Increasing fairness on the job

Too often managers assume that injustice at work is something to get accustomed to and merely a cost of doing business. Job designs incorporate so much unfairness that revenge dynamics run rampant at work. All this can be easily reversed by seeing the system that generates the revenge for working on the ways to increase fairness that explore below.

Getting compensation schemes to seem fair is a tricky business. We quickly take for granted any increase in our pay or benefits. We're prone to envy others who are making more than us for no apparent reason or in disregard of who is actually making the bigger difference. We'll find we're spending too much time listening to rumors about others' compensation if its not public knowledge. We can become condescending toward those who make less than us. We will suffer all those nasty side effects of extrinsic rewards if we become overly concerned with our compensation. All this suggests that compensation rationale, decisions and amounts ought to be transparent and easily trusted. It helps for base pay to get the carrots off the table. Added rewards work best for either no-brainer tasks or teamwork outcomes. Connections between pay and performance ought to be both robust and public knowledge. Differences in pay ought to make sense to both sides of the divide. Compensation needs to be kept in balance with intrinsic rewards.

Workload seems unfair when it's excessive, spiteful or meaningless. We can judge the amount we've been asked to do in terms of how much others have been tasked, how much time we have to complete it and how complicated the work has become to meet standards. Work seems spiteful when we were given the responsibility without the requisite authority, and when we're likely to fail or embarrass ourselves trying. Work feels meaningless when it gets ignored by others, it gets over-specified so compliance can be micro-managed or the pace gets to intense everyone loses sight of the mission. All these experiences can be turned around easily. Workload gets balanced when assignments get made collaboratively where others can help out or revise the workflow. Revenge can be extinguished by all of these upgrades fairness applied to the manager's job design. Meaning can be restored by routine debriefings and after action reviews to learn from what has failed in plan or execution.

When recognition seems unfair to us, we're getting misperceived. Some get stereotyped as pushovers who can be bullied or scapegoats who should take all the blame. We can be valued for our collusion and silence, rather than for our speaking up and thinking for ourselves. We may get marginalized as an expendable tool with no feelings or as a conformist with no viewpoint to express. We might pressured by someone who needs us to be his/her enemy, negative parental figure or control freak so s/he can play the victim. All these injustices can be upgraded systemically. It helps to sit down with individuals and explore how they value themselves, how they want to be seen by others and how they want to change the impressions they make. In these conversations, problem solving emerges to deal with the facets of unfair recognition they're experiencing. The process will yield a profound feeling of getting recognized authentically and fairly.

Job training, feedback, reassignments, goal setting and coaching can seem unfair to us. There can be too little, too much or bad timing of any of these approaches to cultivation. It can feel like we're being groomed to be someone we're not, to feel fake and to act more pretentious. The preparations can work against us rather than with us, in spite of the assistance being for our own good. For cultivation to seem fair, it helps to explore what someone already knows about her/his own talents, passions, values and aspirations. Next comes questions about hidden talents that may not be revealed until "leaving our comfort zone to go out on the skinny branches". Further questions can explore how one's sense of who s/he really is has changed with new experiences and what further changes can be anticipated. All this creates a very different "fair treatment" context for job training, feedback, reassignments, goal setting and coaching. The job design would then include a list of what to cultivate and how to achieve progress in the near term.

Everything we're asked to accomplish, accept, change or create is subject to our own interpretation. Others can interpret everything we do and don't accomplish, accept, change or create. When we're not feeling understood, valued and included by others' interpretations, we're likely to give a negative spin to those requests of us when making our own interpretations. Others' interpretations will seem fair to us when we're given the benefit of the doubt, acknowledged for our original intentions and listened to before getting interpretations imposed on us. Others who are good at trusting their reflective practice, seeing it in another light or taking a different perspective -- are especially effective at creating experiences of fairness for others with their interpretations.

We can experience injustice in who we work next to or share workspace with for an extended period. We can feel betrayed by how little support, supplies or tools have been provided to get the job done. We can even experience a lack of fairness in the locations we get sent to, the conditions we work under or the interference amidst our attempts to be productive. Insult gets added to injury if our remarks about this injustice get taken as complaining, blame shifting or making excuses. We experience fairness when we feel we've really been heard and understood. Our sense of fairness has been honored. We can have our say without it getting taken wrong, as if we're really respected, trusted and even admired.

Conversations seem like betrayals when we discover we've been manipulated, shortchanged, misled or deceived. We feel the urge to get even when a conversation turns against us, puts us down with cheap shots or makes us seem clueless. On the other hand, conversations seem fair when we dealt with honestly, transparently and patiently. We value the difference made by someone who looks after our interests, values the differences we make and recognizes what it takes to produce the results we achieve.

I've detailed this approach to fairness in these last three posts with the next economy in mind. I anticipate that fairness in job designs will become a feature of how we conduct business in the near future. Meanwhile, the inherent injustice and revenge dynamics built into unfair job designs will serve as a essential force of creative destruction to takedown toxic enterprises so sustainable startups can replace them.


Switching to job fairness

When we build injustices into job designs, there seems to be no end to the self-inflicted misery. We get caught up in a vicious (red) cycle that I've pictured on the right. The only way to get out of the self-perpetuating dynamics is to see the system in play and the other virtuous (blue) cycle to adopt. Here's a walkthrough of those two thought processes, starting with the red cycle:

When we disregard issues of fairness in job designs, any job opening suffers a pattern of adverse selection. The candidates who find those job openings attractive are either:
  1. deadwood who seek to do the minimum and to maintain a low profile
  2. mercenaries who seek to get rich quickly by changing positions often and racheting up their pay scale with each change
  3. showboats who oversell their capabilities and come up short on deliverable results
  4. saboteurs who undermine customer satisfaction, inner harmony, product quality or supplier coordination
Together with management, these employees co-create experiences of injustice. Everyone is feeling betrayed by the others and unaware of doing this to themselves. Each agrees to be part of the problem and dedicated to perpetuating the misery. Employees feel the urge to take revenge in any of the many ways I explored yesterday. This produces evidence to management that it's futile to redesign the jobs in order to be more fair. This evidence then gets taken at face value, literally and without question. The red cycle is primed for another run through.

