Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 3, 2014
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
Signs you're in an organization that might actually have a future
- Benchmarking. Any organization that's worth its salt measures how it's doing, against both internal and external scorecards. There has to be an internal drive to continuously improve upon yesterday's performance, and finding reliable ways to measure that performance is essential. But it's also important to look externally, too -- both to competitors and to organizations that are totally different, to ensure that good ideas that are proving themselves fit for use elsewhere are being tested and adapted for suitability when they fit. A thoughtless rejection of any idea that wasn't originated from within is a recipe for a lot of learning in the school of hard knocks.
- Short meetings. Meetings are short and have a purpose. Materials are distributed in advance so people can come prepared. Participants are not expected to make snap judgments in the absence of information, but are instead treated like jurors who come together to deliberate only after digesting the facts on their own.
- Fast feedback. Decision-making is either close to the source with a strong guiding philosophy in place, or is centralized but with a deep commitment to getting deep and fast feedback from the boots on the ground. In either paradigm, people up and down the chain always seek to understand why decisions are made.
- Devil's advocates. Someone is always designated as the devil's advocate in a meeting or decision process. The role rotates among different people so that everyone is trained to think independently as a reflexive action.
- Truth-tellers. The upper echelons of management deliberately keep truth-tellers around to let them know when the emperor has no clothes. It's easy to fall for the myth of the solitary business genius, but the reality is that it's hard to find a great business superstar who hasn't also had an outstanding sidekick (or team of sidekicks) who are not only allowed but expected to tell the superstar the truth when everyone else around just wants to do the safe thing and kiss up. Warren Buffett has Charlie Munger; Bill Gates had Paul Allen; great family enterprises like the ones built by the Tisch, Koch, and Pritzker families invariably benefitted from the kind of brutal interpersonal honesty that can come from working with immediate family members.
A good organization of any sort (business, government, non-profit, or otherwise) builds itself a framework that helps it do two things:
- Minimize the number of decisions needed to be successful
- Maximize the probability of making good decisions
That's why you can have businesses, for example, that look totally different from one another -- one with a rigid hierarchy, the other with a "federated" management style -- and yet they both perform well. The form of their decision-making may be different, but if the highly-structured organization is built around an efficient means for getting good information to the top quickly, it can do well -- just like the flatter structure may suit their competitor, if they dedicate resources to developing their people's ability to make good decisions at all levels. Ultimately, that's what matters today: We are not in a "knowledge economy", as so many people like to say. We are living in an emerging judgment economy
. What matters is not so much what you know, but how well you can decide. Organizations that show some or all of the signs above are shaping themselves to be factories producing lots of good decisions, and that's the smartest way to organize in the 21st Century.
Back to truth-tellers, for a moment
It's easy to fall for the myth of the solitary genius -- Steve Jobs built an entire cult of personality at Apple around his personal style. But it's not sustainable; just look at how Apple has been struggling to find its identity again now that Jobs has passed away. The solitary genius might have been a key plot feature in Ayn Rand novels, but the really good systems seem to have arisen from circumstances where a strong figurehead has equally strong-minded partners, deputies, and lieutenants around who can provide a serious system of internal checks and balances. One of the major failures of the Obama White House (from a managerial perspective, not a political one) is that nobody wants to deliver bad news to the President
for fear of getting shut out or disrupting the "No-Drama Obama
" ethos. This bubble problem is different from wanting to sneak out for a milkshake
or commune with tightly-controlled crowds
. It's a matter of getting important feedback to guide the decision-making process, and if the President doesn't get it, that affects the performance of the entire administration. Delivering bad news
(or just speaking truth to power) can be deeply uncomfortable, but it's essential to the decision-making process. Does anyone really believe that Vice President Biden has serious mano-a-mano talks with the President in which they have real debates?
Tin Foil Hat Award
Chicago's automatic red-light enforcement finally gets serious scrutiny
: The Chicago Tribune found that the system had a bunch of apparent flaws, and now the city is hiring an outside auditor to review the anomalies. But the bottom line is that nobody should be surprised that there were problems with a system that gave a private company the financial incentive to ticket people on behalf of the city, which itself is in dire financial straits itself and could use any possible source of new revenues it can find.
Yay Capitalism, Baby Prize
Amazon wants to sweeten deal on new Fire phone with a free year of Prime
: Once more, competition in the tech sector turns out to be terrible for investors but wonderful for consumers.
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