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With the benefit (and bias) of hindsight

This post could be subtitled, "A self-indulgent look at past writings."

In April of 2012, Paul Bowler (@spbowler) found some articles from my old site on the Wayback Machine and tweeted about it. I replied to him, "Thanks for finding that! Some of the articles make me smile; learned a thing or 2 since then. Others I’m glad to have recovered." That prompted him to ask, "Which articles should I avoid?" That’s not a question to be answered in 140 charcters.

The short answer is that people should read whatever they think will be interesting, and then use their own brains to arrive at independent conclusions. I’m not one of those people who insists that others provide published references to support everything they say or write. If anything, I’d rather people did their own thinking, and used published references as references rather than as a substitute for their own brains. I’m not so sure published references are all that special, anyway.

Now for the long answer.

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Size doesn’t matter

It’s a commonplace that large organizations tend to be stodgy and bureaucratic, and smaller ones tend to be innovative and flexible. When we see a large organization that seems to be innovative and flexible, we are amazed. The press springs into action to report on the existence of this Highly Unusual Thing. It’s an oddity, a curiosity, an anomaly, a freak of nature. The organization is cited as a case study in business books and academic papers. Executives in other companies try to mimic what they think they see the exemplary company doing.

Having participated in various change initiatives in organizations of all sizes (from around 20 people to around 240,000), it strikes me that size alone does not lead to stodginess. I think there’s something more fundamental: Identity. That is, the sense of identity on the part of the individual members of the organization. Do people feel like members of the same organization, all aiming for the same goals, or do they feel like members of a local tribe: Team, work group, department, division, etc.? As an organization grows, what factors might contribute to one sense of identity versus the other?

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The machine society and how to cure it

A rigorous scientific experiment

On the morning of April 21, 2012, I submitted a Google search for the term, productivity. The search engine returned “about 244,000,000 results.” For the term, efficiency, it returned “about 362,000,000 results.”

A search for the term happiness returned “about 56,000,000 results.” A search for the term self-actualization returned “about 1,340,000 results.”

The first two terms yielded a total of 606,000,000 results. The second two terms yielded a total of 57,340,000 results. About 91% of the results pertained to productivity and efficiency, while about 9% pertained to happiness and self-actualization.

Which values are more important in modern society? Clearly, productivity and efficiency are more important than happiness or self-actualization. Have I based this conclusion on my highly scientific and rigorous Googling experiment? No. I already knew the answer before I Googled the terms. My conclusion is based on 58 years of life experience as a card-carrying member of modern society. The Google results were not informative, they were merely unsurprising.

It isn’t necessary to conduct a scientific experiment or an academic study to know that we are preoccupied with productivity and efficiency. Management training, process improvement methods, organizational models, and the like all focus predominantly on those two values.

The question, then, is “So what?”
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