Not doing & Value Networks LO1335

Sun, 21 May 1995 16:46:13 +0100 (BST)

I'd like to contribute to the 'storytelling' thread - which I have been
following for some time. The experience of owner-managing for a decade a
120-person project management business taught me about 'virtual
organisations' which is where I now spend my time - identifying
innovations and then teaming with others to bring them about.

The latter step is the tricky bit and it is enabled through stories, case
studies, metaphors - because, in general, people tend to view something
new through a lens determined by their past experience. To get people
onto a new wavelength you must first trigger their imaginations - and
then let them join in the work.

A story I came across recently may illustrate what I mean (alas, the
source is mislaid - it may have been Tom Peters):

"A new chief executive was appointed to an organisation that had lost its
way. He spent his first few days 'being seen' and while chatting to
staff at the reception desk he observed in an adjacent cleaners' cupboard
a head-&-shoulders sculpture in stone of an unidentified 19th century
figure. The CEO immediately arranged for this to be placed at the main
entrance on a plinth bearing the inscription 'The Founder'. The CEO said
absolutely nothing. Within two weeks the organisation was buzzing with
myths and legends about the amazing acumen and derring-do of 'The
Founder' and all the KPIs started to improve."

This strategy is very powerful, but risky. A sincere remark or
spontaneous gesture can boost corporate morale for long periods.
Conversely it can be devastating - witness Gerald Ratner's honest but
ill-fated jest to the UK's Institute of Directors "What we sell is cheap
because it is crap".

Perhaps the CEO's story also relates to the L-Org's parallel thread about
'Not Doing'. My grandfather (a successful entrepreneur) told me he had
learned that in some circumstances the ideal strategy is 'Masterly
Inactivity'. More recently I have heard this called 'Active Inertia".

Only the most charismatic leader can ever afford to say "I'm not sure
what to do next". But do we benefit by expecting our leaders to be
superhuman ? Doesn't the 80/20 rule apply to their behaviour too ? The
power of 'masterly inactivity' should not be underestimated. Implicitly
it 'gives permission' to a workforce to participate - isn't this what
'empowerment' embodies ?

I have given you my thoughts about 'storytelling' (vis-a-vis
organisational myths and legends) and about 'not doing' (the efficacy of
masterly inactivity). May I add a more controversial note - about
'leadership' ?

In my experience not everybody aspires to be a leader. Dr Meredith
Belbin's work in Cambridge (eg: Management Teams, 1981) shows that there
are many valuable attributes that an individual can bring to the party.
At the risk of being my being misconstrued as politically incorrect: the
Chinese army employed the 'King Rat' theory during the Korean war. The
hypothesis was derived from observation of the behaviour of rats which
evidenced that any tribe or community can only accommodate 2% as
leaders. They tested this by placing captured UN forces in fortified
compounds for 3 days. During this time they identified the natural
leaders (the 2% assessment was confirmed) and removed these to solitary
confinement. They found that they could then redeploy the guards and the
98% would remain where they were (even if the compound gates were left open).

Has the trend towards globalisation of societies eliminated these age-old
patterns so quickly ? If so, it suggests that Andy Warhol was right - we
are all destined to be famous for 15 minutes.

If I may be permitted to proffer an answer to my own question; I think we
are moving towards 'value networks'. My belief is that, as new
technologies progressively eliminate time and distance barriers,
individuals will be able to enter, contribute to and leave evolving
customer-service networks as the means to being economically active.

If anyone sees merit in this proposition (which forms part of my doctoral
studies) I hope they will comment. If you agree, then we have a
collective responsibility to ensure that this new work paradigm is
accessible to all and not determined by certain citizens of the
delightful city of Seattle.

Nigel Courtney
Courtney Consulting & City University Business School
London, UK	tel: (44) 181 693 8907