False hope is futile

Hope is life-affirming, a longing for the particular that gives energy to go on despite struggle and disappointment.

Hope teaches the value of persistence when there are scant results and we doubt the worth of our efforts. We learn to value the process of working towards a goal, not just reaching it.

This is not blind hope, it’s hopefulness underpinned by hard work.

Many great accomplishments have been made this way, from dismantling segregation to life-changing scientific discoveries.

False hope

But false hope is deadly. It chains us to an outcome we hope for but cannot achieve.

It locks us into an idea – of a person, job, institution – that has little bearing on reality. We are seduced by the idea of what could be, instead of what is.

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How to accept diversity

How do we —

  1. Respect grassroots views without being held hostage to ignorance?
  2. Privilege a standpoint without slipping into elitism about whose views count?
  3. Accept the right for people to have a view if that view seems damaging?
  4. Value knowledge while accepting that what was once true we now know to be false but that creativity & scientific method matter.
  5. Become aware of, let alone challenge, personal assumptions, ideas, beliefs?

Sometimes we do so easily and at others with great difficulty.

But in relation to each of the five above we can —

  1. Accept we have prejudices we’re not aware of — desire to become more conscious — withstand the pressure to agree because it’s easier without condemning people for not sharing our views.
  2.   Place being humane above all else — drop the need to be right or better — admit how gut wrenching it feels when we’re wrong but also how humbling & human it makes us.
  3.  Say no. (“NO”)
  4.  Value knowledge without deifying it — remember that ideas predate data — value scientific method, strive for the right questions and measures but do not let the limit of current measures set the boundaries for your thinking — refuse to make experts into gods but value genuine expertise — accept the right for people to have a view, but be discerning about the quality of information behind them (not all views are equally well informed).
  5. Be insatiably curious — read constantly including from opposing views — the established and from the edges — process that through writing, painting, reflecting, talking, walking or what works for you — get external inputs without needing to accept or reject them — be willing to tolerate discomfort.

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Disagreement is not disloyalty

It may seem counterintuitive but formal processes are not a panacea for good governance; post-mortems of Enron and WorldCom, or closer to home Centro, reinforce that these companies failed despite entrenched controls.

What leaders can learn from these high profile failures it that risk-taking is a cultural issue and that with respect to decision-making, a culture that encourages independence and debate is an asset.

Yet in many companies, disagreement continues to be seen as disloyalty.

Worse, as in the case of Enron, active collusion can be seen as a precondition for maintaining a seat at the table.

In his book Innovation Corrupted: The Origins and Legacy of Enron’s Collapse, Harvard’s Professor Malcolm Salter highlights sophisticated internal controls failed to impact the behaviour that led to Enron’s demise.

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