A disaster of manners + crisis leadership

The ease and speed with which an organization can tank is staggering. Equally astounding is the eventual realization of how important cultural triggers work to make it happen. A recent NYT article sets the stage for Sam Zell’s acquisition of The Tribune Company: [Read more...]

That fatal 1/3 of a second – leadership and learned helplessness

The rather intriguing idea that helplessness can be learned seemed to fit some familiar situations. Courses addressing learned helplessness have been available to our medical students for a while here where we teach. Briefly learned helplessness is: [Read more...]

The M-Spot: 1 soldier or 20 schools?

We should all be looking for the “M-spot” to answer the perpetual question of how much mitigation is enough? Whether managing change or crisis we should hope to mitigate vulnerabilty. Some not-so-scientific thoughts follow… [Read more...]

Measuring, making meaning and matchsticks

Using an unusual method for research on at-risk populations in a South American barrio, a friend watched as community members filed forward and placed individual matchsticks in specific areas of the map, thus creating a population density chart for her evaluation project. As one individual stepped up he broke the matchstick in half, said “this is me”, placed it on the map, and then walked away. Apparently all gathered around the table collectively held their breath – then a shared sigh passed through the room.

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3 dynamics for high AMPerage leadership

Adaptive management paradigms (AMPs!) helped me think about the different toolkits needed for local and global management practice. The two contexts seem to be different, requiring different emphases. [Read more...]

Is crisis management a form of social capital?

Peter Drucker said management is making knowledge effective, and I like to add “through relationships”. One definition of Social Capital is “anything that facilitates individual or collective action, generated by networks of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and social norms.” There’s overlap here somehow. Management creates and integrates social capital, and takes on its property of increasing with use – it compounds itself. [Read more...]

3 steps to sustainability loops: the Jesuits

Why are we intrigued by the Jesuits?

The Jesuits have thrived for nearly 500 years. Surely there is a sustainability loop here somewhere. [Read more...]

5 steps to sustainability loops: Simeon’s Trust

Some management history…

While at Cambridge University several generations ago, I researched an historical management case study focused on sustainable organizations. An innovative clergyman, Charles Simeon, created a 5-step cycle that fixed a minority group in English ecclesiastical society “to the remotest ages” through a strategy that generated a balancing loop, which offset an existing reinforcing loop. Reinforcing loops are cycles that build momentum each time a loop is completed. They can work like virtuous circles or like death spirals. (The former are preferable, btw.) To counter a death spiral, you need a balancing loop. (But if it’s an airplane were talking about, better use the parachute.) [Read more...]

6 tips for Garden Variety Creativity: No sleeping bag required

A popular article at the New York Times examines the hypomania we associate with entrepreneurs such as Seth Priebatsch, founder of Scvnger (pronounced “scavenger”), who quit Princeton and now occupies a sleeping bag on a couch in his office when he’s not working 96 hours in a row. The article claims that:

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Keep The Circus Under The Tent – At Your Peril

Reflections on September 10, 2001

On September 10, 2001, I delivered a presentation on terrorism and interagency coordination to an audience of American and Mexican military and government officials in Mexico City.  My slide-deck, as it is known in military parlance, included images of the World Trade Towers and details of the 1993 truck-bomb attack, as well as open-source information on Osama Bin Laden.  I had no special insight into the prophetic timing of my presentation, or of the magnitude of the events that would prove the resolve of both the perpetrators and targets of this infamous attack.   There was, however, a foreshadowing regarding   problems leading up to September 11th and which are present in most crisis events: the factors of trust and its impact on effective communication and coordination.   I look back with a mix of emotions on the events of the following morning, because lack of unity and the silo-effect were contributing factors that plagued U.S. efforts to effectively develop a collaborative strategy of threat mitigation.

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B-Schools and “the rise of the rest”

Clara Lovett’s commentary on “American” (I think she means U.S.) b-schools is timely. “The rise of the rest” should be some kind of global agenda item.

I am presently involved in starting MBAs in a developing region. In one country here, over thirty percent of the people live below the poverty level. Literacy is a struggle and the culture is not heavily invested in reading. Tourism provides a lot of revenue though “service” is not generally understood at a level the North American or European customer might prefer. Other revenue comes from overseas remittances.

Wealth must be created in this region for long-term sustainability and there are bright and eager entrepreneurs and business people who want to do this. With credit union loans and family help some might be able to afford to pay around $90 US per semester credit for an MBA, but could not stop working while studying. Part-time MBAs are the only option. As best as I can figure Harvard costs around $1,800 per unit; adding in the need to live there full-time it’s about $3,700 per unit for a family. One of the places I used to work now charges $1,785. My guess is that at least 99% of the world could never afford these MBAs. More to the point, even if they could, the education would quite likely have little to do with creating wealth back home.