We can switch to job fairness (blue) by considering the cyclical nature of the evidence we're seeing. It does not come out of nowhere or come with the job candidates exclusively. The evidence is product of the mutual participation in a self-perpetuating cycle. When this recursive pattern becomes recognizable, the evidence can be taken differently. The self-perpetuating dynamics can become a good thing as job designs get upgraded for fairness.

I've identified seven different dimensions of job designs that can be readily upgraded for fairness. I'll explore these in greater depth in my next post:
  1. compensation
  2. workload
  3. recognition
  4. cultivation
  5. interpretation
  6. situation
  7. conversations
These upgrades in job fairness attract candidates with a far better sense of how to contribute to results, develop themselves gradually, earn increased compensation, deserve more responsibility, characterize their strengths/weaknesses and collaborate with others effectively. They co-create experiences of being treated fairly while showing others respect, consideration and appreciation. This spawns a context where everyone responds resourcefully, creatively and insightfully to challenges, setbacks and opportunities. All this generates favorable evidence for how it pays tangibly and indirectly to protect, upgrade and perpetuate fairness in job designs.

So there's no evidence in situations plagued by injustices built in to the design of jobs. Anyone waiting for signs that it will pay to treat employees more fairly will never stop waiting. The only evidence in favor of fairness has to be created by visionary leaders who see the systems in play and respond accordingly.


Designing jobs to provoke revenge

Classical economics assumes we behave rationally. When faced with an offer, we will take what we are given or take as much as we can get without misgivings. There's no way we could rationally turn down what is offered, unless is involved hidden costs, penalties or obligations. Behavioral economics contradicts this assumption. We reject offers that seem unfair to us. We turn down the deal to make a point about the injustice. We'll even retaliate against those who seek to rip us off, violate our sense of fairness or betray our trust. We act as if we have a conscience or moral code that precludes selling out or taking the bait when an offer seems one-sided against us.

This irrational behavior pattern got me thinking about the design of jobs. Most job designs I've observed seem profoundly unfair to me. Research in behavioral economics tells us to expect lots of revenge from employees when their job designs seem unfair to them. Here's some of revenge I've seen repeatedly in workplaces that could easily be the result of job designs:
  • hiding behind job descriptions, making excuses, avoiding responsibility, failing to take initiative
  • hiring incompetent candidates, staffing the empty positions with overly compliant applicants
  • taking extra long breaks, sitting on the clock, getting paid for inactivity
  • sabotaging the output, leaving essential components out of the assembly, failing to check the benchmarks
  • spreading rumors about others' character traits, abuses of power or deceptive practices
  • shooting the messenger, discrediting sources of strategic insight, diminishing the stature of those close to the customers
  • going overboard to make others look bad, making a show of ambition to embarrass others

These forms of revenge could get provoked by many different facets of a job design. Here are some design features that often get regarded as unfair by an individual:
  1. how much I'm getting paid and how that compares to others' compensation
  2. how I fall under new policies, penalties or pressures while others get exempted
  3. what standards I've been expected to meet in very little time without sufficient resources
  4. how much I'm expected to do and how that compares to others who seem under-worked
  5. how little I'm kept informed of and what those in-the-know are privileged to comprehend
  6. how often I get corrected or criticized and how others "get off easy" or go unnoticed
  7. how little say I had in who I work with and how those staffing decisions got made
  8. what responses I get when I make suggestions or call attention to problems
  9. who gets listened to and how they've learned to tell higher ups what they want to hear
  10. why I missed out on the promotion and the rationale given for advancing the other person

From this list, you can discern that I view job design more holistically than the list of responsibilities and accountabilities. I view jobs as experience designs that also define opportunities to make a difference. In my next post, I'll explore how to avoid all these provocations of revenge with built-in injustices.

What do I think I'm doing?

This is a perfect day to reassess all the blogging I've been doing here. This is my 1000th post to growing changing learning creating. Here's what I currently think I'm doing by all this reflecting, reading, writing, linking and sharing.

Self expression for sanity - Karl Marx and others have claimed that our self expression is essential for keeping us sane. Getting stifled, silenced or pressured to conform makes us crazy. Without self expression, we overeat, overspend and over consume without finding personal satisfaction. We now realize that this insanity also depletes non-renewable resources while doing lasting damage to the environment. So my blogging is green living that keeps me sane.

Synergistic flow - If all I did was sit down to write and hope that something came to mind, I would have abandoned this blog after 45 posts or so. There's more to this than self expression. I spend a couple hours every morning reflecting on what I've read, written, watched and discussed with others recently. I get 2-5 pages of new thoughts written down in that process. Each day I do lots of reading of blogs and several books that I'm reading concurrently. I rarely experience a shortage of what to write about. The challenge is finding a voice and viewpoint to organize my jumbled thoughts. When I find it, the words come to me easily. I know from experience, there are no shortcuts here. It takes all my reading and reflecting added into the mix.

Articulating possibility space - I realize that I can go where others cannot in the realm of what-if?, what-for? and why-not? We each can explore small portions of the vast possibility space with our unique set of lenses. There are lots of places we cannot go because they don't begin to make sense to us, seem very irrelevant, appear inconceivable or remind of us a painful past experience. When we can go there, we're in a position to care about others who cannot get there, and share what we're seeing. When we give, we get back in return. We get paid intrinsically. In my experience, I get rewarded with more access to possibilities, more understanding of changes in process, more connections between ideas and more pattern recognition.

