James and the Giant Peach

“There is also a third kind of madness, which is possession by the Muses” – Plato, Phaedo

I think I’ve detected my Muse. Or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.  Most certainly, I’ve discovered what (s)he is trying to do.

This all started when one of my friends, who was also a reader of this blog, shared honestly with me that she had stopped reading it (the blog) as “it’s too negative, and in my line of work (organizational coaching), I must remain positive all the time or I can’t be effective.”

This I pondered (amongst other reactions) and, being a critical realist, composed what I thought was a valid response (read: rational justification) and posted it here.

But it did still bug me. Just a little. I wasn’t sure the response I had posted was adequately sufficient.

Then this week I came across an article with a very appealing lead-in graphic drawing and a very catchy lead-in:

Roald Dahl was an unpleasant man who wrote macabre books – and yet children around the world adore them.

I didn’t recognize the name, but I took the bait and I clicked on “The Dark Side of Roald Dahl.”

The opening paragraph read:

“Once upon a time a small orphan was packed off to live with his aunts. They were a sadistic pair, these sisters, and rather than console and nurture they abused and enslaved him, bullying, beating and half-starving him. But he got his revenge, literally crushing them as he finally escaped, bound for adventure and a better life. It doesn’t sound much like the set-up of a bestselling children’s book, but what if I told you that the boy’s getaway vehicle was a gargantuan fuzzy-skinned fruit?”


I immediately had three reactions:

  • First, I realized that this must be James and the Giant Peach.
  • Then I realized that I thought this was one of my middle son’s favorite books when he was growing up, and I hadn’t ever read it!
  • And finally I thought: My God, what did I do to my son!?

Predicated on my long standing belief that if one screws up in private you can sincerely apologize in private, but if you screw up in public you should apologize to the same people in public, I sat down in a 35-year delayed fit of panic and emailed him:

So, I’m thinking, we should have been a bit more diligent in screening some of those children’s books you were so fond of …

Another of my apparent failings.  While you don’t seem to have suffered as far as we can see, I trust you’re in a constant forgiving mood…

Yours in belated love,



He graciously and immediately emailed me back (after reading the article):

I don’t think these were failings – I do like the tidbit mentioned in the article – the books do show darkness and the macabre, but in a way that shows they are surmountable and how to get past them.  Good tools for children.

But, I’m glad you never introduced me to the author – he sounds like quite the bad influence.  ;-)



Whew! Off the hook! Parentally speaking, that is.

On the other hand, exactly what was the appeal of Dahl’s books to children?

Two comments in the article (including the tidbit mentioned by my son) helped provide an answer.

“Children love disgusting stories”, Nikolajeva says. The revolting serves “an important cognitive-affective function: we know it’s disgusting, and the knowledge makes us superior. It’s healthy. But it must be disgusting in combination with humour.”


“As child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim explained in his seminal study, The Uses of Enchantment, the macabre in children’s literature serves an important cathartic function. ‘Without such fantasies, the child fails to get to know his monster better, nor is he given suggestions as to how he may gain mastery over it. As a result, the child remains helpless with his worst anxieties – much more so than if he had been told fairy tales which give these anxieties form and body and also show ways to overcome these monsters.’ ”

Looking back, The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Wizard of Oz, and Maurice Sendak, all of these eventually disposed of the villain in a “politically incorrect” way.

And the light bulb went on.

I’m not telling fairy tales. I think they are more critical perspectives on life’s realities (i.e., adult tales). Face it, There Be Monsters Out There!  Occasionally.  Why shouldn’t there be the not-so-macabre, not-so-disgusting but transparent description of some of the obstacles, potholes, and a**holes one meets along the way. With a bit of humor, of course (see above – humor helps us remember better). All with a purpose of accepting that they’re there, recognizing them earlier, recognizing they’re not as huge as anticipated, and seeing they can be overcome.  We do need road signs once in a while and to be aware of our blind spots, right?

So, I concluded that while I am not an unpleasant man and adults around the world don’t adore my musings, and since I too am James (really!), this blog must be my Giant Peach. Welcome aboard.

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Are You Deciduous Or Coniferous? (Guest Post)

Honestly, I’m not taking a break (again). I just think I tend to recognize notable things when they pop up. This guest post is a short piece by Jessica Hagy from Forbes complete with her trademark graphics.  Her thoughts are of particular interest because they expand on one of my earlier posts on trees, Bonsai in particular. We’ve both connected behaviors with other things we often take for granted. Jessica hones in on some particularly interesting characteristics of different types of trees that can also be attributed to us as leaders and people of influence. (Not coincidentally, both types of trees she mentions can also be successfully trained into bonsai, which I guess makes for an additional very much appreciated affirmation of my earlier thoughts). Also not coincidentally, her observations connect directly to success in career and life. I’ll let you enjoy her post before closing with a couple of cents worth of my own.

