Bernie: In a recent blog, you have written that it’s important to examine the chain of past events that have produced a current circumstance, and try to learn from them. Perhaps your forthcoming tour of NORAD will provide such an opportunity? The world has changed, and so has NORAD. But are we not still clinging desperately to other relics of the past? Is our current national priority to maintain special operations units throughout the world, spawned during the Vietnam era of distributed gorilla wars of national liberation, soon to become a relic of the past? And what’s next? We have to “do something” about global threats, right? Force is one part of the answer. If we just concentrate on that part alone, very complex part, really — what’s next? — Bernie Daina – Organizational Psychologist – firstname.lastname@example.org
Andre: IMO, an imbalance in power and wealth, unfortunately, while as inevitable as recognizing that life isn’t fair, and some people are born tall, smart, famous or beautiful while others aren’t, is one of the root causes of confrontation. Life is not fair, the world is not perfect and there is a limited supply of many of our resources, making some of the basic needs of humans a sort of zero sum game, at least until we can figure out how to produce sufficient quantities of food, water, vaccines and education and deliver it where the people reside. Until nearly everyone is brought up similar production, capacity, efficiency & education levels, we’ll continue to have huge imbalances in wealth, and the corresponding confrontation that goes along people trying to balance the equation through force, or maintain their imbalance through force.
Balancing Short and Long Term Goals
Bernie: When confronted with the dilemma of valuing short-term results versus longer-term investment — particularly in a cash-tight entrepreneurial environment where a team is struggling to gain a firm foothold and investors are spooked or pressured and clamoring for “results” — how does a leader transmit a strong and continuous sense of urgency to his team, while absorbing excessive levels of performance-crippling anxiety that often accompany the urgency?
Andre: I believe it’s the leaders role to create an environment where the best in people can be achieved. The best cannot be brought out if people are fearful. Early in a business, the leaders role is to create operational runway which allows teams to focus on the business, mission and vision, rather than worry about whether or not they will have a job in 2 weeks. The leader has failed if they are not capable of creating this condition, as the organization begins to collapse in on itself. Creating realistic expectations both up (the board) and down (the employees) is part of this role too. Balancing execution, resource appropriation and near-term results with investments with longer term returns is also an important role for the leader. They must know when to make future trade-offs and when to return to longer-term thinking. What i object to is when the focus of the entire organization becomes so myopic, that they do forgo entirely the bigger picture. My point of all of this is, a leader must be strong enough to actualize a condition whereby a healthy balance between short and long term goals can be realized.
Pursuing Value or a Buck?
Bernie. What’s the difference between offering products or services that really matter, that are of high quality, and that anticipate and meet genuine needs, versus those that can simply be sold? If customers can be manipulated to buy handily-produced large volumes of obsolete cars, trucks, pharmaceuticals, or software, what difference does it really make to take the risk and plow our efforts into producing something more useful that will not be adopted as easily? Is this an ethical or a business dilemma, or both?
Andre: There will always be ways to make (and lose) a quick buck. The difference is whether or not you’ll last. Long term sustainability is the difference.
Acting under pressure
Bernie. What are the rules for determining whether an impending action, in a pressurized environment, will achieve a desired outcome versus simply discharge the tension of needing to “do something”?
Andre: If that action is rooted in a long-term view of sustainability and competitiveness. If that action does not create a future liability as a result of a current gain.
Bernie. Traditionally, organizations are attack vehicles: Companies attack their markets and competitors; relief organizations attack hunger, pestilence, and natural disasters; educational institutions attack ignorance and illiteracy; America’s scientific, educational, technological, and process-control infrastructures were galvanized and enhanced by our impulse to compete with the Russians for the moon; social clubs attack isolation and boredom; and so on. People get fired up, and join together, when they have a common enemy. Is there any better way to energize and focus a group productively?
Andre: Different people are motivated by different things and I think organizations and their motivations can change over time if the people, or their leadership changes. Highly competitive people are motivated by winning. Microsoft had this culture, Oracle has this culture. Other teams are motivated to ‘invent’ (HP), or to ‘be first’ or to ‘be visionary.’ At different stages of a company, the people, and how you motivate them will likely evolve. So, I don’t think it’s as simple of an answer as saying, ‘the best way to motivate people is to have a common enemy.’ I think it’s convenient when it exists, but when an organization lives to kill (or simply to survive), I view this as a situation where leadership hasn’t stepped up and rallied people to a higher cause. It’s like running a business where the only mission is to make money. It’s not wrong, but it’s empty.
Educate or Train?
Bernie. Training is extremely important to our society: training in basic and advanced skills, training in disciplinary and creative problem-solving, training in social skills and “emotional intelligence”, and so forth. How does education differ from training? Does it help us do any more than accumulate knowledge and appreciate things? In what ways is education, per se, of any practical use?
Andre: I equate education with having elements of experience sharing, which in turn incorporates elements of wisdom sharing. To me, this is much more meaningful than showing someone how to do something (training).
Making the ‘right’ choice
Bernie. Is it really reasonable to assume that doing the “right” thing, by whatever economical, moral or subjective standards, will lead to an outcome that one can always look back on and think, “Well, I’m glad I made that choice!”? Is there some other standard that supersedes doing the “right” thing?
Andre: Good question. “Right” certainly has many contexts. I believe in a sort of universal balance. Call it what you will, ying/yang, what comes around goes around, karma, wave theory, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long or E=MC2. The point is, you can “cheat” and create a temporal imbalance in reality for only so long, but sooner or later, your decision catches up with you. Even if you don’t see the consequences, somehow they are there. With this view, doing the right thing is nothing more than recognizing the future cost of your decision. No matter how hidden.