we don’t need another hero

People in leadership positions are very busy — too busy it seems.

“CEOs attend an endless stream of meetings, each of which can be totally different from the one before and the one that follows. Their sheer number and variety is a defining feature of the top job. On average, the leaders in our study had 37 meetings of assorted lengths in any given week and spent 72% of their total work time in meetings.” —HBR 2018-07

But being busy makes them feel important — perhaps even heroic.

“Many of us can get caught up acting like heroes, not from power drives, but from our good intentions and desires to help. Are you acting as a hero? Here’s how to know. You’re acting as a hero when you believe that if you just work harder, you’ll fix things; that if you just get smarter or learn a new technique, you’ll be able to solve problems for others. You’re acting as a hero if you take on more and more projects and causes and have less time for relationships. You’re playing the hero if you believe that you can save the situation, the person, the world.” —Margaret Wheatley

As Margaret Wheatley states, “Heroic leadership rests on the illusion that someone can be in control.” But we don’t need heroes, we need learners. (more…)

toward a network society

Our current triform society is based on families/communities, a public sector, and a private market sector. But this form, dominated by Markets is unable to deal with the complexities we face globally — climate change, pollution, populism/fanaticism, nuclear war, etc. A quadriform society would be primarily guided by the Network form of organizing. We are making some advances in that area but we still have challenges getting beyond nation states and financial markets. (more…)

we all need an inner circle

Work has always been about who you know, more than what you know. That’s why the rich and powerful send their children to elite schools. It’s not about the education but rather the connections. We still fool ourselves that a capitalist economy is a meritocracy — which any marginalized group can attest is false. However, the emerging network era and its democratization of media is giving voice to more of these groups.

I have advocated for retrieving gender balance in our organizations as the controlled linearity of the written and printed word — patriarchal in their essence — will be obsolesced by the connected, electric medium. This connected world requires each of us to develop broad and diverse social networks in addition to trusted communities of practice. Today, this is even more important for women than men, though I think it will be essential for all genders in the near future. Social networks are our professional safety nets.

Professor Brian Uzzi studied hundreds of MBA graduates and noted significant differences in the social networks of men and women. While social networks are important to both, successful women also had an ‘inner circle’ of trusted female advisors. Networks and communities are not the same. Communities are the connectors between diverse networks and work teams. They are essential. We all need an inner circle. (more…)

methods for mastery

I recently came across two methods to implement aspects of personal knowledge mastery. The first, by Angelika Mittelmann, uses my Seek > Sense > Share framework to create a ‘fitness circuit’ which includes warm-up, starting, and sustaining exercises. These are quite detailed but are good for people looking for inspiration to start the PKM discipline. Mittelman concludes, and I agree, “As every person is different, there is no standardized PKM.” (more…)

“the only way to make sense out of change”

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”Alan Watts

Respect and deference are two different things, sir, too often mistaken for each other.” —Maxine Peake as Martha Costello QC, Barrister in Silk via @tantramar

“Sorry to break it to you but arguments and facts don’t change people’s minds. It’s been proven neurologically that only relational warmth, not a war of words, can light up our neocortex awakening us to something new.”@danwhitejr (more…)

what it’s all about

Three things are essential for meaningful work in the network era — diversity, learning, and trust.


While there is much talk about information overload, it has never been easier for us to find diverse opinions, experiences, and perspectives. To make sense of any complex matter we cannot rely on a single source. As with the blind men and the elephant, each of us can only see a part of the whole. It’s not just gender balance that we need to cultivate in our social networks but overall intellectual diversity.

“All human systems are connected and connected systems cannot be understood in terms of isolated parts.”Esko Kilpi (more…)

the universal mother

Umair Haque has written what some might consider a controversial article on why AOC [US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] short-circuits the conservative mind and why the universal mother is the antidote to the authoritarian father.

“The universal mother is the antidote to the authoritarian father. Think about it. Reflect on it. Remember it. Treat the bizarre and weird contradictions of post-modern gender theory with the skepticism they deserve — my gender is the most important thing in the world, but yours doesn’t matter at all!! Understand it’s just conservatism and patriarchy in disguise, all too often, all over again — a kind of weak liberation to be sexually desired, to be virgins and whores, but not really existentially valued, as mother-creators, spring-bringers, winter-melters.” —Umair Haque 2019-01-16

For hundreds, even thousands, of years women have been excluded from power and AOC is taking the public podium back. She understands the new medium. I think AOC is a sign of the times and that we will see many more mother figures coming forward in the emerging network era. The reactionaries may currently dominate the public discourse, but over time they will lose.