Are You Deciduous Or Coniferous? (And Why It Matters In Business)

I’ve been reading a lot about career trajectories, about our changing economies and about healthy and unhealthy reactions to current economic conditions. I’ve been diving into economic charts and employment figures, and wallowing in the trend pieces on who is doing what and why. But I have a theory that the biggest differences aren’t between boomers and millennials or between the white collar and the blue collar or between the permissive and the authoritarian. The real differences are between the deciduous and the coniferous.


Deciduous trees sprout leaves in the spring and shed them in the fall. The word deciduous actually means “falling off at maturity.” These trees have a dormant season and a growing season. They rely on external cues for when to act, and they thrive in temperate climates. Deciduous people take their cues from external sources, too. Deciduous people reinvent themselves with each economic season—switching careers and jobs as needed. They can drop what skills or assets they assembled and make new ones. They conserve their resources during lean times and spring into action when the time is right.

Freelancers? Serial Entrepreneurs? Inventors? Designers? Deciduous. Every new season, they’re back with a new take on the world. They are perceptive and flexible and people can’t help but stare at what they create.

Trendy? Impulsive? Noisy? Deciduous. Deciduous people roll with what comes their way. They go big, then they go home. They’re vocal and promotional and they make headlines. They have multiple hobbies and many groups of friends. They tend to dress better than the coniferous, but their marriages are shorter. Deciduous people take dares and bets and spur-of-the-moment road trips.


Conifers don’t have the glorious foliage of their deciduous friends, but they have a steady output, and no on and off seasons. That’s why they’re often called evergreens. They figure out what works and they stick to it. They don’t drop their needles unless other ones are already growing in. They require more water than deciduous trees, but they’re never as idle or as bare. They can thrive in harsh climates.

Olympians? Archeologists? Priests? Doctors? Coniferous. They stick with one thing for a really long time. They’re steady and dedicated and they get tenure and vested stock options. They look the same every season, but they always keep growing. Old-school? Cautious? Polished? Coniferous people aren’t flashy about their work. They dig in and get things done. They’re behind the scenes. They’re diligent. They’re measured. They’re not one-hit wonders; they build deep back-lists. They tend to have better financial pictures than the deciduous. Coniferous people are pragmatic and trustworthy and they inspire loyalty and devotion.

Conifers like to see what new madness the deciduous people are up to, but they don’t envy them. Deciduous people admire conifer’s dedication, but they could never be so motivationally monogamous. The deciduous have the best parties. Conifers have the couches their deciduous friends crash on.

By this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I’m totally a conifer,” or “Yeah, I’m deciduous and proud of it.” It’s an interesting dichotomy to apply to your friends and the people you work with—even if it is, at its core, kind of a sappy construct.

I use graphs and charts to tell stories, jokes, and truths. You can find more of my work in book form here.

Brilliant.  And not sappy.

I would only add, most likely based on my own demonstrated life-as-pinball trajectory, that rather than trying to identify ourselves, our friends, or our coworkers or potential hires as “Either/Or,” either deciduous or coniferous, we ought to realize that in reality we are all “And/And” or should be. Some of one and some of the other. Just not 50/50, certainly not all at the same time, and not just “at work.” Much more fun this way, and much more successful. And well worth hiring. Or becoming friends with.

Connect with Jessica at @jessicahagy, via her column on Forbes, or on her blog.

Posted in 11: Growth, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Career | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

On Internal and External Forces, and Ironmen

Once again, remember: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste” – Paul Romer, 2004

You’ve probably noticed that it’s taken me quite a while to get to another blog post. This was not necessarily due to an attack of empty headedness, but more the appearance of another sudden life changing event.

We moved. Just picked up (essentially) and relocated. After posting the last blog entry, we up and bought another townhouse about an hour and a half away, started moving ourselves box by box, celebrated Christmas with all 17 members of our family in a rather empty soon-to-be-sold townhouse, celebrated a 50th anniversary, and in early January we were – elsewhere!

Getting readjusted in a new location does not lend itself to long quiet periods for contemplating and writing. However, there were occasions where some seeds were planted that eventually came together with this post’s central theme.

One such occasion was the wake for my brother-in-law, where The Three Amigos (the male “out-laws,” the two daughter’s husbands and me) happened to be talking about the experience one of them had with his father-in-law in sailing his houseboat from a lake in Tennessee, downriver to the Mississippi and then back up the Mississippi to a winter dock above St. Louis. The tale was a bit harrowing in the telling, especially with the realities of “normal” sailing on the Mississippi, the added difficulties of traversing the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and on top of that dealing with the currents up stream where the Mississippi narrows (I must admit, I have never heard the word “narrow” used to describe the Mississippi).