Beyond the walled city - During the Middle Ages, a few settlements emerged as the beginning of modern-day cities. Each built walls around its perimeter to protect inhabitants, buildings and inventories. There would be periodic market days when the gates would open and outsiders could enter to buy and sell. This led to the outsiders establishing encampments outside the walled cities where every day was an open market day. The cities eventually tore down those walls and incorporated the thriving markets outside its boundaries. Nowadays, there are pay walls in the space of authoring and publishing that keep outsiders from messing with inside intellectual property. Meanwhile, those of us blogging for free in the open market are creating the thriving market of authoring/publishing with Creative Commons licenses rather than copyrights. Eventually the walled city will see their pay walls are costing them dearly and will take them down to incorporate this thriving market beyond the walls.

Thanks for reading me!


Anticipating irrational reactions

As the expanding field of behavioral economics makes strides, we're gaining a much better understanding of our irrational conduct. We are far from the rational decision makers that classical economics presumes. We are extremely prone to misjudge situations and overreact to provocations.

I'm beginning to connect the dots between our cognitive biases and better ways to operate businesses. When we can anticipate the irrational reactions or customers, employees, managers and others, we'll be able to design better jobs, organization structures, value propositions, customer experiences and business models. Dan Ariely's new book: The Upside of Irrationality has been a big help in this regard. The first half deals specifically with workplace irrationality. Here's the four big ideas I've gleaned from those chapters:
  1. When we're in the running for too big of a bonus, it becomes a major distraction. We lose sight of what we're supposed to accomplish while we fantasize about spending the bonus money and worry about losing out on getting the bonus. We lose perspective about what's really important and our performance suffers. The bonus structure that sought higher performance backfires.
  2. When we're putting out an extra effort with our heart in it, we're devastated if the outcome gets canceled, discarded or disregarded. We cannot get motivated again after the betrayal of working long hours for naught, taking extra initiative for no good reason or seeing our best work get shelved. Attempts to rationalize it and get our perspective back usually don't succeed. Our need for our work to be significant to others runs very deep and we get very irrational when that need is not met.
  3. When we've created something either according to a prescribed regimen or by our own choices, it becomes "our precious baby". We over value our creation and get bewildered by others' not seeing it as exceptional. We have vivid memories of creating it while others cannot recall it. Our participation in assembling something it is enough to generate phenomenal pride of ownership that others inadvertently betray, disregard or contradict.
  4. When we've been cheated, betrayed, disregarded or taken for granted, we take great pleasure in revenge. We think we are entirely justified is restoring justice after a violation of fairness. We have no qualms about setting the world right after getting wronged. The decision to get even is neither rational or considerate of others' viewpoints.
All four findings suggest that most management, sales and H/R practices send people into irrational orbits. We're continually assuming incorrectly that people can handle it, take it in stride and get over it easily. We're finding out how destructive, disinterested and discouraged people can get when we provoke them to get their irrationality on.


Thinking beyond The Great Reset

When I'm valuing the lens of an author I'm reading, I'm also usually questioning "what's missing here?". Every lens focuses on some things to the exclusion of others. There's no way to take it all in so we delete what a lens considers to be non-essential information. When we filter out to focus on essentials, we won't know what we're missing. The process of exclusion is unconscious.

As I read through, The Great Reset, I asked that question of myself. Umair Haque put the book in two contexts which helped me see what might be missing: building a better 21st century and migrating from an austerity regimen to a freshly-conceived prosperity model. I also typically consider how there are two sides to every seemingly one-sided coin which are both kept in balance by some process of compensation, oscillation or retaliation. With all that in mind, I've reached the following tentative conclusions:

Richard Florida's thesis builds on Alfred Kleinknecht's 1987 book - Innovation patterns in crisis and prosperity : Schumpeter's long cycle reconsidered. While The Great Reset dwells on the widespread explosion of innovation during economic depressions, I've been wondering what happened to the creative destruction? My thoughts are not yet well formed about what needs to be destroyed to make way for the next economy. I'm more clear about the psychological states of those who will fill those roles. I return to that facet of the next economy in a later post.

The Great Reset extrapolates a future based on the uneven unemployment stats from this recession and the early signs of population migration back to inner city living. Both point to the defining characteristic of the next economy as individual and collaborative creativity. The creative professionals and service workers have lost significantly fewer jobs than manufacturing and construction. The migration back to urban living has begun to include families with children in school. All this suggests that inner cities will become hot beds of innovative approaches to lifestyles, education and community support systems, not just finance, fashion, retailing, restaurants and the arts.

This renewal of urban cores fits my own foresight about the next economy. However, the expansion of economic sector comprised of creative professionals does not. Professionals function in business models of bringing the problem to the solution. They aggregate in thriving, insular places so long as the "customers" will come to them. Professionals also function as expert gatekeepers, filters and exclusive sources of proficiency. They are now in competition with unfiltered fire hoses that get ranked and rated by the crowd. Professionals are getting preempted by citizens who "take the solution to the problem" and know what the real problem is below the surface. So I'm expecting we will continue to have doctors for 10% of what they currently do for patients, and replace doctors with the long tail of "unprofessional" providers for the 90% of the "high-dollar hand holding" the docs currently do. This contraction and replacement pattern will repeat itself throughout every creative profession.

The Great Reset anticipates innovations which will create lots of jobs. All economists hope that's true. They depend on quantifiable jobs, incomes and productivity metrics to create econometric models, to explain the data fluctuations and to generate predictions. Marshall McLuhan suspected that we would see the demise of jobs and return to roles as the electric age took full effect and re-tribalized us. He perceived jobs as products of the industrial era, resulting from mechanization taking command and only suitable for mechanical brides wedded to cumbersome technologies. He claimed that jobs were compartmentalized, specialized and routinized, much like the functionality of printing presses, steel mills and railroad engines. He assumed we would favor more fluid, improvisational and varied roles once we got acclimated to all things electronic. We're seeing the migration to roles in the increased use of teams, provisional project assignments and free-lancers on call. This change to roles will be off the radar of most "job counters".

