September 2021 - on sabotaging meetings, the timeless and the timely, managing without managers, and rewilding your attention
Also, it's time to close our inboxes
Just because the ladder has fewer rungs doesn't mean leadership opportunities are scarce-quite the opposite. By giving people the ability to gain influence (and compensation) based on accomplishment as opposed to advancement, an organization ends up with more, not fewer leaders. And these leaders don't have to devote their talents and energy to politicking or sabotaging each other in zero-sum promotion battles.
What do you think?
Building a successful organization is a mix of doing new/novel things, old things, and very old things. I think we usually spend too much time talking about the new and novel as if it’s a silver bullet. Doing the old and very old things consistently and well is overlooked.
I would add an additional distinction: there’s the new/novel and there’s the timeless. There is also the timely: doing things at the right time.
Before you join your next meeting, have a read-through. See what the repetition is saying (or not saying). Even better: before you schedule one, ask yourself: does this really require a meeting?
Here is an 8-point plan for disrupting meetings and conferences. You will probably recognize some of these from your own circumstances:
(1) Insist on doing everything through ‘channels’. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
(2) Make ‘speeches’. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your ‘points’ by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration’. Attempt to make committees as large as possible—never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate ‘caution’. Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
“(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision. . . . It might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.”
It seems self-evident. Starting to speak before another has finished violates their right to the floor. In formal contexts such as political debates, it breaches the rules. In casual conversation, it is simply rude.
But it’s not so simple. As a linguist who studies the mechanics of conversation, I’ve observed and documented that beginning to talk while another is talking can be a way of showing enthusiastic engagement with what the speaker is saying. Far from silencing them, it can be encouragement to keep going.
In some [groups], you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.
In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't even have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.
When you read what everyone else is reading, you’re thinking what everyone else is thinking. And you might only be reading what the algorithms are putting before you. It’s time to rewild your attention.
Big-tech recommendation systems (…) pose a (…) challenge for our imaginative lives: Their remarkably dull conception of what’s “interesting”. It’s like intellectual monocropping. You open your algorithmic feed and see rows and rows of neatly planted corn, and nothing else.
Here’s a simple idea: go to a bookstore or a library, look for a book, and let serendipity (the books around the book you’re looking for) provide surprises and discoveries. Creativity is not about “being creative”. It’s work. And it doesn’t have to be hard work.
It gives license to verbiage and turns simple conversations into an exchange of overcrafted essays. It’s time to close our inboxes.
This month last year, this was the most viewed entry of the newsletter:
Creativity and exploration
Meta-analysis of the research on creativity by Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review. The whole three-article series is good. Here’s a sample: Five ways in which managers can bolster creativity:
Hire for curiosity;
Emphasize learning goals;
Let employees explore and broaden their interests; and
Have “Why?” “What if…?” and “How might we…?” days.
She identifies two tendencies that restrain managers from encouraging curiosity:
They have the wrong mindset about exploration, often thinking that letting employees follow their curiosity will lead to a costly mess; and
They seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration.
And in closing, here’s a back-to-school parody of going back to the office: