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“Guns don’t kill, people kill.” Sure, but… people with guns kill.

4 October 2017

This blog is updated from one posted on mintzberg.org/blog on 25 October 2015, under the title “Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms?”

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives the people of America “the right to keep and bear arms.” Companies that sell arms thus make a great deal of money, the consequences be damned. So here is a conversation I fantasize having with the people who run the National Rifle Association.

“Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms, say in a shopping bag?”

And they reply: “Are you some sort of nut?”

This blog is updated from one posted on mintzberg.org/blog on 25 October 2015, under the title “Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms?”

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives the people of America “the right to keep and bear arms.” Companies that sell arms thus make a great deal of money, the consequences be damned. So here is a conversation I fantasize having with the people who run the National Rifle Association.

“Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms, say in a shopping bag?”

And they reply: “Are you some sort of nut?”

To which I retort: “Not at all. This is the answer I expected. We have now established the basic point: that a line has to be drawn somewhere. Where do you draw it: between nuclear bombs and cluster bombs? cluster bombs and automatic weapons? automatic weapons and handguns?” (A friend who hunts tells me that a one-shot rifle is all he needs. But he hunts deer, not people.)

I draw the line between guns and knives because, with knives in every kitchen, it’s tough to control them. (Handguns account for far more murders in the United States than do knives.) The right to bear arms may have made some sense when muskets were the only arms available, and took time to reload, with no 911 to call. But technology has moved on: now we have arms that can mass kill as fast as anyone can dial 9-1-1.

Here’s another mantra of the gun lobby: “Guns don’t kill; people kill.” Actually, people with guns kill, whether a toddler who mistakenly shoots a sibling or a lunatic in a hotel room who wantonly murders many people. (In total, on average, 93 Americans will die from gun violence today.)

Then there is the mantra that “We need more guns, not less”, presumably so that an innocent bystander can be ready to kill some killer. Can you remember the last time you heard that an innocent bystander killed a killer? In contrast, today may well be the latest time an innocent bystander was killed by a killer.

A young woman, traumatized by witnessing a mass killing, mouthed this mantra to a TV reporter. So why didn’t she have a gun in her pocket, finger on the trigger ready to kill him? After all, she could have bought one just as easily as he did. OK, so she didn’t expect a mass killing in her neighborhood. But fear not (really fear yes): with this attitude, one can’t be far away.

And here is a truly true fact: In the official copy of the Second Amendment, kept in the National Archives, this right to bear arms is qualified: “...a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  Like the Swiss who, in case of hostilities, keep their one rifle in a closet, tightly regulated, Americans were given the right to bear arms for the sake of security, not murder, not even for the profit of private companies. 

So what’s going on here? Can people be that mindless, or that manipulated? It looks to be both. The Tea Party website used to have the following on its list of “Non-negotiable Core Beliefs”: “Gun ownership is sacred” and “Special interests must be eliminated.” The gun lobby is apparently not a special interest! And think about the ability of special interests to use the media to manipulate the minds of millions, including that young woman.

Can’t get rid of guns? How about getting rid of the right to take them anywhere? Better still, how about a constitutional amendment that puts a "not" in there somewhere? Dream on. Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is not about buying, keeping, or transporting guns. It’s about bribery. When the Supreme Court granted corporations, as “persons” in the law, the right to make political donations to their hearts’ content, it legalized bribery. With these donations came the lop-sided lobbying that now dominates Congress, and is destroying the country’s renowned democracy. Guns are just the most blatant example of how the decent folks of America have lost control of their country.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017, 2015. To go deeper into this world out of whack, see my book Rebalancing Society https://www.amazon.ca/Rebalancing-Society-Radical-Renewal-Beyond/dp/1626....

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Transformation from the top? How about engagement on the ground?

15 September 2017

The company has a new chief, with 100 days to show the stock market some quick wins. Not the usual wins: transformation is the game. Hurry up and reinvent the whole company.