There are many other transitions I'm foreseeing that will not reveal themselves in economic data. I'll explore these in future posts as well.


Thru a geographic lens

One of my favorite facets of reading two books a week is getting to look at familiar things through authors different lenses. We each perceive the objective world subjectively and attribute different meanings to what we filter selectively. As I mentioned in my review of Philip Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles, my own lenses often challenge those I'm looking through as I see the world through an author's eyes.

I did not have this problem last week as I read The Great Reset by Richard Florida. Perhaps because I was originally trained to be an architect, I have, through my own lenses, a sense of space, land use, regional differences and geographic dimensions to demographics. I found Richard Florida's lenses very compatible with my own. I found his read of variations in unemployment, housing prices, population migrations all fascinating. He's known for his identification of pockets of innovation among a "creative class" of individuals living and working in close proximity. He anticipates that the next economy will function with less industry and more creativity.

Here's some of what I've learned from this thought provoking and insightful book:

The US has been through several recent decades of what I've called mere "innovation for show" that has not produced a bounty of jobs, trade balances or tax revenues. This has resulted in massive debt, excessive materialism and a widening gap between rich and poor. We're awash in insignificant innovations among handhelds, GPS in cars and software, but nothing like the introduction of steam, gasoline, electric or nuclear power within the last century. We need to stop getting distracted by incremental improvements and create hundreds, even thousands, of game-changers.

Some portion of any local workforce provides the illusion of economic stability. This population works to expand the community. There are roads to build with signage, utilities to install and hookup, construction supplies to inventory and sell, as well as structures to construct and furnish. When steady growth occurs, these people have steady jobs which then spawns a support system of shops, restaurants, banks, schools, health care facilities and the like. Their steady employment verifies their credit worthiness to take out mortgages on houses, leases on vehicles and loans on everything else. It provides more steady pay checks for those in this expanded support system. The instant the growth stops, this entire portion of the economy collapses like a house of cards. We need to recognize this illusion of stable employment as different from employment that merely contracts without collapsing during zero-growth phases of an economy.

The locations of jobs move around a lot. An economy thrives when the workforce is sufficiently mobile to go where the jobs are. We've crippled the economy for the past two decades by idealizing home ownership. This has curtailed the mobility of the workforce. Driving to the opposite side of a metropolitan area for a job merely increases traffic congestion, carbon footprints and dependency on foreign oil. Settling for stagnant or under-employment "near the house" shortchanges the individual and the economy. We need to migrate to renting instead of owning, pedestrian scaled enclaves and mass transit.

I found all this to be very valuable for sharpening our expectations about what can emerge from the global recession as the next economy.


Thinking there's no way

During the 1840's, 80% of the workforce contributed to food production. Those not laboring on farm land were forging iron farm tools, keeping beasts of burden healthy or getting the farm products sold to consumers. There were no trains, no steel, no steam power, no oil and no electricity yet. The amount of food produced depended on the number of people who worked at it directly and indirectly. A layoff of employees would directly correlate with a reduction in food. One presumed there was no way those who were eating adequately could continue if farm employment went into an economic downturn and layoffs.

In his newest book: The Great Reset, Richard Florida tell us that a Long Depression occurred in the US starting in 1873. It began with a banking crisis resulting from insolvent mortgages. It resulted in prolonged, high levels of unemployment worse than the Great Depression of the 1930's. However, it spurred a tidal wave of innovations throughout the economy. A century later, 20% of the workforce produced the food. Farming became mechanized, industrialized and systematized. One presumed there was no way those who were eating adequately could continue if farm land was converted into other uses.

Currently, 2% of the workforce does the farming thing. The Great Depression of the 1930's brought on another tidal wave of innovations throughout the economy. The entire economy became suburbanized, globalized and democratized. We're eating food from all over the planet. We've watched those who were eating adequately continue after dramatic reductions in farm land and farm labor following two deep and prolonged economic downturns.

We're now in the midst of yet another depression with many signs of prolonged unemployment. We're hearing the same kind of "no way" thinking get applied to other sectors of the economy:
  • There's no way kids can get a decent education if we layoff thousands of teachers, school administrators and support staff.
  • There's no way we can get to work, the mall and soccer practice if we shut down an automobile manufacturer or two.
  • There's no way we can have enough energy each day if we don't consume large quantities of fast food and soda pop.
  • There's no way we can pay our bills, do our catalog shopping and get those coupons for added savings without our daily deliveries of snail mail.
  • There's no way we can be an informed electorate that is safeguarded against governmental and corporate excesses without daily print newspapers and weekly news magazines.
  • There's no way we can conduct timely business meetings, productive collaborations and effective negotiations without non-stop airline flights to everywhere on the hour.
  • There's no way we can identify the quality of authors, media producers and musicians without expert gatekeepers overseeing narrow pipelines of paid, mass distribution.

Au contraire. There is a way. We've seen it occur time and again. Whenever there is deep depression with prolonged unemployment, innovation explodes throughout the increasingly diverse and complex economy.


Viewed from the flip side

Over the weekend, I continued to play with the visualization of viewpoints in my last post. I had been thinking there was another viewpoint besides the two in the diagram, imagined to be above the others looking down on them. I then realized there could be another viewpoint at the same level, that did not see ALL the connections, but had a transformational effect on the unwanted reactions to the actions and the outcomes too. This transformational viewpoint sees the whole situation from the flip side of both the persistent and alarmist viewpoints.