After some thought, I mused on the complexity (and skill) needed to make that journey.

First, one had internal forces to master, those one could control – the two motors on the houseboat and dual rudders, and the ones not controllable – the shape of the double hulls in the water and wind resistance against the boat itself.

Then there were the external forces, none of which were controllable. Some were partially “known,” such as the wind from waving flags and forecasts but which one still couldn’t see directly, and water currents that you knew were there but could only see their surface churning. But there was a vast number of other external forces that, while you knew they were there you were still clueless about – the shape of the river bottom and its influence on the currents, and the currents themselves. And all of these leave out unpredictable forces and events such as other boats (and captains).

Sort of like life’s journey, I added. We’ve got our own internal forces, our temperament and personality traits and our skills and experiences, things we (mostly) have a handle on. But then there are the external forces we encounter. Some, encountered through family, clan, tribe, and our culture, can be good in helping mold us. But sometimes they’re not.

Then there are the unexpected external forces, those events that throw us into crisis.

How we deal with these, how we choose to deal with them has a significant impact on the direction and progress of our life’s journey. The event itself is just a first part. The critical part is the second piece, how we think about the event that determines what we choose.

A light bulb went on when I realized that this scenario bore a remarkable resemblance to traversing the unexpected realities in life (as an individual, a parent, a family, an organization, a culture, a nation, and even as a society or civilization). There will be certain internal forces you have to learn to recognize and deal with, as well as a multitude of external forces and events.

All of this bore a strange resemblance to Donald Rutherford’s oft-maligned comments about known knowns, unknown knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

Maligned as these comments may be, the reality is – these forces and potential events exist everywhere and always.  It’s a consequence of Fundamental Principle 6: We will never have all the information.

Sailors and Pilots know; but for the rest of us – Breathers Prepare or Beware!

The second “seed” occasion actually preceded the one above and did not involve us at all, at least directly. We were just an overnight layover on the way.

It involves our oldest son, his family and friends, and the Ironman Maryland 2015 triathlon.

The common thread: This event also involved ample internal and external forces, and choices.

With his permission, here is the experience in his own words.


I wrote the following so I would remember the experience in 20 years. Happy reading! And thanks for all your good wishes and congratulations.

Ironman Maryland 2015

There were two events leading up to Ironman Maryland 2015 that had a major impact.

First, the race was originally scheduled for October 3rd but was cancelled at the last moment due to Hurricane Joaquin. Luckily, we found out just minutes before leaving Plymouth for Philadelphia where we planned to spend the night on our way down. This required adjusting my training plan and hoping a two-week mini-base, build, peak, taper periodization would work.

Second, on the way to Maryland for the rescheduled race day my friends Tamara, Brian, Rick and Tim had their car catch fire on the NJ Turnpike and burn – a total loss. Instead of giving up and turning for home they saved everything from the vehicle, rented a van, and continued on their way! It takes a special breed to be an Ironman I guess.

Entry 100 - Ironman 2015 Truck Fire

The facts of my race: I completed my first Ironman distance in 10 hours, 34 minutes and 55 seconds. My swim time was 58 minutes (3,000 meters instead of 3,800 meters), bike was 5:13 (112 miles) and the run took 4:05 (26.2 miles). Throw in about fifteen minutes in transitions and you have a full day of exercise – from sunup to sundown I was putting one foot in front of the other. As we were advised during the athlete briefing, ‘Just keep moving forward!’

Race day started at 3:30 am, which was the appointed time to eat breakfast according to my coaches at QT2 Systems – 3 1/2 hours before race start. In actuality, I was up before that – not surprisingly I didn’t get too much sleep on Friday night. So up early and ate 3 cups of applesauce sprinkled with a scoop of whey protein powder, a banana, a bagel and a full bottle of Gatorade Endurance. A full stomach needs time to digest before being put under duress! Nothing like GI distress to ruin your race. Bike and gear were all checked in on Friday, so all I needed to bring was my swim gear and warm clothes – in the forties at race start.

When we arrived at transition the wind was non-existent and the Choptank River dead calm. Perfect swim conditions! I deposited my bags in the appropriate locations and headed to my first of many stops – at a Porta-Potty. Between the time I went in and came out (a minute? maybe two?) the wind had kicked into high gear. I’m sure there’s a meteorological explanation for what happened, but at the time it was like someone had simply thrown a switch. When I came out, the flags were at full attention on their poles, and the river looked angry. No more perfect swim conditions. This is the point when mental preparation really helps, and I was struggling to remind myself that I had prepared a year (and two weeks!) for this moment. And it wasn’t just me that thought the conditions had radically altered – the race director announced shortly before race start that the National Weather Service had issued a small craft advisory and that meant that no paddleboards, jet skis, kayaks, or small boats were allowed in the main part of the river. Considering that was how all of our lifeguards were going to protect us, it was time to change the layout of the swim course! This delayed the start of the race by half an hour and shortened our swim from 3,800 meters to 3,000 meters. My first thought? ‘Does this mean I will still be an Ironman?!’ ‘At the end of the day, you will still be an IRONMAN!’ said the announcer. A big cheer from the crowd.