But where to begin? That’s easy: at the “top”. Where else when there’s such pressure. Besides, any chief who has been to a business school or reads the business press knows that it’s all about leadership: the boss who does the thinking that drives everyone else. Louis XIV said “L'état, c'est moi!” Today’s corporate CEO says “The enterprise, that’s me!”

John Kotter has written the widespread word on transformation, at the Harvard Business School, where so many of the cases are about the chief.  Here is the Kotter model, in eight steps.

The company has a new chief, with 100 days to show the stock market some quick wins. Not the usual wins: transformation is the game. Hurry up and reinvent the whole company.

But where to begin? That’s easy: at the “top”. Where else when there’s such pressure. Besides, any chief who has been to a business school or reads the business press knows that it’s all about leadership: the boss who does the thinking that drives everyone else. Louis XIV said “L'état, c'est moi!” Today’s corporate CEO says “The enterprise, that’s me!”

John Kotter has written the widespread word on transformation, at the Harvard Business School, where so many of the cases are about the chief.  Here is the Kotter model, in eight steps.

1. Establish a sense of urgency.
2. Form a powerful guiding coalition.
3. Create a vision.
4. Communicate the vision.
5. Empower others to act on the vision.
6. Plan for and create short-term wins.
7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change.
8. Institutionalize new approaches.

Please read this again, asking yourself, every step of the way, who does each? The chief. Beyond an inner circle, everyone else is there to pursue the vision, obediently. Indeed, the article states that “powerful individuals who resist the change effort” must be removed. What if they have good reason to resist? Can there be no debate, no discussion? Is the contemporary corporation the court of Louis XIV?

“Establish a sense of urgency”, to barrel ahead: the wolves of Wall Street are braying at the door. “A guiding coalition”—with “senior managers [always at] the core”—will “create a vision”: out of the thin air of the top? Is this any place to understand what’s happening on the ground? No wonder so many big companies can’t get past me-too strategies they call “visions”. Then “Communicate the vision” to that obedient staff on the ground—to continue with the clichés, by “empowering [them] to act on the vision”, as if people hired to do a job need permission to do it.

And keep those “short-term wins” coming with “still more change”—more and more and more change. Where is continuity in all this, given that change without continuity is anarchy? (Be careful of words like “transformation”, because change has to be about sustaining what’s good no less than changing what isn’t.) Finally, don’t forget to “institutionalize” the whole thing: after all, this is the holy writ. And whatever you do, and wherever you are, top or bottom, don’t learn, at least about the vision—that was finalized in Step 3.

If change is so good, how come such models of change hardly change? Kotter has been promoting essentially this one since 1995.  How about a change of perspective for a change: recognizing the top as a misguided metaphor that can distort behavior. Are the best strategies really formulated from on high, by looking down? Or do they form amidst the clutter of the real life of the organization: making products, providing services, attending to customers? Everyone deeply involved can think constructively, CEOs too, although sometimes the best thinking comes from unexpected sources, such as a worker who sews the seeds of a great new vision. Imagine that!

Actually, you don’t need to imagine that. Instead, consider this story from IKEA, about selling much of its furniture unassembled, so that customers can take it home in their cars, saving money for them and the company.  This powerful guiding vision transformed the IKEA business model as well as much of the furniture business. So where did it begin? With a worker. “Exploration of flat packaging begins when one of the first IKEA co-workers removes the legs of the LÖVET table so that it will fit into a car and avoid damage during transit” (from IKEA.com).

But someone had to come up with the key insight that “If we have to take the legs off, maybe our customers have to do so as well.” That needed to be someone on site, maybe that worker, or a foreman, perhaps even the CEO, since the best entrepreneurs spend much of their time on site. But if it was someone else, then this insight had to be conveyed to the chief so that he could sprinkle holy water on it. And this suggests an organization of open communication, throughout, not one fixated on tops and bottoms, where so many ideas like this get lost. In such an open organization, sustaining culture matters a lot more than transforming everything.

John Kotter acknowledges that major change can take years.  I asked someone in IKEA how long it took to develop this new business model fully. He said 15 years! Wait a minute: according to the stock market, you’re not supposed to do that. Why couldn’t they just get it done in 100 days? Please list all the furniture companies that succeeded by doing that.