A transformational viewpoint cannot see the original problem that was getting solved by the actions. This fits the advice from creativity experts who say "don't become an expert in the problem". Whenever we know too much about the problem, we fall into arguing for limitations, getting intimidated by constraints and losing sight of possibilities. When we know less about the problem, we've set ourselves up to conceive of solutions beyond the immediate quick fix.

A transformational viewpoint is coming from a better place than either of the others. It sees the actions as a partial solution in need of refinement. It sees the unwanted reactions as the specifications of the design challenge. It allows for the situation to present a double-bind at first, like the quip "you cannot live with them and you cannot live without them". In this place, it's natural to ask what-if questions to explore possibilities. It's easy to see the function of forms, the uses made of actions and the effects of what's missing on what's getting done.

From this transformational place, it's possible to realize both/and solutions. Perhaps there are combinations to keep in balance instead of going to one extreme. There may be a synthesis of the "thesis and antithesis" which is much better than either alternative. The action may be done slightly differently in a way that eliminates the reactions and improves the outcomes.

In pondering what prerequisites may constrain getting to this flip side, I came up with the following list:
  • being motivated intrinsically, not being paid contingent upon getting creative enough or getting successful enough at transforming the situation
  • being clear of fear and the dysfunctional thinking we do whenever handling threats, dangers and enemies
  • being inclined to choose how to see things, what incidents mean and which lenses to use to frame complex situations
  • being free to express oneself, be different and seeing things unlike others
  • being sufficiently self confident to unlearn prior certainties, to let go of preconceptions and to trust processes with unpredictable outcomes
  • being future focused enough to put the past where it belongs, forgive the harm done and expect changes will be significant improvements
  • being imaginative enough to play around with possibilities, visualize alternatives and picture the solutions before they're prototyped

Thus, the migration from the persistent or alarmist viewpoint is a daunting challenge. Both non-transformational viewpoints are self-maintaining. Neither embodies the prerequisites or welcomes double-binds. Perhaps the transformational viewpoint has to be introduced by an outsider to the situation and the history of the conflicts.


Opposing viewpoints

When we adopt opposing viewpoints, we don't see a connection between them. Our field of vision only sees a select number of the connections in the situation. We're threatened by the connections we don't see and any viewpoint that calls them to our attention. In this diagram, I show the typical pattern of opposing viewpoints.

Any typically persistent viewpoint sees a problem. There are obvious connections to actions which address the problem in some way. There are connections to the results of those actions. The results usually confirm the persistent viewpoint. The results look like accomplishments, progress, solutions, benefits, improvements or payoffs.

Any alarmist viewpoint sees the same problem and the connections to the actions taken which address the problem. However this viewpoint sees obvious connections to reactions from taking those actions. These reactions confirm the alarmist viewpoint. The reactions look like unintended consequences, crises in the making, penalties, hidden costs, or long term damage.

The persistent viewpoint does not see the connection between actions and reactions. The alarmist viewpoint does not see the connection between actions and results. Neither viewpoint sees the connections between their opposing viewpoints or the big picture we're seeing by looking down on all this from a higher level.

The opposing viewpoints are hard wired together in a vicious cycle. Each struggles to be right in a way that makes the other wrong. Both have adopted positional stances with their self-confirming evidence. Each is indulging in single-loop learning that goes with what each already knows to do without question. Both are on the same level as the problem where there is no sustainable solution to be found.

We see this problem play out in many ways. There are whistle blowers who see the consequences of corporate greed, corruption and deceit. There are watchdogs to sound the alarm about over-medicating, over-consuming, over-harvesting or over-populating. There are ecologists who foresee the long term consequences of resource depletion, toxic discharges, hazardous dump sites and loss of diversity. There are psychologists who see the impacts of domination, coercion and controls on individual self confidence, self motivation and self expression. The list goes on.

The solutions can be found at the level of the diagram. They occur to the viewpoint that sees ALL the connections . They avoid falling into the trap of opposing any viewpoint which doesn't know what it's missing. It allows for every viewpoint to be partially right and halfway down the path to a sustainable solution.


Don't say there's a connection

We cannot handle the possibility of a connection when our minds are closed. We experience the connection as a threat to our composure, confidence and comprehension of our situation. We're afraid of getting blamed, wrongly accused or unfairly criticized. We've closed our minds because we're in the midst of enemies, critics or other kinds of hostile parties. We maintain a defensive posture for the sake of our self preservation. When threatened with a possible connection, we're likely to say things such as:
  • I cannot be held responsible for those side effects.
  • How was I supposed to know those were connected all along?
  • It's never been connected and I had no reason to think things had changed.
  • I didn't intend for that to happen when I was acting in good faith.
  • I'm as surprised as you are that those two things are interrelated.
  • You cannot prove there's a consistent connection for me to consider every time.
  • The connection must be some kind of a fluke or rare occurrence.
When we're saying these things, we're thinking there better not be a connection or:
  • I'm in big trouble and will get blamed for this.
  • This will pull the rug out from under my feet and leave me floored.
  • I'll look like a fool and lose credibility.
  • My hot button will get pushed and I'll start acting out of character.
  • My thinking is no longer reliable or capable of making good decisions.
  • Now I'm supposed to understand every hidden connection before I do anything.
  • When people hit me with this, there's no way for me to hit them back.
All this fuss occurs because our minds have been closed for good reason. When we're in the midst of friendly allies, understanding mentors and nurturing supporters, our minds naturally open. We trust we won't get blamed. We're faced with an opportunity to question the connections and learn much more than before about the complex interrelatedness of our situation.