“Why do our societies feel so out of control? So imbalanced? Like they’re collapsing and crumbling before our very eyes? The reason is very simple, in one way. Too many authoritarian fathers — not enough universal mothers. Societies like American and Britain have long histories of empire building, which reflect cultures of authoritarian fatherhood. It’s no surprise that as the world became a little more powerful, and they became a little less powerful — they retreated into a desperate search for authoritarian fathers. Reagan … Bush … Trump. But Theresa May is Britain’s authoritarian father — not its mother — sternly commanding it, threatening it with terrible punishment, cracking the whip over it.” —Umair Haque 2019-01-16


authority plus reputation

According to Daniel Mezick, there are two systems in an organization — formal and informal. Leadership is exercised through authority in the formal system, and through reputation in the informal one. Combined, Mezick calls this simply, ‘hierarchy’, which he says is neither good nor bad. It just is.

I would agree that both exist. We are getting more interested in the informal system and the value of reputation as society and our organizations become more networked. In a networked world, reputation is gaining power. In organizations with increasingly shorter lifespans, formal authority is temporary while reputation can extend beyond the life of an organization.

Rita McGrath says that, “Hierarchy [authority] creates the illusion of control”.

“… but you want to avoid the usual trappings of hierarchy—top-down decision making, approvals, committees. These things create the illusion of control, but in a world that’s changing rapidly, they ironically don’t provide you with actual control. The more you rely on top-down decision making, the less you get that input from the edges that’s so critical to the ability to respond to rapidly changing external environments.”

People in positions of organizational authority may have temporary power but it is their reputation that will help them find their next engagement. There are few of us working today who will not have a ‘next engagement’. Helping make our networks smarter, more resilient, and able to make better decisions will enhance our reputation in our human networks. It will also make for more human organizations. (more…)

extracting human value

Automation + Capitalism makes for a perfect storm that many of us will not weather. Does ‘Artificial Intelligence’, the current top buzzword, really mean that we program our biases into automated decision-making systems, seal them in a proprietary black box, and let the status quo reign, with no illusion of ethics, morals, or humanity? Maintaining this status quo is the core operating model of global management consultancies like McKinsey.

“We are now living with the consequences of the world McKinsey created. Market fundamentalism is the default mode for businesses and governments the world over. Abstraction and myth insulate actors from the atrocities they help perpetuate. Businesses that resisted the pressure to rationalize every decision based on its impact on shareholder value were beaten out or eaten up by those who shed the last remnants of their humanity. With another heavyweight on the side of management, McKinsey tipped the scale even further away from labor, contributing directly to the increase in wealth inequality plaguing the world. Governments are now more similar to the private sector and more reliant on their services. The “best and the brightest” devote themselves to client service instead of public service. —Current Affairs 2019-02-05

It is reinforced by an expressed attitude that human work is something that can be broken into components and used like bits of machinery. People are merely the sum of the work that can be extracted from them by the capitalist machine. They have no other value in this economic system, and hence are always viewed as expenses.

“We see a world beyond employment and, arguably, the fundamental underpinnings for a world where work is constantly reinvented. Work is deconstructed into tasks, dispersed in time and space, and executed through many virtual and market relationships other than traditional employment. The organization is permeable, interconnected and collaborative and can change in shape. The reward is impermanent, individually defined and uses imaginative elements such as game points, reputation, mission.” —WillisTowerWatson: Future of Work


learning myths & superstitions

In Millennials, Goldfish & other Training Misconceptions my colleague Clark Quinn has written a handy guide for every training shop or L&D department. Using his decades of experience combined with a scientist’s analytical mind, Clark first looks at learning ‘myths’ — beliefs we hold that aren’t true. Each myth is analyzed from seven perspectives:

  1. The Claim
  2. The Appeal
  3. The Potential Upside
  4. The Potential Downside
  5. How to Evaluate
  6. What the Evidence Says
  7. What to Do

This book is a useful job aid for anyone supporting learning in the workplace. Clark uses a different approach for ‘superstitions’ — AKA bad practices. He examines each of these from five perspectives:

  1. The Claim
  2. The Practice
  3. The Rationale
  4. Why it Doesn’t Work
  5. What to do Instead