The Swim

It was the usual wavy, crazy, thrashing affair all triathlon swims are but I’ll remember this one for two things. First, I called him ‘the Kicker-doodle’ – the guy I couldn’t get away from with the crazy stroke and flailing legs that kept cutting in front of me. It was hard to stay in my ‘box’ with him so close but I couldn’t shake him. Eventually I convinced myself that actively slowing down was not going to cost me a Kona slot, so I let him go. Back in my box. However, as I was cruising along and feeling pretty good about 100 yards from the end, someone’s stroke came down on my right calf. The result was one of the most painful charlie-horses I had ever felt, and because the water was so cold my entire body seemed to go into a sympathetic seizure – my left leg and both forearms seized up as well, my arms so badly that for a moment it pulled my hands into fists that I couldn’t unclench. My first though was ‘my Ironman is over before it has even begun’. I dropped an F-bomb on my next breath that I’m sure every lifeguard on the Choptank River heard. I struggled to shore and limped through transition, hoping I could work it out on the bike before I had to run a marathon. My pace was exactly as I had hoped – 1:47/100 – and I came out of the water with a low heart rate and feeling pretty good, despite the right calf.

The Bike

WIND. Wind. More wind. We originally signed up for IMMD because the course was flat, and we didn’t want to have to worry about hills. But the downside to flat, and surrounded by water, and late fall, is that you have to deal with wind. 30 mph gusts shortening the swim? No such abatement on the bike! There is nothing that inhibits forward progress on a bike like a steep climb….. or wind. At least on a climb there is a distinct end, and a technique to save energy and get to the top as quickly as possible. No such luck with wind – it was simply grin and bear it, and I kept reminding myself that *everyone* was dealing with the exact same conditions. As Tamara described it, the entire IMMD course was ‘A BEAST’. I agree. As any cyclist will tell you, the best thing about a headwind is you can turn around and make it a tailwind! Just make sure your headwind is first and you end with the tailwind. That didn’t occur on Saturday – a tailwind out, and a ‘gale force wind’ in on both loops. While I was extremely pleased with my pace (5:13 = 21.4 mph) I paid for it with a very sore lower back – the muscles that help work the push and pull of the cyclist’s cadence. My calf held up, but the back suffered for much of the ride. But I didn’t let it slow me down, because I had been there many times before – I know what my body can put out on the bike for extended periods of time, and this was just a matter of getting through 112 miles with the wind and the pain. It was the run that had me worried.

Entry 100 - Ironman 2015 Brent Biking

The Run

Having never run more than a half marathon before (and only twice at that length), I had no idea how my body would respond to being asked to run a full marathon. And to do my first one *after* swimming for an hour and biking for 5? Crazy. The logical approach would be to start slowly instead of starting too fast. So that’s exactly what I did – although it *felt* like I was blistering the course (in relative terms, of course) I was able to manage sub-9 minute miles for the first 10 miles and sub-10 minute miles from mile 10 through 19.

Entry 100 - Ironman 2015 Brent Running

And then I hit my wall, or face my line – I’ve heard it called many things, but these two most often. The point when the road starts snaking in front of you, you can’t feel your extremities, you’re hungry but can’t fathom putting another Clif-blok or Gu gel pack in your mouth, and you just want to sit down and call it a day. Mile 20? 11 minutes. Mile 21? 13 1/2 minutes. But mile 21 is where I discovered the magic of the Special Needs Bag. In this bag racers are allowed to put anything they want, anything they think they might need or enjoy on the bike and run courses when feeling at their lowest. Food? Check. Photos of the family pet? Check. Notes from loved ones? Put it in there. My run special needs bag originally consisted of dry socks, Vaseline and pretzel rods. On Friday night we swung through Dick’s Sporting Goods to pick up a few forgotten items, and in the checkout line I impulse purchased a huge Kit Kat bar and stuck it in the bag. So there I was at mile 21, feeling like I was about to bonk, and I passed the special needs zone. I stopped. I waited for the wonderful volunteer to find my bag out of the lineup of 1,400 bags on the ground. I ate one bite of pretzel, and spit it out. On to the Kit Kat – three strips shoved in my mouth, and it was like someone hit me with an adrenaline shot. Only 5 miles to go! Each mile got faster from there, and as I got closer to the finish line I finally determined that I was, in fact, going to be able to finish and become an Ironman. Look at my finishing photo closely – clutched tightly in my right hand is my Kit Kat bar, carried with me the final five miles. Just in case I needed another shot.

