Sunday, January 29, 2006

Prison experiment link

To learn more about the prison experiment (including a slide presentation and video clips), click on the link below.

(Please email me your comments at

Friday, January 27, 2006

How nature works

If organizations claim they have to work in very complex environments, consider nature. How on are things like bodies or plants able to cope with mind-boggling complexity and changes that happen in nanoseconds?

How does nature work without strong command-and-control structures and heroic 'leadership'?

Here's the answer:

"You can't look at something like self-organization or complex adaptive systems in science, no matter what unit you're looking -- plants, molecules, chemicals -- without realizing that this is a kind of democratic process. Everybody is involved locally and out of that comes a more global system. "

- Meg Wheatley, The Berkana Institute

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Google's way

Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, has written an article giving 10 golden rules that Google will live by. One of those rules is:

"Strive to reach consensus. Modern corporate mythology has the unique decision maker as hero. We adhere to the view that the "many are smarter than the few," and solicit a broad base of views before reaching any decision. At Google, the role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions [emphasis mine]. Building a consensus sometimes takes longer, but always produces a more committed team and better decisions."

Schmidt has got the right attitude, obviously. But unfortunately, attitudes can change, and often do. And attitudes change most under the heat of battle - as the Tenerife and Shuttle disasters show. You might be willing to take consensus along the way, but under pressure, you succumb to the temptation of dictatorship behaviour.

Hence, as I've stressed earlier, the system needs to change. Individuals come and go, and attitudes come and go - so it's the system that's got to work properly.

(You can read Schmid's full article at

Monday, January 23, 2006

What's the role of a boss?

Strangely, organizations don't ask this question: "What's a boss's role, in terms of his subordinates?"

Does a boss have duties/responsibilies towards his/her subordinates? I mean things like communicating clearly, passing on information, setting clear expectations, motivating and so on. In short, bosses have to add value - if they don't, why have them? Just like employees have objectives, managers should have objectives for each subordinate - ie, how are they going to add value for their subordinates?

Currently, managers aren't explicitly expected to add value, so by default, they do the job of policing. They become policemen or dictators. HR is of little or no use. As Sally Bibb's wonderful book points out, "It is a commonly held fallacy that if you have a problem with your boss you can go to HR and they can help. Most focus on policy and policing, and the majority haven’t got the courage to stand up to badly behaved bosses. "

(Please send your comments to me at

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Shuttle a deathtrap, says astronaut" (Headline in Britain's Observer newspaper)

More evidence of the dicatorship culture at NASA:

In today's Observer newspaper, veteran astranaut Mike Mullane was quoted as saying that "Only janitors and cafeteria workers at Nasa were blameless in the deaths of the Challenger seven. Columbia was a repeat of Challenger, where people had a known design problem and launched anyway."

Why was this? Again, the answer is scarily mundane. Mullane said, "It's not like other jobs, where if you get frustrated you can go in to your boss and say "Shove it!" You can't do that at Nasa because there's no other place to go fly shuttles."

Think about it: employees are too scared to tell the truth to their bosses, because they won't be able to find another job!

Forgive me for sounding naive, but I thought NASA would make sure its employees don't have to worry about mundane things like job security, because they should be worrying about things like mission safety. Instead, it's horrifying to know that NASA employees feel that their jobs are on the line if they speak the truth!

You can read the full Observer article at,,1692139,00.html

(Please send your comments to me at

Friday, January 20, 2006

The use of the word 'leader'

Several people, after reading my manifesto, have stated that I'm arguing that leaders should be elected. While that sounds right, there's a nuance that they seem to be missing - I'm not saying that leaders should be elected. I'm saying that by definition, leaders ARE elected. No one is a leader UNTIL elected. Until such time that someone is an unelected 'leader', that person is a dictator.

What I'm saying is simply this: don't use the word leader unless that person is elected.

(Please email me your comments at

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tenerife disaster (continued)

So why did the KLM captain take off in such a hurry? As in the case of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, the KLM captain was also subject to pressures.