You say there's a connection

When you say there's a connection between this and that, I'm suddenly full of questions. The mere mention of a connection sets me up in discovery mode. I'm full of wonder, fascination and curiosity. I'm wary of knowing too much already and jumping to foregone conclusions. Here's some of what I usually wonder about when someone says "there's a connection":

  • I wonder if there is a causal relation where a change in this correlates with a change in that, either positively or negatively.
  • I question whether the connection is really acausal, like the classic "chicken & egg" problem where the closed circuit eliminates this coming before that.
  • I suspect that the connection is illusory, supporting an explanation for why this happens when that occurs, but lacking in proof.
  • I explore downplaying the connection, as if it's really insignificant, sporadic or inconsistent in some other way.
  • I investigate the possibility that the connection is much larger than proposed, yielding huge impacts, side effects and long term consequences.
  • I wonder if the connection eludes observation, measurement and verification because it follows a pattern of:
  1. a slow, undetectable buildup until it reaches an obvious critical mass
  2. a flaring up at the slightest provocation and then disappearing when the stimulus gets withdrawn
  3. a delayed reaction as if other components need to be assembled prior to making or using the connection
  4. a pulling back a sling shot, pendulum or spring-loaded mechanism prior to release in the opposite direction
  5. an oscillating between two extremes without stabilizing in the middle
  6. a combining two oscillations which either amplify or dampen the fluctuations
  • I question whether the connection is robust, resilient and sustainable under variable contexts or adversary pressures.
  • I suspect the connection can become disconnected, alleviated or moderated by some intervention, attrition or neglect.
  • I query the origination of the connection and the preliminary conditions that support the formation of the connection.
  • I situate the connection with other connections to discover if the connections compete, provide viable choices or synergize in some way.
  • I seek to enact the connection to get a feel for going there or for taking that route for getting from this to that
In other words, mention of a connection between this and that opens the mind to a phenomenal amount of reflection and collaborative inquiry.


In the works for future posts

As you may have recently noticed, blog posts are coming at less than my usual one-per-day pace. I'm in the midst of several big landscaping projects at the house are consuming tons of my physical and mental energy. So that you don't think I've fallen off the map, here's what I expect will appear here soon:

I'm currently reading Richard Florida's latest book: The Great Reset - How New ways of Living and Working Drive Post-crash Prosperity. The book emerged from an article he created for Atlantic Monthly which generated lots of buzz. I'm thrilled with the first 8 chapters. His perspective on the creativity that flourishes during economic depressions will sharpen by forecasts about the next economy.

I've started to read Dan Ariely's new book: The Upside of Irrationality - The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home. This will tie in beautifully with my ongoing explorations of cognitive neuroscience that appear under the tag: use your brain. Concurrent with that, I'll also be reading John Ehrenfeld's Sustainability by Design - A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture. That book looks like a gem for implementing a wide variety of large scale disruptive innovations, like I've considered for higher ed.

My recent posts exploring business models have me thinking again about David Ronfeldt's TIMN model. I've playing with a new premise that is not yet formed into more than a few words. I suspect we draw the line between Institution and Market epochs in the wrong place. That then makes it nearly impossible to foresee what the Network epoch will change, provide and replace. This may help me return to the argument I was developing in my post Changing forms of mediation. I got stuck when I tried to delineate the Network version of mediation. By redefining Institution and Market, the problems with defining Network may disappear.

Stay tuned!


Where's the mission of an enterprise?

In the many times I've taught Strategic Management to college seniors, I've made a big issue out of the mission of an enterprise. So often, a business will get so caught up in crises it will lose sight of its mission. It loses its sense of purpose, direction and meaning. The dedicated employees feel adrift in a sea of anxiety, pressures and obligations. They characterize themselves as slaves or whores, not as talented individuals worthy of respect. The loss of mission infects their self confidence, intrinsic motivations and eagerness to contribute to the overall effort.

When the mission statement feels lost, top management typically issues a "blanket statement" of platitudes that does nothing to alleviate the fallout. It functions as a wet blanket that puts out the last embers of passion, purpose and participation among the employees. By trying to offend no one, it offends everyone.

This morning I've been visualizing where we find the mission in spatial frameworks. I've concluded the location depends on the business model, strategy and structure in use. Within hierarchal institutions with excessive top-down authority, the mission hangs over everyone at the top. In flat, equally bottom-up/top-down, democratically-run enterprises, the mission provides the solid ground for everyone to stand on. Here's how those two positions for mission statements play out.

It makes sense to top executives in large hierarchies that mission statements belong above everything else. Like their structure with an all-knowing big-brain at the top of the organizational pyramid, the mission dictates from above the strategy to fulfill the mission. That strategy, in turn, defines the lowly tactics to implement the strategy. The mission plays an authoritative role, just like top management. Both presume that the big picture is inaccessible to those in the trenches and needs to be dictated by higher ups to the lower echelons. When employees see the mission, they are looking up to higher levels of consideration, outlook and comprehension.

On the contrary, it makes sense to servant leaders and mentors in flat organizations that the mission is the lowest common denominator. Like the structure that balances bottom-up with top-down flows of authority, the mission arises from those closest to the work, customers, delays, overruns and setbacks. It reminds everyone "why we're here", "what difference we're making", and "what our success depends upon". It puts all those varied efforts on solid ground. Individuals look down to the footing, basis and support for their efforts. The mission gives purpose, context and meaning to the daily grind, crises du jour and imposed changes. Because the mission weaves together so many different perspectives, it's more like a patchwork quilt, than a blanket. It speaks to the diversity of the community with commitments that ring true, rather than platitudes than cause eyes to roll.

Those at the top of hierarchies cannot handle a mission below everything. It would cause profound cognitive dissonance to place so much power, control and superiority far from themselves. Likewise, those relating among equals cannot cope with a mission above everything. It would disrupt the culture to centralize the authority, vision and responsiveness so far away from those in the know. So both positions for the mission endure, rather than migrate or flip/flop.


