what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lists


In one of my blogs I referred to the pleasures of the lists – the Seven Deadly Sins; Seven Habits of Effective People (Covey); Ten Commandments (God); and Ten rules for stifling innovation (Kanter) seem just about manageable. When I was working in Central Europe in the 1990s I used to buy multiple copies of the Covey book in the local language - Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian – since it was one of the few books I knew in English which was also available in the local language and was useful as a means of professional conversation. The principles were/are -
- be proactive
- begin with the end in mind
- put first things first
- think win/win
- seek first to understand : then to be understood
- synergise
- "sharpen the saw" - ie keep mentally and physically fit

When I moved to Central Asia and Caucasus in 1999, I found that presentation of Rosabeth Kanter’s Ten rules for stifling innovation was a marvellous way to liven up a workshop with middle-ranking officials. She had concocted this prescription as a satiric comment on the way she discovered from her research that senior executives in US commercial giants like IBM, General Motors were continuing to act in the old centralised ways despite changed structures and rhetoric.
1. regard any new idea from below with suspicion - because it's new, and it's from below
2. insist that people who need your approval to act first go through several other layers of management to get their signatures
3. Ask departments or individuals to challenge and criticise each other's proposals (That saves you the job of deciding : you just pick the survivor)
4. Express your criticisms freely - and withhold your praise (that keeps people on their toes). Let them know they can be fired at any time
5. Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage people from letting you know when something in their area is not working
6. Control everything carefully. Make sure people count anything that can be counted, frequently.
7. Make decisions to reorganise or change policies in secret, and spring them on people unexpectedly (that also keeps them on their toes)
8. Make sure that requests for information are fully justified, and make sure that it is not given to managers freely
9. Assign to lower-level managers, in the name of delegation and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut back, lay off, move around, or otherwise implement threatening decisions you have made. And get them to do it quickly.
10. And above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already know everything important about this business.


“Any of this strike you as similar?” I would cheekily ask my Uzbek and Azeri officials.
Robert Greene’s 24 ways to seduce; 33 ways to conduct war; and 48 Laws of power are, also, tongue in cheek. The first to hit the market was the 48 Laws of power and I enjoyed partly because it so thoroughly challenged in its spirit the gung-ho (and unrealistic) naivety of the preaching which characterised so many of the management books of the time – and partly for the way historical examples are woven into the text. I’ve selected a few to give the reader a sense of the spirit of the book
Never put too much trust in friends; learn how to use enemies
• Conceal your intentions
• always say less than necessary
• Guard your reputation with your life
• Court attention at all costs
• Get others to do the work, but always take the credit
• Make other people come to you
• Win through your actions, never through argument
• Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victims


I found a Russian translation of the book in Baku and gave it as a leaving gift to the Azeri lawyer in the Presidential Office I had worked closely with for 2 years on the project to help implement the Civil Service Law. he obviouly made good use of it as 3 months later he was appointed as Head(Ministerial level)of the new Civil Service Agency my work had helped inspire!
Luther’s 95 theses on the wall of the Wittenberg church seem excessive – but, given the success of his mission, perhaps contain a lesson for the media advisers who tell us that the public can absorb a limited number of messages only!

The Bakewell book suggests that Montaigne’s life can usefully be encapsulated in 20 injunctions –
• Don’t worry about death
• Read a lot, forget most of it – and be slow-witted
• Survive love and loss
• Use little tricks
• Question everything
• Keep a private room behind the shop
• Be convivial; live with others
• Wake from the sleep of habit
• Do something no one has done before
• Do a good job – but not too good a job
• Reflect on everything; regret nothing
• Give up control

At the very least, when I see such lists, it suggests we're in for some fun!

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