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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Margaret Heffernan: Culture, Change, and Basketball Through an Unusual Prism

Knowledge becomes the power to effect change. How much do we understand organizational culture?

Margaret Heffernan is a former CEO, author, and thought leader. Does it translate to basketball? She is a firehose of ideas based on corporate experience, shared in a Farnham Street podcast, annotated below. 

Small change can make a large difference

What's wrong? An organization can be too tactical. "Every week three people are going to tell us who they are and why are they here." People had to look at each other as human beings...get people to see each other as people, not as titles...or rivals. (Build social capital.)

"It only works if people are isn't automatic." (Establishing trust never ends.)

"Want to help each other." (Teamwork is not a given.)

"What impedes the flow is distrust, rivalry, or not knowing what other people need." 

"Culture is deliberate...some leaders believe that more people compete the better the organization will be." (Forced ranking pits everyone against each other...competitive mindset). "You foment status contests." (I avoid Anson Dorrance's quantitative competitive cauldron with middle schoolers.)

"If I feel threatened (in that environment), I'm not going to help you (even when I know what you need)." 

"What can I do to get people to help each other?"

Literally "knocking down walls" can create fewer safe spaces for people. 

"It is going to take time...people need to understand why it is important." 

"Signal...the kind of behavior you want." (Coach Shawanda Brown used to tell players, "that is not how we play" at the hint of selfishness.)

"Value of collaboration...aggregation or compounding of talent and creativity..."

"People have quite a good sense of who the TAKERS are...they like to feel their contribution has value." 

"There's always more experience and talent in organizations than manages to get out..."

"Very good people can go bad...willful blindness..."

"Creative people can do uncreative work." (Don't waste or abuse people's time.)

(On binary thinking:) "It's much easier to think something is good or oversimplifies."

"Bedrock belief, a writer should be a lie detector...I care disproportionately about trying to get things right."

On statistics, "My job is to prove (her) wrong." (If not, carry on.) Analogy: Players turning the ball over repeatedly are WRONG. That must change.

If somebody wants to argue (intelligently) with you, they care. (There are nefarious people who argue for selfish reasons.) 

Collaborative argument, "If that were true, what would that mean for me?" 

"It takes intellectual you want to get it right or just win (the argument)?"

"What were the conditions when I did good work?" (Environment and context conducive to creativity, productivity)

Constructive arguments can occur with (context of) trust, safety, and freedom. (As I recall, Alfred Sloane would say that without disagreement nothing constructive would emerge.) 

"We all had to feel that the decisions were for the good of the business...the only job description is what's right for the business?" (Winning or development?)

"It's not about me and it's not about sucking up to me." Power disrupts. 

Willful blindness means ignoring facts available or knowable...ignorance and willful blindness are quite different. (Do we accept inadequate free throw shooting?)

"The problem with mental that they attract confirming data." (Sample size and recency bias can dominate our thinking to our detriment.)

We are attracted to similar people with similar approaches which tends to repel disconfirming data. As people we are conformists. 

"Calling the fire department is not in my job description." When people don't rock the boat, it can sink because nobody reports the malfunctions or holes in the hull.

Contrarians often care deeply about organizations. They are not 'troublemakers' but truth seekers who see willful blindness. They can be the "early warning system." Speaking against the status quo won't be appreciated but isn't necessarily wrong.

She discusses Enron's failures in depth. She includes that organizational morality can shift from "being a good person" to "doing a good job." That can create cognitive dissonance or  bad behaviors. 

The assumption that "I'm a good person, therefore I can do nothing bad" is patently false and widespread in organizations.  

"It isn't that women don't like power, but we think about it differently." She distinguishes collaborative power for achievement versus power as domination that may lead to harassment and intimidation. 

She wonders whether the #MeToo movement will trickle down to small organizations to have lasting impact. "What is the concept of power that replaces (it)?"

"We are trapped in our own biases." (Have I become too offensive-minded?)

Enduring lessons: 

"I can always be wrong...if I were wrong, what would I see?" 
"Don't take an argument personally." 
"When do I dig my heels in or let it go?" 

"I'm very interested in mistakes and willing to acknowledge them..." (because that's what she wants in her organizations)

"If you're going to experiment, do it with the best exposed to high quality thinking." (Know what excellence looks like.)

"Reliability is the most undervalued concept." (Who are our reliable players?)

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