Here is another thought-provoking article featured by the the Drucker Exchange (the Dx), a website that “hosts an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance and build on the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. The Dx was first published as Drucker Apps in 2009 (see Dx archives). Renamed and reconfigured in October 2010, the Dx is now designed to stimulate a discussion of current events that is illuminated by Peter Drucker’s timeless teachings. It is a blog for people who want to get informed, involved and inspired to convert ideas into action.”
To check out the wealth of resources available and sign up for a weekly newsletter, please click here.
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The traditional industry model is built on institutional loyalty. The new “free agent” model is built on individualism. But neither of these, according to an article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, “creates the conditions for collaborative trust that business today requires.”
And so the piece — by Paul Adler, Charles Heckscher and Laurence Prusak—calls for a “new type of organization that excels at combining the knowledge of diverse specialists” to create “a collaborative community.”
Successful examples of such collaborative communities, the authors say, can be found at IBM, Citibank, NASA and Kaiser Permanente. What these places have in common are, among other things, an “ethic of contribution,” a “shared purpose,” and an “infrastructure in which collaboration is valued and rewarded.”
While Peter Drucker rarely wrote about “collaboration” per se, he certainly captured its spirit. “The modern organization,” he wrote in his own HBR essay 19 years ago, “cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team.”
Beyond that, Drucker hit on many of the same components of collaboration that HBR highlights. For instance, the ethic of contribution, as we’ve noted before, was one that Drucker frequently stressed. “The question is not: ‘What do I want to contribute?’” Drucker declared. “It is not: ‘What am I told to contribute?’ It is: ‘What should I contribute?’”
Likewise, imbuing an organization with a sense of shared purpose was also something Drucker considered to be essential. “Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values,” Drucker asserted in The New Realities. “Without such commitment there is no enterprise; there is only a mob.”
And Drucker devoted a lot of thought to how organizations should foster what HBR calls the “infrastructure of collaboration.” “The knowledge worker. . . is usually a specialist,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic, The Effective Executive. “By itself, however, a specialty is a fragment and sterile. Its output has to be put together with the output of other specialists before it can produce results. The task is not to breed generalists. It is to enable the specialist to make himself and his speciality effective. This means he must think through who has to use his output and what the user needs to know and to understand to be able to make productive the fragment the specialist produces.”
Here is an article written by Margaret Heffernan for BNET (January 27, 2011), The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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When I meet with CEOs, I like to find out what keeps them awake at night, what intractable issues or opportunities disturb their sense of confidence. Of course, each one has industry-specific or company-specific challenges and they’re fascinating.
But there’s one problem common to each one of them. They all know it. Only a brave few will talk about it openly: Ignorance.
It doesn’t matter whether the company is large or small, old or young, high tech or blue collar manufacturing. The reality is that no leader is fully informed of what is happening on his or her watch.
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
Of course in theory, this shouldn’t happen. The chain of command should ensure that information reaches the top. Daily reports should flag critical issues. Balance sheets should indicate significant trends. And they all do – up to a point. The problem is that none of them works quite well enough.
That’s why BP can run unsafe plants and still be taken by surprise when they blow up.
It’s why music labels could be blind-sided by the rise of digital downloads.
It’s why soft drink companies were surprised by the popularity of vitamin drinks.
It’s why Lehman Brothers and Enron and Citibank and Merrill Lynch had no idea actually how much money they had.
It’s why companies are so anxious about what Wikileaks will publish next.
It Can Happen to You
The most tempting thing in the world is to look at that string of business disasters and argue: that was them, not me. It couldn’t happen here. They were just bad leaders, a few bad apples. But the minute you say you don’t have this problem is the minute you know you do.
The problem is willful blindness: the human propensity to ignore the obvious. It isn’t just a business problem, of course. We do it in our private lives when we leave those credit card bills unopened or take on a mortgage we can’t afford or insist that tanning salons really won’t cause us any harm.
There are numerous social, structural, organizational and neurological reasons for willful blindness and I’ll be blogging about them over the next few weeks. But in the meantime I’d like to hear from you:in your company or department or industry, where are your blindspots?
Please click here to see the video, courtesy of Lindsay Nicholson and music courtesy of Nick Bicat.
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Margaret Heffernan worked for 13 years as a producer for BBC Radio and Television before running her first company. She has since been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom, including InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and iCAST Corporation. She has been named one of the Internet’s Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter and one of the Top 100 Media Executives by The Hollywood Reporter. Her books include The Naked Truth: Female Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules for Business Success, and the upcoming Willful Blindness. She has appeared on NPR, CNN, CNBC, and the BBC, and writes for Real Business,The Huffington Post, and Fast Company.