Both the Pan Am and KLM jets had in fact been diverted to Tenerife, after a terrorist bomb exploded at the original destination - Las Palmas. Both were long-haul flights from LA (via NY city) and Amsterdam respectively, so passengers were tired. Moreover, the captain of the KLM flight was aware that his crew was fast approaching the time after which they would not be allowed to work - flight regulations stated that the crew were allowed to work only a fixed number of hours per day, so that they would not be fatigued.

Hence, the KLM captain was worried not only about the tiredness of his passengers, but also whether they would be able to fly at all. Under this pressure, he ignored warnings that led to the disaster.

As we've seen from the NASA cases, pressure seems to bring out the worst in bosses - perhaps not in terms of their behaviour, but in their dictatorial attitudes.

Hence, it's crucial that 'leaders' are elected right from the start - so that genuine leadership behaviour - not dictatorial behaviour - becomes a part of their person. We can only guess, but if Captain Van Zanten knew that he would be accountable to the flight engineer and the co-pilot, he perhaps would have aborted take-off as soon as the engineer questioned him. Morever, the engineer would have pressed his case more forcefully, rather than taking the captain's answer lying down.

(Please email me your comments at

World's worst air disaster - hierarchy plays a part

Yesterday, I watched a National Geographic programme on TV that analysed the world's worst aviation disaster.

In March 1977, two 747s collided on the runway at Tenerife aiport in Spain, killing 583 people. One jet was that of the Dutch airline KLM, the other one Pan Am. The KLM jet was taking off while the Pan Am jet was still on the runway, directly in its path. The KLM lifted off, but its bottom hit the top of the Pan Am.

There were several reasons for the disaster, including fog on the runway and mis-communication between the control tower and pilots.

However, there was an instant at which the disaster could been averted. The KLM flight engineer questioned his captain when he began taking off without confirming with the control tower that the Pan Am was off the runway. The co-pilot asked the same question too, initially. The captain, focused on the take-off, said yes, and continued with the take-off. In fact, the captain hadn't been cleared for take-off by air traffic control.

Both the co-pilot and flight engineer were obviously junior in rank to the captain of the KLM flight, Jacob van Zantent. The captain was highly regarded by his employers - so much so that his photos were featured in the airlines adverts.

The fact that the captain was not just higher in rank but was also highly respected meant the flight engineer and co-pilot did nothing after the captain over-ruled them.

The investigation report released by the Spanish civil aviation department stated, "The fact exists that a co-pilot not very experienced with 747s was flying with one of the pilots of greatest prestige in the company who was, moreover, KLM's chief flying instructor and who had certified him fit to be a crew member for this type of aeroplane . in case of doubt. these circumstances could have induced the co-pilot not to ask any questions and to assume that this captain was always right."

For more on this, see and

(Please email me your comments at

Monday, January 16, 2006

Related reading

The Stone Age Company (Sally Bibb)

Companies need to change: they are outdated and ineffective in the way they are run and they are losing out in the increasingly competitive world of business - that’s the view of Sally Bibb, author of this thought-provoking and controversial book, which challenges leaders to think about their organizations and how they should be managed.

The ‘Stone Age company’ is an uninspiring place to work – it is an organization that has practices that don’t work anymore. It talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. It is characterised by hierarchy, controlling management techniques, managerial bad behaviour and spin. Is your company like this?

Too many companies have these characteristics without even realizing it let alone admitting to it. Read this book to identify your company’s weak spots and find out what needs to change – before it’s too late.

This book is a wake-up call. It will inspire leaders to reinvent the way businesses are run, encouraging them to turn their organization into a different type of company: a company that thrills its customers, is innovative and efficient, is fun and energizing to work for.

Using examples of successful organizations including the Innocent drink company, WL Gore, Timberland and Southwest Airlines, and her own personal experiences, Sally Bibb shows what innovative companies do and how they do it.

Written in a clear and inspirational way, unlike traditional management books, The Stone Age Company is a book that all managers, leaders, employees, and shareholders should buy if they want to succeed in today’s fast-changing business world.


(Please email me your comments at

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Inviting suggestions for an implementation plan

We're not going to get from A to B without a plan to get there (ie, an implementation plan).

What I suggest is that we come up with a plan together, like the programmers did with Linux. So if you have any suggestions, ideas or thoughts, email it to me at - I will publish your suggestions on this blog, and attribute it to you. (If you don't want your identity revealed, please say so.)