“When will we ever learn”
I have recently been watching Margaret Heffernan’s TED talk and she talks about a number of themes which, in my own way I have been talking about for the last 20 years. She talks about ‘social capital’, by which she broadly means, good social connection and quality interaction, and she shows with many examples this is every bit as important as any other form of asset. She also rails against excessive hierarchy and the premium placed on ‘talent’ and a preoccupation with a ‘hero’ form of leadership, which she argues is always at the expense of ‘mobilising collective intelligence’ (my phrase)
I then came across Barry Schwartz’s talk about ‘using our practical wisdom’ and our ‘loss of wisdom’, in which he rues our obsession with rule following and incentives, so that we lose our practical wisdom as espoused by Socrates, and our ability to ‘do the right thing’.
The other day I read an article about an email from Elon Musk to his employees encouraging them to ignore rules and ignore hierarchy. He explains that a communication pattern that funnels power to one leader can be harmful to innovation.
I was reminded of Ricardo Semler’s now fairly well known radical approach to leading Semco, recounted in his book ‘Maverick, and there are many other writers and examples of a much more social and liberating perspective on organisations which demonstrably produce better results, as well as providing much more developmental and satisfying places to work.
Despite all this experience and theory, there is still a preponderance of instrumental, high stress, hierarchical and rule-bound organisations, many of which, as Heffernan puts it, lurch from crisis to crisis.
Finally I am reminded of Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work in the “Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he argued that breaking a ‘paradigm’ of conceptual continuity tended to cause ‘uproar’ as indeed did his book, but perhaps we have not even begun to create uproar. I wonder what is the fear which holds us back when we know there is a better way?