Designing a shopping experience

I'm in the midst of designing the experience of uncovering the value proposition I'm offering to college dropouts. In this post, I'll share my thought process in designing their shopping experiences that applies to both brick and click environments.

When potential customers already know exactly what they are looking for, the shopping experience needs to be simple and straightforward. Their desired selection needs to be easy to find. The customers are in a frame of mind to filter out distractions from their focused pursuit. They will value the ease of getting in and getting out. They will resent the intrusion of add-on or up-selling pitches.

Whenever we assume that potential customers already know exactly what they are looking for, we are usually wrong. We've oversimplified the design challenge to make it easy on ourselves, but far from user friendly. We're passing up opportunities to:
  • serve the potential customers' own constituencies who may question their purchase, challenge the price, or doubt the credibility of the value proposition
  • help them make up their minds, resolve personal dilemmas or improve the quality of their decision when they hesitate to reach a conclusion
  • consult their attempts to solve a bigger problem and select the right tool for that job, rather than simply sell tools for any job
  • explore and refine their own benefit logics which define what they filter out, what catches their attention and how they appreciate what they do notice

When potential customers don't even know what to look for, they are easily put-off or put-out by designs to serve knowledgeable customers. Without getting stigmatized for being a neophyte, these customers need a different experience to explore. More than a menu of alternatives, they need to start with structure to help them look at:
  • what do they think they actually need in their particular context
  • what is changing in their world that defines, increases or modifies this need
  • what facets of this need are questionable or challenged by others
  • what does this need say about the customer or give off an impression to others
  • what does this need depend on, connect to or get caught up in
  • what does this need lead to, cause or impact if left unmet
  • what fallout, ripple effects or spin-offs could come from satisfying this need

When we imagine potential customers are showing up with ill-formed questions in mind, we can design an experience of both getting answers and better questions to ask. We expect the offering to present them with several unknowns, blind spots and mysteries. We can help them feel safe not already being "in the know" and well-informed, unlike manipulative sales tactics which exploit ignorance.

When we envision the learning process of potential customers, we can frame the value proposition as a series of partial understandings. This allows them to self-select which facets they learn on their own, how much depth they explore and at what pace the acquire their particular understandings. This allows the design to anticipate misunderstandings and often overlooked facets of a complete understanding. Together, the experience will feel more like a "guide on the side" than one of those preachy "sage on stage".

All these considerations make for a better shopping experience for a larger number of potential customers.


Getting into the flow

This morning I spent some time exploring how the trouble with bubbles that I explored yesterday fits into time-bound and timeless experiences. For over two decades, I've been fond of the possibility that there is a vertical dimension that intersects our horizontal time-space plane. It's been my understanding that the vertical axis is timeless, outside the steady progression of clocks and the measured progress on timelines. Where having a vertical experience when an experience seems endlessly boring, repetitious, or taxing on our patience. We've also "gone vertical" whenever we're so absorbed in an activity that we lose track of time. The vertical axis divides our experiences of time between the past that's already happened and the future that has not happened yet. The vertical axis gets divided by horizontal time into endlessly negative and timelessly positive experiences.

Our uncreative minds want to keep us safe and ensure our survival. The future is of no use for these purposes. Our uncreative minds simply deal with the future by making predictions about what will happen based on past experiences. It's in the past that we learned unforgettable lessons about what is really dangerous, what consequences are inescapable and what trouble we can get into when we're minding our own business. Thus, most of us are living on the left side of these four quadrants. Our past experiences confine us to oscillating between bubble trouble and the pits of despair.

Our creative minds naturally explore unknowns, learn disturbing new perspectives and make useful mistakes to refine methods. Our creative minds also make great use of our imaginations to envision better futures, desirable outcomes and fresh possibilities for us to experience first hand. When we have negative experiences on the right side of the map, we're struggling to achieve what we've envisioned. It's not going as easily as we imagined. We're running into obstacles, setbacks, and dead ends. We learning the hard way how to succeed in this unfamiliar territory. We're traversing a terrain of life experiences to get where we want to go in our future.

When we're immersed in positive experiences on the right side of these four quadrants, we also free of the past. We're being someone new, different and fascinating. We're in the flow of one good thing after another. We exuding gratitude instead of an attitude with so much falling into place in our favor.

With this map in mind, we can discover where we're at and get to a better place. We can get to the Now Moment where there's nothing to do until an inspiration provides perfect timing, methods and objectives. It's from that Now moment that we can get into the flow most easily.


The trouble with bubbles

We all find early in life that there are things we are especially good at doing It doesn't matter to us whether the thing is safe, productive or valuable to others. Some of us find we're good at things that society judges at criminal, addictive or self destructive. All that really seems to matter to us is that we're good enough at to succeed, get our way or do better than some others.

Whatever we have that works for us usually gets us into some trouble. We may become overconfident in our abilities and proven successes. We may idealize the thing into being the very best. We may get the idea we can do this thing flawlessly and meet perfectionistic standards of approval. We might even think there are not no limits to what we want do successfully or accomplish according to our plans. We may assume the satisfaction in this comes from others' approval, admiration and payment.

Any of these misconceptions is a "bubble". We become full of ourselves and extremely inconsiderate of others. We've inflated our expectations of how much of life we can control and which consequences we can escape. We become conceited about thinking we're right while assuming we're merely confident in our outlook. We're stuck on ourselves as if nobody else matters to us. We're overcompensating for another side of our personality that we refuse to admit to ourselves.

Whenever we've got caught up in a bubble, we're asking for the kind of trouble that will burst that bubble. We're need of a slice of humble pie or someone to knock us off our high horse. We could benefit from a reality check to deflate our expectations. We could use some feedback about how we come across to others and what impression we make on them.

