Recently, I ‘shared’ a jokingly scathing opinion about hipsters online. (If you are thinking about 50s jazz musician slang or trousers with a lower than average waistband at this point, click here for clarification.) Thankfully, I had serendipity on my side and managed to restrict my outburst to a closed Facebook group. After what might be called ‘debate’, the collective conclusion was that simplistic summaries are rarely accurate and, indeed, are more likely to mislead than guide or describe. (A secondary conclusion was that the initial impression we create in others might not always be the most conducive to achieving their buy-in to whatever we think of as being our ‘proposition’.)
There is little, however, that someone somewhere won’t take seriously enough to measure, monitor and develop a thesis about. Public Policy Polling, a US organisation that proudly asserts on its website that the Wall Street Journal ranked it “as one of the top swing state pollsters in the country during the last Presidential election”, considered the continuing proliferation of hirsute organic finger-painting beekeepers (ok, I’m paraphrasing) on the rooftops of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, as sufficiently worthy of its attention that it published this (earning themselves Guardian coverage in the process).
I caught myself wondering why they didn’t ask people questions about their sense of proportion. (I also caught myself remembering how much I laughed at a recent News Quiz episode where ‘middle-class’ was defined in terms of being overheard in Waitrose asking of your Significant Other the deathless question “Darling, do we need parmesan for both houses”. Funny, but hardly the foundation of a working understanding of the dynamics of class structure in early 21st century Britain. But hey, shorthand is quicker, right?)
I always appreciate getting updates from Mervyn Dinnen’s blog, not least as the most recent – In Praise of Experience During a Time of Social Media Crisis – pointed me at a fascinating brouhaha I’d not previously been aware of: the case of Cathryn Sloane and a Nextgen Journal article – Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25 – that inflamed rather a lot of passions.
We’ll note the title of the original Journal before we move on, as it illustrates a larger point: the web is an open medium – while we can use titles and names and brands to position ourselves as appealing to particular demographics, the rest of the world is only a click away from stumbling on us. The article title was, of course, the real ‘flamebait’ here, although the article’s tone didn’t help the writer’s case for anyone outside the magical demographic that she sought to ordain and claim. If you must diss everyone over 25, at least do it somewhere where they won’t find it: just realise that the social media you are trumpeting make that harder than ever to achieve.
Confucius famously cursed us to live in interesting times: reading recent blogs and newsletters, I’m picking up a rather different adjective – fearful. Even the usually cheerful Euan Semple started his most recent newsletter with the subheading ‘Paranoia’, although his specific reference was to online privacy and how you might take a few steps to maximise it.
Yet fear has the potential to stalk our working lives in other ways. The blog, The Illusion of Work, recently published a post by Ian Gee called The Tyranny of Transitions, looking at the Kübler-Ross Curve, widely used with reference to organisational change, but originally grounded in work around individual’s responses to grieving. Gee’s article ponders how far organisations may potentially overload individuals with dealing with the emotional transitions of overlapping cycles of change, especially where previous experience may have taught them to be wary or to anticipate difficulty.
The title was on a postcard someone sent me many years ago. I think it was promoting a film, or maybe an ice-cream or a luxury spa. Whatever: it made me smile. Possibly it had a point too, possibly at a philosophical ‘how do we approach our own lives’ sort of level, or possibly at the level of the only blog post with the same title I could find (which comes from a site with the strapline “The place to get all cute about your cubicle and joyous about your job – if you love your work you’ll like it here!”: personally, I’d prefer my happiness with a little less saccharine.)
If we are going to look at ‘happiness at work’, let’s ditch the sweeteners and think instead of ‘sufficiently contented and inspired to feel positively engaged and productive’. A little less pink and fluffy, granted, but then “where there’s pink there’s gold” isn’t how the aphorism goes. Where there’s happiness, however …
Those of you who are already familiar with ASK’s approach and methodology may already be aware that amongst our passions is a commitment to ‘asking the right questions’. In times of change and of debate, doing so is doubly important: if debate is required, asking the right questions enables it to be informed. While we may individually have preferences for ‘analysis’ or ‘feeling’, an absence of answers must to some extent mean that we are not really seeing the things that we are responding to.
One such arena is organisational learning and development, where training activity is no longer so focused on the classroom. This change has many drivers – the advent of online technologies and the role of innovations such as the internet, wi-fi and handheld devices in delivery, a growing pressure for ‘on-demand’ learning (possibly influenced by lean production approaches), and budgetary pressures, which recent years have only amplified.
Forgive us for hanging a broader point off a recent political headline (especially as we’ve apologised for this already this month), but the reshuffles of both the government ministers and their Shadow counterparts – and the media commentary on them – does beg a larger question or two.
The headlines (see, for example, The Daily Express, Daily Mail, New Statesman, Sky and BBC News) tell us as much about the commentators as they do about the content, although The Spectator deserves an honourable mention for a deadpan headline that may more accurately reflect general public interest: Small Reshuffle in Britain; Not Many Dead.
