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Volume 23, Issue 16;   April 19, 2023: More Things I've Learned Along the Way: VI

More Things I've Learned Along the Way: VI


When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I make a note. Example: If you're interested in changing how a social construct operates, knowing how it came to be the way it is can be much less useful than knowing what keeps it the way it is.
Portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham, pendant to portrait of Anne Fernely ca. 1563-1564

Portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), pendant to portrait of his wife Anne Fernely. Oil on panel, by Anthonis Mor (1519-ca. 1576/78). Thomas Gresham was an English merchant and financier who enunciated what is now called Gresham's Law of Money. That law is usually expressed as, "bad money drives out good." The concept is that among all money in circulation, the money most trusted is the least often circulated. What circulates more often is what the population generally regards as money of lesser value. Hence, bad money drives out good.

In organizations, the resources most highly valued are the most difficult to secure, even in the context of exchanges. In organizations, resources of greater value drive out of circulation resources of lesser value.

Image (cc) Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Image source: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, courtesy Wikimedia.

This post is a collection of concise insights about organizational life. They're all original to me; they result from incidents in organizational life that I experienced myself, or which involved my clients. They aren't quotations, though it's certainly possible that others have made similar observations. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Including "Please" or "Thank you" is often helpful in everyday conversation. But in text or email, forgetting them can lead to utter disaster.
  • Pronouns make everyday conversation easier. But in text or email they can create confusions that lead to delays, waste, and hurt feelings.
  • We're always juggling big, important things along with trivial, nearly insignificant things. If you have to drop something, be certain you know which is which.
  • Lack of sunlight can affect your mood and the moods of other living things.
  • If you know that lack of sunlight affects your mood, take special care of yourself on cloudy days.
  • When others strongly advocate for an action despite its obvious and severely negative consequences, consider the possibility that the obvious and severely negative consequences are the point.
  • To the person questioned, a pointed question can feel like the beginning of an attack. Asking gentle, open-ended questions can often uncover the information you want with much less risk.
  • Even though If you know that lack of sunlight
    affects your mood, take special
    care of yourself on cloudy days
    organizations aren't people, organizations can become addicted to harmful behaviors just like people can.
  • Hoping for a miracle might get you the result you want, but miracles are rare. Instead of hoping for a miracle, search for a realistic plan you can believe in. Then, if the miracle happens, great.
  • To successfully resolve the matter at hand, assume that you'll need to know something you don't know yet.
  • Procrastination is the best way to eliminate options you could have used if you hadn't procrastinated.
  • First reports of bad news are often wrong in their details, but we can handle that. What's more dangerous is what first reports leave out. Ask about what the first reports left out.
  • We can compensate for one team member making a mistake. And we can compensate for most team members making that same mistake. But we can't compensate for mistakes nobody recognizes as mistakes. Value dissent and show that you value it.
  • Sticking with what you know clutters the mind much like hoarding junk clutters the home. Make room for new ideas by decluttering your mind.
  • When you hear an especially juicy bit of workplace gossip, know that: 1) It's probably wrong in important ways, 2) You're among the last to hear it, and 3) You were OK not knowing it. Move on.
  • Thinking about the here and now in terms of what the future holds is not thinking about the here and now. It's thinking about the future.
  • When a kind of organizational resource becomes scarce enough, it gets even scarcer because people begin to hoard it to use as barter for future deals.
  • In a meeting, when everyone "goes quiet," they might not be just afraid to speak the truth. Some might also be afraid to hear the truth.
  • Experience teaches us how to anticipate obstacles in the path to our goal. Inexperience lets us set out for that goal before we see the obstacles. Sometimes inexperience is an asset.
  • When we divide responsibility for a task across several people, we increase the total effort required, because we've increased the need for those people to communicate with each other. Communication is part of the job.
  • We're more likely to do something right if we do it together.
  • People in constructive conflict focus on addressing the issues. People in destructive conflict focus on attacking each other.
  • Humans live long beyond childbearing years, in part, because we need our elders to live long enough to teach us what we are slow to learn.
  • Some difficult decisions are difficult because all our choices require us to let go of something we don't want to let go of.

Last words

You probably have a collection like this, but maybe it isn't written down. Something magical happens for me when I write them down. I tend to remember them when I need them. If you haven't written down your collection, try it. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Confirmation Bias and Myside Bias  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!

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This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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More articles on Ethics at Work:

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Now that CEOs will be held personally accountable for statements they make about their organizations, we can all expect to be held to higher standards of professional ethics. Some professions have formal codes of ethics, but most don't. What ethical principles guide you?
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Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
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Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to assist you in your detective work.
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Some entries from my personal collection of useful insights.
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Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact.

See also Ethics at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Lifeboats on board the FS Scandinavia, May 2006Coming 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.
A beekeeper at work, wearing safety equipmentAnd 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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