Entry 100 - Ironman 2015 Brent Finishing

The Aftermath

Soreness. Black toes and toenails. The inability to stand up or sit down without looking like I was 100 years old. And the wonderful, jubilant, exhilarating feeling of crossing the finish line and hearing my name called: ‘Brent Edmonds, YOU. ARE. AN IRONMAN!!’


It is said that success can best be measured in the quality of people you raise up and release. In reality, I contend this is best measured by the success of the people you have released and what they do. After all, isn’t that the point of leadership development, team building, and parenting?

And he’s just my oldest.

Posted in 06: Incomplete Information, 09: Doing, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The $100 Question

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste” – Paul Romer, 2004

It’s taken a while to get to this point, but I trust you will find that it is worth it. Where we are now is the result of reassembling existing knowledge (and some discovered) after playing with and rearranging the pieces for a while. I invite you to bear with me for a few words (ok, more than a few).

We’ll start with an assertion from my last post, that employees are the basic building blocks of an organization, the assets on which the organization is built, and, very importantly, that they bring with them their own Personal Culture (their Temperament and Personalities).

Contrary to popular belief, “employee” here refers to all individuals employed by an organization, and thus extends to include the founders, CEOs, executives, and management, not just those lower on the ladder inferred by common usage of the word. As a consequence, and contrary to their (management’s) popular misunderstanding, they too are infected with the same human condition the development of which follows as the topic of this post, and which is closely tied to the Missing Attribute presented in the last post.

As a segue, let me relate yet another personal experience which I think turns out to be all too common.

The $100 Question

Later in my career we passed into the “Second Phase of Career and Life.” The First Phase was characterized by not having enough income to live as we would have desired and having to learn the tremendous benefits of living on a budget judiciously set to be 80% of our income. We did without certain things until they became important enough to move to the top of the “list.” Sort of like Capital Budgeting in an organization: choosing among a number of projects which ones are the most important for this year’s budget.

Fortunately, with hard work and skill growth, in two or three years the current “80% of income for living” had grown to be nearly 100% of what was total income previously. By habit we stuck with the “live off of 80%” rule, and one small positive consequence of many was that we could now afford to have a Kleenex© box in every bathroom and bedroom (and kitchen) rather than just one that we had to cart around the whole house. One might say that the important things in life were coming into reach. This was the beginning of the Second Phase of Career and Life. And this was when an important new discovery was made.

We were then living in the northeast, so the cost of living was appreciable. We were living off of a monthly budget (yes, still! – it is a discipline that provides a continual harvest) of about $6000/month. What I noticed was that when all living categories were covered and there was perhaps an extra $100 left over, there was a significant peace, a relaxed atmosphere at home, and we could even go out for an end-of-the-week dinner date without a guilty conscience. The glass of wine helped, too.

However, when (not if) circumstances arose where unplanned expenses popped up or expected expenses were somehow larger than expected, there might be a $100 shortage. Even when we had this in a buffer, there was still an unexpected tension in the house, accompanied by shuffling small amounts from one category to another (yes, this is legit) to cover everything. And no dinner date.

The discovery, or realization, was that the emotional response to a $100 shortfall (a threat) resulted in a tension and stress that was measurably greater than was the relaxed response to the apparent security of a $100 surplus.

Why is this?

Part of the reason is embedded in the quote I included in the last post: “If there’s a threat in the environment, you’re more likely to feel that your position is insecure, and this causes you to want to guard your resources, to defend yourself, and try to accumulate more resources…” This results in a tense, stressful environment. One might even steal paper clips from the office.

Another way of looking at this is to refer to a classic visual that is commonly used in discussing issues of inventory management (bear with me), and the driving force for implementing Just-In-Time inventory techniques. Here’s the visual:

Entry 99 - JIT Inventory Davis 10.5

and here’s a simple explanation: [1] when there is an inventory (or monetary, or emotional) surplus (the tide is high), it is fairly easy for anyone to sail through the seas (the conditions) with little or no concern for any threats. [2,4] It’s when there is an inventory (or monetary, or emotional) shortage (the tide is ebbing or low), when the threats of rocks and shoals are visible that it takes a knowledgeable and skilled person who knows the channels to navigate safely. [3] And even when the big threats have been avoided, there may still be other threats hidden until the tide ebbs further. [5] Perhaps with Just-In-Time techniques most inventory threats can be eliminated or managed, but the reality for Living in Real Life conditions (including monetary and emotional circumstances) is that the best we can hope for is probably [4]  (i.e., SIT Happens).