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Fantasy baseball & the meaningful Outside

Edgar Schein’s insights reminded me again of the all-consuming fire of group dynamics and how they waylay us. Schein’s classic work captures all the tacit activity that rumbles around in the background of both newly-forming and even well-established “groups”. This can mean anything from corporations to fantasy baseball aficionados.

Peter Drucker’s meaningful Outside postulates that all internal activity equals costs. Only external activity aimed at the meaningful Outside creates real results. But at the same time, without Schein’s “marker events”, “joint sensing of relief” and “shared emotional reactions” groups get nowhere. We have to slog through all that annoying stuff with other human beings to get at results. Until a group, team, start-up or corporation gets it together internally, nothing happens.

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Thumper’s Law and leadership

Bob Sutton picked up on a pertinent subject once again in bad is stronger than good. I was initially most amazed by the need for five times as many affirmations as negatives in a marriage or romantic relationship.  I confess to being a grumpy husband at times. John Gottman wrote some good books and in at least one, demonstrated that he could predict marital success just by listening to whether spouses despised each other in a brief, video-taped record of a marriage interaction.

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10 Commandments that will inoculate your business grads against future misfortune

Preparing future business leaders to make wise choices is the principal objective for institutions of higher education that confer degrees in business and management.  However, given a lack of crisis management curricula in many university business- management programs, it would be unrealistic to expect good decision-making of these “leaders” during times of crisis.   Not taking the time to actively engage in thinking about and planning for crises is a major contributing factor in the current crisis of leadership.  Curricula should be training students to apply effective and proven methods of engaging potential or emerging threats. Just as lawyers should not ask a question in court for which they do not know the answer, business leaders should not plan a business venture without carefully considering, and planning for, inauspicious contingencies.   In addition to building a diverse and manageable crisis-action team, future business leaders should be taught how best to implement the following crisis-management practices:

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Leverage everything

Each day has 24 hours – no more, no less. If you have defined your mO you know what your priorities are. If you don’t honor your priorities you won’t reach your mO.

Peter Drucker used to say that a minimum of six straight hours of concentration were needed to generate anything worthwhile. Especially in the summers he would hole up in his home office and allegedly not venture out until at least six hours had passed. A rough draft would then move from his home in Claremont to Orlene, the most loyal secretary in the universe, who reigned at his campus office a short distance away. Rough drafts never left the hands of Orlene until they were cleaned up and Peter claimed to never let a rough draft out of his or Orlene’s sight. I tried to look at one once, and my supposedly good friend Orlene nearly perpetrated some Middle East justice on the hand that reached for the rough draft.

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7 steps to managing the core

Just when we had teams figured out, hierachies had disappeared (right.) and toxic leaders purged, the ground shifted and our world got more complicated. Cultural anthropologists sometimes talk about dynamic equivalence when translating a document or idea from one culture into another. This seems to be a good word for the shifting management landscape many leaders face.

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7 steps to an MBA that matters: 4) the teaching MBA

(Clara Lovett’s commentary fired a round over the B-school trenches. It made me think that we need an MBA attuned to “the rise of the rest”. Seven steps followed – here’s a discussion of the fourth.)

4) Set up the teaching MBA that will equip practitioners actually to teach others, rather than create personal or corporate wealth

The theory we’re trying to construct here seeks to release the wealth creation capacity of the rest of the world and presumes that there may be some common ground of management and business knowledge that can be adaptable across most cultures, both locally and globally. At the same time there will be some management knowledge that is essential locally but not transferable globally. We just need some simple vehicle(s) to pass it around!

One idea might be to unleash experienced managers to be MBA replicators in places where “the rest” dwell. Thus the idea of the teaching MBA…

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7 steps to an MBA that matters: 5) figure out functional management

(Clara Lovett’s commentary fired a round over the B-school trenches. It made me think that we need an MBA attuned to “the rise of the rest”. Seven steps followed – here’s a discussion of the fifth.)

5) Figure out functional management and apply it locally

Drucker’s “making knowledge effective” definition envisions management as a practice and a discipline. It may also be a technology, perhaps in the same sense of “intermediate” or “appropriate” technologies characterized by writers such as E. F. Schumacher.

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7 steps to an MBA that matters: 7) Fear Not

(Clara Lovett’s commentary fired a round over the B-school trenches. It made me think that we need an MBA attuned to “the rise of the rest”. Seven steps followed – here’s a discussion of the seventh.)

7) Fear not new models

This seven-part series aimed to be an exercise in thinking about meaningful innovation that is both marketable and sustainable. This final post counts the cost of what we have to stop doing.

Peter Drucker preached organized abandonment and innovation wherever he went in his long career. The former especially required managerial courage. It is not enough just to say no. He noted that:

…the bulk of time, work, attention, and money first goes to “problems” rather than to opportunities, and, secondly, to areas where even extraordinarily successful performance will have minimum impact on results.

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