What’s interesting about the interpretations and responses is the factionalism – looking for signs as to what the changes mean in terms of which interests, tendencies and allegiances are being advantaged. Accepting – naturally – that organisations are not political parties, there are important points here about diversity and strength, sustainability and vanity (and possibly also the difference between product and branding).
Let it never be said that business is slow to respond: the inevitable ‘business lessons from the US Government shutdown’ articles have already started (and I am also about to stand guilty as charged). As individuals, we each have our own take on the world and draw our conclusions and our parallels. The unnamed writer behind a Mintek blog post saw circumstances in Congress as equivalent to a clash between sales and operations in the hotel industry (which, I suspect, they either work in or advise – we all tend to see the relevance of what we do, regardless of where we look). Jack Welch – who shouldn’t need introduction – sees a different lesson entirely: titling his argument Schmooze or Lose: How the Lost Art of Negotiation Led to a Shutdown, It might normally take a brave man or woman to disagree with Mr Welch, but a number of respondents have, including one who plain-speakingly said:
Negotiation? Over what? That train left the station in 2009 when the Affordable Care Act was voted on, passed, signed into law and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. The time for negotiating has passed.”
ASK is not, of course, in the business of politics, although we are perhaps in the politics of business. Among the conclusions that might be drawn from looking across the Atlantic are not only that effective working relationships are important in any organisation (as another respondent on Welch’s article put it, “When one side takes the “my way or the highway” stand, then everyone loses”), but that sometimes the pursuit of a single, personal goal or agenda can become so determined that the broader picture gets lost. Indeed, a stance can be taken that so obstructs sympathy, that even the issue in question may be lost. As Public Policy Polling has shown, Congress’s approval rating is currently just 9%, and it is also less popular than head lice, colonoscopies, used-car salesmen and Brussel sprouts. This was – like the recent reaction to the Daily Mail/Ed Miliband scenario – not the response that was intended, but perhaps passion has obscured the wider view.
If you’re reading on a tablet or a phone, the opening lines of two recent Strategy + Business articles might raise an ironic smile. The first begins:
The “always on” nature of our society has generated a variety of warnings about the dangers of staying connected all the time.”
It proceeds to link backwards in time to the second, which begins:
Do you ever disconnect, even for just a few minutes? Think about the last time you used your “off button.”
If you haven’t already succumbed to temptation, you might however wish to read a third article: an interview with Loran Nordgren, in which “the cofounder of unconscious thought theory explains how taking a break and distracting the mind can lead to higher-quality decision making.” Perhaps you are already nodding in agreement – or perhaps your unconscious mind is silently thinking that you should.
The world, or at least the publishers of business related material, appears to have an untiring appetite for material that seeks to illuminate business and workplace behaviour by shining a light on a sporting arena. We’ve recently commented on the research of Brandon Irwin into what we might label ‘silent competition’, but already another example has come our way. Gavin Kilduff, an assistant professor of management and organizations at New York University’s Stern School of Business, was interviewed recently at the Strategy + Business blog about The Upsides and Dark Sides of Rivalry.
In the following post, we’ve included extracts from the online Q&A session, and offered our own commentary. Whether you see this as a competitive analysis or as ‘shouting from the sidelines’ – and your choice may merit a moment of self-reflection – we hope that it provides food for thought.
FK [Frieda Klotz]: Are the effects of rivalry positive or negative?
GK [Gavin Kilduff]: I describe rivalry as a double-edged sword. One benefit that I’m investigating may be that when organizations have fierce rivals, the individuals in those organizations may be more committed and more loyal to each other. The presence of a constant rival in their minds may foster greater in-group cohesion. Other benefits include increased motivation and performance. For example, when runners competed against a rival (as opposed to against their other competitors), they ran an average of 5 seconds per kilometer faster in a race. And when we asked individuals to think about personal rivals for just a few minutes, they exhibited increased motivation and persistence on a subsequent task.
The downsides are potentially many, however. Unethical behavior—in the form of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct, for instance—increases when people are competing against their rivals. People seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get an advantage in those situations.
Barclays Bank recently commissioned research into the appeal of benefits packages offered by employers to different generational groupings within the workforce. Someone with a keen interest in pop culture – albeit not very recent pop culture – may have chosen the report’s title: Talking About My Generation. Looking at coverage of the report since its publication, other Who singles might have spoken more clearly about the findings: I’m thinking, for example, about The Seeker, Let’s See Action or the inevitable Won’t Get Fooled Again. And, perhaps we should throw in I’m Free for the interns. There is a fair amount of apparent logical nonsense to wade through in some of the reporting; for example, the Employee Benefits’ website’s following paragraph:
According to the report, the new multi-generational workforce comprises five cohorts: Maturists (born pre-1945), Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1960), Generation X (between 1961 and 1980), Generation Y (between 1981 and 1995) and Generation Z (born after 1995).”
This assumes that workforces have hitherto always consisted entirely of people of roughly the same age or that organisations have simply not noticed the ageing process at work: reading coverage around the report’s main findings, the former remains errant baloney but the latter may turn out – sadly – to be true.