That’s the what, simply put. Now with a bit of this rearranging of existing pieces of knowledge from various venues we can possibly illuminate the why.

Let’s start with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, which if you don’t recall we’ll do a quick summary here.

In 1943 Maslow proposed that humans have a Hierarchy of Needs, beginning with the basics of air, water, and food necessary for survival. His proposal was that an individual cannot/will not move up the Hierarchy to the next level of Need unless and when the needs on the lower level are fulfilled. The needs he identified are as follows:

-Physiological Needs
-Safety and Security
-Love and Belonging
-Self-Esteem, and

The Hierarchy and the levels as Maslow pictured them are as follows:

Entry 99 - Maslowr

Hold that picture for a moment, and let’s next consider the Behavior Curve below, which I posted about on here, on page 3. This attempts to show how our active mode behavior becomes more and more focused on Self-Provision (the Taking, negative direction, or what I also called the Survivor mode, here) as we put more priority and emphasis on Self (our internal wants and needs) than we do on our external Values (that is, the ratio of Self to Values (Self / Values) is greater than 1). When we stress our external Values, behavior moves into the Building or positive direction, where the ratio (Self / Values) is less than 1. (Builder and Survivor modes are discussed here).

Entry 99 - Behavior Curve Excel No Title Text

Interesting concepts flow from this picture.

  • Positive results (the added value available to others) can arise even when there is still some attention paid to one’s Self. A 60% external Value focus means there is some 40% Self focus remaining, but this still moves overall active behavior into the Building, positive area (to the upper right). One can certainly add value in one’s job even when appreciating the pay, benefits, and work environment and not feel guilty about it.
  • Altruism, the complete sacrifice of Self for “other oriented external” Values, is not only impossible to achieve, but is then only a single spot on the curve to the far right where 0% Self lies. This is important because thinking one needs to be completely altruistic to be able to add value to others is simply not true. That’s more an either/or mode of thinking, rather than the preferable and/and.
  • Even if one person could become 0% focused on Self (that is, 100% focused on external Values), the most positive results they could contribute (to the right) pale in comparison with the negative impact (to the left) that one relatively selfish person can inflict!
  • Following that thought, this supports the concept of teamwork where many people contributing in and leveraging their respective areas of skill are needed to increase the total value added, and why we bristle with the presence of just one non-contributor who inflicts significant negative impact to the entire group effort (and psyche).

Now for some rearranging of these pieces in perhaps an unexpected way. First, take Maslow’s hierarchy as pictured above and rotate it to the right, as follows:

Entry 99 - Maslowr rotated stripped

and then superimpose it on the Behavior Curve above with the Hierarchy’s most basic survival needs (left) placed on the 100% Self point, and the tip of the Self-actualization placed at the 0% Self point, thus:

Entry 99 - Behavior Curve Excel No Title Text Maslow 1 crop

Then note the following, probably not unrelated correlations between Needs and active Behaviors:

  • The lowest level most basic Need (Physiological) for the Self (now at the far left) superimposes directly over the most negative, Taking (or Survivor) behaviors (Recall the drowning ocean swimmer in the last post);
  • The next level of Need, for Safety and Security, superimposes over more moderately negative but still Taking (Survivor) behaviors;
  • The Need for Love and Belonging (for instance, with Clan or Tribe) superimposes over slightly moderately negative behaviors; and
  • The Need for Self-esteem superimposes over the least negative behaviors (we tend to stifle or compensate for these needs in public, don’t we?).

These four most basic Needs are often referred to as Deficit Needs by psychologists, as they deal with recognizable personal voids. For various reasons, we could also identify them with the various forms of Baggage that everyone carries. Perhaps rather fortuitously they superimpose with the negative behavior areas of the curve (yes, this is no doubt due to arbitrary artistic scaling of the Maslow hierarchy triangle; no “magnitudes” of needs have ever been implied, to my knowledge);

and the last but important Need correlation:

  • The Need identified as Self-actualization superimposes on the positive active Building behaviors.
    • The culture or environment (including one’s “boss”) has to provide support (tools, resources, recognition, esteem, reward) for this need of Self-actualization for the added value to be birthed and maintained;
    • If/When the culture or environment does not/can not/will not provide this support, the individual can fall back onto Deficit Need fulfillment behaviors. In this case, if the culture or environment cannot be changed, the employee’s recourse is most likely to seek employment elsewhere (Gallup Poll: ~50% of departing employees indicate dissatisfaction with their boss as the number one reason for leaving).

I would be negligent if I didn’t point out that this last Self-actualization Need correlation and the two points noted seem to be uniformly applicable to all People Groups: Marriage and spouse, Family, Clan, Tribe, Organization, and Nation.

This correlation is also the strongest support for the need to monitor and increase employee engagement in the organization.