When our bubble gets burst, the "meanie" who did it to us seems inconsiderate, malicious or vindictive. There's no way they we're acting as a friend, had our best interests in mind or saw how to help us get around a blind spot in our awareness. We experience our confidence getting shattered, our thinking getting refuted and our ambitions getting trashed. We typically fall into the pits of despair from what proved to be very shaky ground. It's dark down there in the pits as if we have become nobody in the midst of nowhere with nothing to do. We wallow in self pity or indulge in depression. We experience this place at painfully empty and frighteningly out of our control.

Some us of never get out of these two places. We go through life oscillating between inflation and deflation, more bubbles and getting each one burst. There's seems to be no alternative worth considering or within our reach. We opt for continually experiencing the trouble with bubbles.

There are many ways to stop going back and forth in bubble trouble and get into a new way to live. I've explored many of alternatives here:
Each of these strategies, and many others, will bring an end to the trouble with bubbles in your life.


Getting buy-in on a big change

Some changes call for heroics where others will catch on later. Other changes need the buy-in of constituencies before anything much can happen. Lots of wonderful changes in the world get stuck because of the disconnect with those who need to buy-in. The change gets approached as a call for heroics when it actually needed constituencies (like customers, funders, higher-ups, journalists, academics, etc.) on board from the start. Here's a look at the different alternatives for getting buy-in on a big change prior to implementation.
  1. The worst alternative is to criticize the status quo within earshot of those who maintain it, value it and defend it from attacks. This merely escalates the war between the advocates of change and stability. Each side demonizes the other and trashes any emergent understanding of the others' interests.
  2. The second worst alternative presents the features and benefits of buying into the change. This comes across to the constituencies as pushy, hard-selling. It raises suspicions, undermines the presenter's credibility and make the constituencies more defensive. This approach usually has the effect of criticizing the status quo without making any mention of it. It's enough to imply that those who don't buy-in to the features and benefits of the change are stupid, stubborn or malicious.
  3. The first of the good alternatives talks about the constituencies in terms they can relate to easily. It characterizes them as solving problems with available resources, doing what they think is best after considerable thought, and discovering what works for them better than other alternatives. In other words, it frames the constituencies as worthy of respect, admiration and collaboration. This approach creates a frame where the constituencies want to know more about the change because it seems like it might be a better solution to their problems. Their minds open and new decisions become possible.
  4. The most effective alternative counts on the constituencies to believe in what they see and do first hand. The approach gives them tangible evidence to sort out. It like a free sample to taste or a test drive to get a "feel behind the wheel". It messes with their minds that ruled out the change from being feasible, functional or cost-effective. It walks them through demos, prototypes and proof of concept models. It runs a pilot project to show how it's done and to morph those first on board into big believers. The constituencies hear about the change they don't experience first hand from their trusted, high-cred, word-of-mouth sources.
The combination of the last two alternatives is practically irresistible. The constituencies have sold themselves on the change by their immediate experiences. They have also learned how to explain it others and justify it to themselves which makes them articulate spokespersons for others to get on board. They are further sold on the change by how they were sold the value of the change on their own terms. Getting buy-in on a big change falls into place with a winning combination of approaches.


Getting the motivation thing right

In his recent book: Building Social Business, Muhammad Yunus advises us to launch enterprises where investors only break even and all profits are kept as retained earnings. No one the outside the enterprise can get extrinsically rewarded through passive income with this approach. This wisely avoids the problems that Dan Pink has alerted us to in his recent book: Drive. Here that list of what Dan Pink tells us may go wrong when we rely upon performance-contingent extrinsic rewards (with my additions in parentheses):
  1. Extinguish intrinsic motivation (that was already yielding lots of "unrewarded" initiative and cooperation)
  2. Diminish performance (that was getting rewarded to increase it)
  3. Crush creativity (that could otherwise solve problems more efficiently, ingeniously or synergistically)
  4. Crowd out good behavior (with schemes to exploit loopholes, moods to rip off others and urges to act greedy)
  5. Encourage cheating, shortcuts and unethical behavior (because the reward system sees that it pays those who bend the rules)
  6. Becomes addictive (as if more extrinsic rewards can compensate for the endless lack of meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life)
  7. Foster short term thinking (in order to maximize rewards and minimize risk)
I find Yunus's approach contradicts his own advice when he then addresses the hiring, compensating and promoting employees. He says he wants to create sustainable enterprises and then he appears (by error of omission) to trash the renewable source of motivation. He wants employees to get creative, take a long view and care for others but treats them to industry-commensurate pay scales. It's as if he carefully conceived of how to grow organic produce and then prepares it with MSG, saturated fats and white sugar. Perhaps this occurred because he was not consciously avoiding these listed problems with extrinsic rewards. He was simply avoiding familiar interference with an enterprise from investors, stockholders and security analysts who typically profit from their self-interested involvements.

It's far more difficult to apply the same wisdom about extrinsic rewards to internal operations. We cannot eliminate paychecks, bonuses, promotions or pay increases like we can delete earnings on investments. Here's some of what we need to consider:
  • Converting business relationships (how much is this going to cost me?) to social relationships (how are feeling about this?)
  • Replacing distance, disrespect and objectivity with dignity, trust and validation in each relationship.
  • Characterizing jobs to get done only in terms of results while leaving the process up to each performer's individual judgment
  • Taking suggestion boxes up a level to a dialogue about ideas worth pursuing and project assignments to pull that off
  • Supporting the evolution of communities of practice, support groups and peer coaching where each can give and receive in return
  • Approaching changes in strategy and/or structure as a design challenge needing lots of input, varied viewpoints and playfulness
  • Attending to employment experience as a prototype of customer experience that both need fine tuning to get it right
Each of these considerations amp up intrinsic rewards and while getting the carrots off the table. They alleviate that entire list of fallout from the misuse of performance-contingent extrinsic rewards. In short, they do the do the right for the enterprise and all those people inside and out.