks, working long hours, accepting unpleasant assignments, and achieving great things with little organizational support. Some of these heroes must actually confront strong internal political opposition to successfully bring their visions into reality. And many make personal sacrifices.
- While it's true that such people can achieve great things, organizations that depend on them might be blindly accepting two significant risks. The first is the risk that the efforts of these heroes might bias the organization's portfolio of successes. Enterprise successes can become biased in favor of objectives that their heroes choose to seek. In effect, the objectives attained are better matched to the interests, abilities, and desires of the heroes than they are to the needs of the enterprise or its customers. Over time, this bias can threaten the viability of the enterprise.
- The second risk is that would-be heroes might tend to pursue objectives that they're relatively certain will lead to "hero" status for themselves. And those objectives tend to be those for which the enterprise can easily measure short-term success — usually financial success. These pursuits tend to confer on the enterprise a short-term financial orientation, which might not be healthy for it in the long term.
- Providing indisputable facts is all that's needed to change someone's beliefs
- Most workplace debates include attempts by participants to alter the beliefs and perspectives of others by offering facts and alleged facts. Certainly other offerings also appear, including items such as questions or expressions of agreement, doubts, or confusion. When debates polarize, though, offerings of facts and alleged facts tend to dominate.
- Among other factors, the backfire effect can cause people to adhere more strongly to their positions when confronted with disconfirming information. And serious research in the techniques of influence demonstrates that fact-based argument provides only a portion of the power of influence. Nevertheless, many continue to rely on facts alone.
- We have to play the hand we're dealt
- Donald Rumsfeld once enunciated a specific form of this belief when he said, in reference to the Iraq war, "…you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." The fallacy here is the presupposition that nations can never choose whether to go to war, or when to go to war — that wars are thrust upon nations, and nations are always passive victims.
- When we apply this concept to business decisions, it reads as, "We must take action now, with the resources we have now and the situation as it now exists." Rarely is it wise to push ahead without considering options. Taking advantage of opportunities to shape the situation, or to alter our own resource position, before taking action, is usually a more success-inducing approach.
When confronted with difficult circumstances, or when blessed with multiple opportunities, knowing how to expand one's range of choices is a fundamental strategic asset. Subscribing to these wacky words of wisdom tends to narrow one's range of choices. Unsubscribe. First in this series Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
For more examples, see "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: II," Point Lookout for June 6, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: IV," Point Lookout for August 5, 2015, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: V," Point Lookout for May 25, 2016.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Working Journals
- Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did,
and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw.
And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately
halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone
can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
- The Retrospective Funding Problem
- If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many
organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by
amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this.
What's stopping us?
- Virtual Clutter: II
- Thorough de-cluttering at work involves more than organizing equipment and those piles of documents
that tend to accumulate so mysteriously. We must also address the countless nonphysical entities that
make work life so complicated — the virtual clutter.
- Monday Morning Minute Message Madness
- As a leader of a large organization, if you publish a "Monday Minute Message" to help employees
identify with the organization as a whole, there are some practices that might limit the effectiveness
of the program. Six suggestions can be helpful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
- And on October 11: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II
- Self-importance is one of four major themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are eight examples that emphasize self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 11.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info