There is one more interesting piece of information that arises from this Behavior Curve. I noted that the curve implies that the most positive results one person could contribute (“+” to the right) pale in comparison with the negative impact (“–“ to the left) that one moderately selfish person could inflict. How does this positive impact compare with the negative impact?

  • Take the horizontal line in the Behavior Curve graph marked 100% Self on one end and 0% Self on the other. This represents the Zero Sum game line, where there is a balance between giving and taking in normal exchanges;
  • The area to the right, marked “+” between this horizontal line and the Behavior Curve therefore represents the results of a Positive Sum game, the “value” that can be added;
  • The area to the left, marked “–“ and below the horizontal line and the Behavior Curve represents the results of a Negative Sum game, that is, “value” that has been taken to the advantage of the selfish (Taking, or Survivor) player;
  • Since the left side of the Behavior Curve plunges and we can’t measure the area exactly, I took the curve from “90% Self” over to “10% Self” (to make it balanced and fair), and tried to calculate the “–“and the “+” areas. For my simplistic efforts, I arrived at the following approximations:
    • Negative area: 80.5%
    • Positive area: 19.5%

Looks remarkably like The Pareto Principle, the 80/20 Rule.  In other words, in hiring from the general population without an effort to select and maintain a Building culture, 80% of the employees potentially will somehow subtract something from the optimal environment, which could be one or more forms of poor attitude, lower efficiency, disengagement, or poor quality.  This may not be a surprise.

What are the implications of all this for us as individuals and our organizations?

I propose that we mostly live on a daily basis with a Self/external Values balance of about 50/50. Sometimes we venture more emphasis on external Values, especially when doing so feeds some personal needs, and sometimes we venture more emphasis on our Deficit Needs. We basically can shift a bit left and right along our horizontal Zero Sum line around the 50/50 midpoint depending upon normal circumstances.

However, when confronted with a challenge, threat, or a crisis, we shift into a defensive mode, which means our active behaviors shift to the left along the Behavior Curve. The bigger the threat or crisis, the bigger the shift.

Psychological research indicates a striking asymmetry that correlates well with the shape of the Behavior Curve and our responses to threats and crises:

We perceive a loss from a threat or crisis as having, on average, about twice the impact of a gain of the same magnitude.  This is known as Loss Aversion.*

This brings us back to the $100 Question: the surplus of $100 over the budget feels good, but the shortfall of $100 from the budget causes twice the distress. It’s the way we are built. And when we shift our balance from external Values to Self in a defensive mode, it’s what the Behavior Curve predicts.

We have to train ourselves to recognize these natural responses and intentionally overcome them. We can do this in Marriage, and really should be doing this in the Family, but it gets more difficult to accomplish in Clan and Tribe.

But in an Organization, for reasons to be discussed later, once again, we can train ourselves.

In an organization, we need to selectively hire not only people with skills, but also people who recognize threats and crises and can react to them as opportunities or be trained to react to them as such (the Missing Attribute).

We should do this to create an environment (culture) that Regresses to an Opportunity Mean, has the tools to accomplish this, focuses on teamwork to amplify the added value, and is rewarded for accomplishing it.

It means intentionally creating an overall positive and active Building (Added Value) culture and environment, which includes the minimization of the negative Taking environment.

However, here’s the surprise.  Since all of us are infected with the human condition, even with highly selective hiring in a positive Building cultural environment, we are all potentially susceptible to occasionally slipping over, even slightly, into the negative Taking zone. It takes awareness, a high EQ, good self-management, and good boss-manager skills to maintain our assets in healthy shape.  I think we call this engagement.

Simple, eh?


* Thinking, Fast and Slow, D. Kahneman, p 282-6, and The Ascent of Money, N. Ferguson, p 347.

What others are saying along similar lines about selective hiring and coaching talent:

Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak): https://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/maximize-dont-squander-new-talent/

Richard Branson (Virgin): https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-i-hire-you-cant-fake-personality-passion-purpose-richard-branson?trk=eml-mktg-inf-m-howihire-0903-p1

Angela Ahrendts (Apple): https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-i-hire-my-guiding-principles-angela-ahrendts?trk=eml-mktg-inf-m-howihire-0903-p2

Ralph de la Vega (AT&T): https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-i-hire-what-im-looking-isnt-your-resume-ralph-de-la-vega?trk=eml-mktg-inf-m-howihire-0903-p3

Posted in 02: Value Added, A Definition, 04: Games People Play, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 15: Baggage, 16: Culture, Career | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Two Questions

“Crisis Doesn’t Develop Character, it Reveals It”

There are many discussions of the desirable attributes of outstanding employees that are readily available through leadership literature, and I have also posted my thoughts beginning here.

