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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.
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:
- When Your Boss Is a Micromanager
- If your boss is a micromanager, your life can be a seemingly endless misery of humiliation and frustration.
Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do
is change the way you experience the micromanagement.
- Appreciate the Moment
- Often, we focus our awareness where we aren't or when we aren't. Whether we're in a heated meeting,
or blowing out the candles of a birthday cake, being fully present can make our experiences more positive
and memorable. Why are we so often someplace else? When we are, how can we come back? Or better, how
can we stay fully present when we want to?
- Dealing with Negative Progress
- Many project emergencies are actually the result of setbacks — negative progress. Sometimes these
mishaps are unavoidable, but often they're the result of patterns of organizational culture. How can
we reduce the incidence of setbacks?
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Preferences
- When people collaborate on complex projects, the most desirable work tends to go to those with highest
status. When people work alone, they tend to spend more time on the parts of the effort they enjoy.
In both cases, preferences rule. Preferences can lead us astray.
- Virtual Clutter: I
- With some Web searching, you can find abundant advice for decluttering your home or office. And people
are even thinking about decluttering email inboxes. But the problem of clutter is far more widespread.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- 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.