So instead of a model of top-down transformation, how about a process of grounded engagement? I call it communityship: don’t look for the word in the dictionary, let alone at the top of any organization.  Here are a few basics of it—not steps, no order, non-linear, just a composite, like change itself.

Effective organizations are communities of engaged human beings, not collections of passive human resources. (I have used this sentence many times before, and will keep using it until it is taken seriously.) These organizations have no tops or bottoms, no “leader” who has to think for everyone else. Everyone is engaged; communityship is fundamentally indigenous.

Anyone can come up with a great idea for change.  Have you ever told a joke? Good, because you can change the world. Most jokes, and creative ideas, are just little switches. (See my blog on “The Extraordinary Power of Ordinary Creativity.”) Here’s an example: “I want to die like my grandfather died, quietly, in his sleep. Not like those other people in the car who died yelling and screaming.” The little switch: grandpa was not in bed after all. At IKEA, the little switch, the critical insight, was: “If we have to take the legs off…” Such little switches are no big deal, even if they can launch very big deals. I’ll bet that people who take that top seriously tell fewer jokes, or worse ones, than people whose feet are firmly planted on the ground. 

Communication is open, so that ideas get shared easily. With no top and bottom in communityship, people just connect, for the sake of progress. A fixed hierarchy gives way to flexible networks. That insight at IKEA must have made its way to a management that was listening all around, not looking down.

Strategies, whether as overall visions or market positions, emerge gradually from grounded learning; they are not immaculately conceived. Many of the greatest strategies really do form, rather than being formulated, in a process nurtured by an engaged management that cares, not a heroic leadership that cures. And this process is not primarily about doing competitive analyses, although these can sometimes help. It is about committed people prepared to learn their collective way to unexpected strategies, one switch at a time. (In the last paragraph of his article, Kotter notes that “In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises.” This sentence belonged in the first paragraph, where it could have changed many of the other paragraphs.) Of course, there is the need to pull diverse insights together, which is usually overseen by a management that’s on top of what’s going on, not on top of a hierarchy.

One final point: Often companies turn to the fix of transformation after a spell of disconnection. Those companies that stay connected, through communityship, don’t need step-by-step fixes. So please, all you serious managers, professors, and pundits, come down to earth, symbolically and literally. Get a bit playful with your strategies and your jokes: you just might find that effective change balanced with continuity follows, naturally: No need for transformation!

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org) focuses on communityship more than leadership and learning strategies more than planning strategy, by encouraging managers to engage, not pronounce.

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¹Cases at the Harvard Business School “exaggerate the role of individual leaders. 62 per cent of cases feature heroic managers acting alone”, according to an internal HBS study. (Andrew Hill in his column in the Financial Times, “Harvard and its business school acolytes are due for a rethink”, 7 May 2017.)  

 ²Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” Harvard Business Review (March-April 1995; reprinted January 2007; table below and quote following from the later version.

Dave Ulrich with colleagues, while involved with the GE WorkOut program around 1990, developed a similar model in steps, called the Change Acceleration Process (date reported to me in personal correspondence). In fact, the similarities are striking: Ulrich et al. listed “Seven Universal Principles for making change happen:1. Ensure leadership commitment, 2. Create a shared need, 3. Articulate a desired direction or vision, 4. Mobilize commitment, 5. Turn the long-term change into short-term decisions, 6. Institutionalize change. 7. Monitor progress and learn along the way.” (See Dave Ulrich, Mary Ann Von Glinow, Todd Jick, Arthur Yeung, and Steve Nason.  1993.  Learning Organization, Culture Change, and Competitiveness:  How Managers Can Build Learning Capability.  Monograph prepared for the International Consortium of Executive Development and Research. For the latest rendition: Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood.  2013.  Leadership Sustainability:  Seven disciplines to achieve the changes great leaders know they must make.  New York:  McGraw Hill.)

 ³Some words have changed, but not the steps or the tone. For example, Kotter International now writes of “Building” rather than “Forming a guiding coalition”. #5 has become “Remove obstacles”, albeit still to empower people to execute the vision, and #8 says “Anchor the changes in corporate culture”

 ⁴I first used the term in a Financial Times article titled “Community-ship is the answer” (23 October 2006).

In a dangerous world, mine can no longer be bigger than yours

12 August 2017

Why do we have juveniles running the world, obsessed with demonstrating that "mine is bigger than yours"? The president of the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on earth insists that no other country will ever have a bigger one, as if 7000 warheads are insufficient. Why does this country give any single person—let alone this loose cannon—the power to launch that? The only answer I can imagine is that “getting them before they get us” has had higher priority than protecting life on earth from an inadvertent catastrophe.

For his part, Putin insists on making Russia bigger, if not better, at the expense of its neighbors. At the expense of its people too, who pay the price of these leadership ego trips. But more so the people of North Korea, and the American soldiers who fell in Vietnam and Iraq.

Why do we have juveniles running the world, obsessed with demonstrating that "mine is bigger than yours"? The president of the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on earth insists that no other country will ever have a bigger one, as if 7000 warheads are insufficient. Why does this country give any single person—let alone this loose cannon—the power to launch that? The only answer I can imagine is that “getting them before they get us” has had higher priority than protecting life on earth from an inadvertent catastrophe.

For his part, Putin insists on making Russia bigger, if not better, at the expense of its neighbors. At the expense of its people too, who pay the price of these leadership ego trips. But more so the people of North Korea, and the American soldiers who fell in Vietnam and Iraq.

Blame not just Putin, but NATO, because when the Cold War ended, it too decided to get bigger, by taking in nations on Russia’s flanks. With the Cold War gone, NATO had nothing to do. And so it found something to do, namely bring the Cold War back. Putin  was quiet then, not now.Talk about irresponsible posturing.

Meanwhile China sticks it to a weaker neighbor over some irrelevant hunk of rock in the sea This it does to claim--or is it to grow?—its territory. Boys may be boys, but we had better get the juveniles out of the schoolyard before they blow us all to bits.

Russia and China are ruled by power. America is ruled by reverence. Americans revere their president the way Catholics revere the Pope. Now CNN broadcasts its relentless disparagement of the incumbent alongside its mindless deference to the office, as if the two can be separated. Will American children be reciting the name Donald Trump alongside Thomas Jefferson?

Face it: the president of the United States of America is an unscrupulous ignoramus.  Yet almost half the voting population put him into office, and may well do something similar in the future. Accordingly, despite the many thoughtful and concerned people in the United States, can anyone outside the country ever trust it again? Now we have the incumbent facing off on behalf of the “free world” against the devious brute of North Korea. They deserve each other, but no-one else deserves either of them. Hold your breath.

The problem is built into the organization—really the disorganization—of our world. In a village with weak government and no police force, the thugs take over. This is the state of our global village. Three countries have taken over, and vie with each other for power: over who has more nuclear weapons, or greater control of its neighbors, or an additional hunk of rock in the sea. Thanks to “leaders” who never made it past the schoolyard, we may never make it past them.

What's the alternative? To wake up, not such leadership, but all of us who tolerate its nonsense. Thankfully, more and more people across the political spectrum, hitherto passive, are getting the message. Never before have so many concerned people been prepared to vote with their feet, their ballots, and their pocketbooks. They just need some way to channel that energy into constructive change. And that will take some new thinking. So how about this, for starters at least?

There are almost 200 countries in the world, some of whose governments are insufferable, but many others that are quietly democratic. Acting together, as a coalition of concerned democracies, the latter could exert their influence to challenge the bullies who put us at risk.

We need world government with teeth and legitimacy, not a Security Council whose five permanent members all have nuclear weapons, histories of bullying, and rank (with Germany) as the largest exporters of armaments in the world. This is an Insecurity Council, and judging from Syria, a War Council. We need a Peace Council.

Does such change sound utopian? Sure it does. Shall we therefore stick with what we have, and destroy ourselves sooner or later?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.  

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