One of these attributes is Attitude, and although a number of people counsel that trying to pay too much attention to changing another’s attitude is inefficient and ineffective (both because a person’s attitude is deeply rooted and it is theirs to choose), I would counsel that paying attention to what an employee’s attitude is, is very important.

This comes from Fundamental Principle 14:

Attitudes become Behaviors by Choice.

While we perhaps should not spend inordinate time trying to change an employee’s attitude(s), we certainly can provide positive feedback when their performance (which tracks with their Practiced Behaviors, which arise from their Attitudes and Values), adds value in supporting the organization’s mission, objectives, and values. We can also inform them if this alignment is not observed, and gently move them out of the organization (say, to a competitor) if they are unwilling to change or adapt themselves. It might be nice if we could better discern imbedded attitudes, values and potential behavior during the hiring process, but that has proved problematic.

We are thus left with ongoing observation. By observing Practiced Behaviors, as opposed to just Professed Behaviors, we can get insight into true underlying Attitudes and Values.

Under most circumstances, such as planned or anticipated tasks, most of us have no difficulty in having our Practiced Behaviors align with our Professed Behaviors – the intent will be there although occasionally we all have been known to not follow through on promises or commitments in the timeliest manner.

It is under unusual and unexpected circumstances (for example, adversity in the form of sudden threats, challenges, or crises) where discrepancies between Professed and Practiced Behaviors are likely to be observed.

It is here where we will find the missing and/or underappreciated attribute I alluded to in the previous post. It is hidden in the Fundamental Principle above, but it is neither Attitude nor Behaviors. It is buried in “become,” how the Choice is made. To reveal this, we have to look at

The Two Questions

We all have built-in survival instincts, or at least we should. Many times these can lead to confused thinking, unexpected behavior, and possibly panic reactions. Consider ocean Life Guard training, which I once endured many years ago. When one approaches a swimmer in trouble in deep water, you approach them from their back. This is not because it is more “Politically Correct” or the most efficient way to get them air, but because when you approach them from the front, in their panic for air they see you not as a Life Guard, but as a solid inanimate floating object upon which to hoist themselves up. When they go up, you go under, and we have two drowning people.

Panic for survival results in knee-jerk responses.

When we are confronted with adversity, an unexpected and possibly threatening situation, our inherited, gut, evolutionary reaction is defensive, for survival.

More support for this comes from a recent study on the effects of stress and anxiety. Apparently, Americans, or some of us, are the most anxious people in the world (World Health Organization, cited in the study), and this can lead to making more unethical decisions in the workplace. To quote one of the authors of the study, “If there’s a threat in the environment, you’re more likely to feel that your position is insecure, and this causes you to want to guard your resources, to defend yourself, and try to accumulate more resources, even if that’s possible by being unethical.” This apparently contributes to why we steal paper clips from the office, among other things.

In stressful situations, we immediately ask ourselves the First Question,

“Who Did This To Me?”

It’s instinctive. Everyone asks it. It is an internal question, how we think, that is the first response to the unexpected threat, challenge, or crisis.

What happens next is crucial, because I think it is connected to the Missing/Underappreciated Attribute: How will we respond or react? What will we do?

Quite often our built-in response is the defensive reaction of Fix the Blame. This can take the form of a physical response, as above, or more often, a verbal one. It can lead to useless conspiracy theories. This is retrenching, digging in, amassing resources and energy to survive the unexpected threat. It is ingrained in all of us.

We can see it in toddlers playing together and arguing over who had the toy, in family disputes, in marital arguments, and in clan, tribal, cultural and national wars. History shows us that nations and governments are rarely prepared to deal with catastrophes or crises, and typically take the path described above (e.g. North Korea, Russia and the Crimea). This behavior has been around a long time.

However, over the long, slow course of civilization’s development, upon occasion, someone comes up with a different way of looking at a situation. It’s forward looking rather than defensive. And since it doesn’t quite fit with the way everyone else looks at things, it gets stifled.* The culture tries to apply Coercion to their Cultural Mean so it will go away. But it might endure and eventually, if valued by a sufficient part of the culture, it can become acceptable, then possibly admirable and esteemed, and then encouraged. It might someday actually become a Cultural Mean itself. It then becomes culturally developed and reinforced.

This way of thinking looks at adversity differently, and leads to The Other Question,

“What Can We Make of this Opportunity?”

This thinking drives a completely different response to the unexpected threat, challenge, or crisis. It is more Fix the Problem. Or perhaps better expressed as

How Does One Respond to Adversity?

The Missing/Underappreciated Attribute then is the “glue,” an “Attitude Field” much like a magnetic attraction, that pulls Professed Behavior and Practiced Behavior together to be identical, even in adversity. One can’t “see” the attribute, but one can see its results in action.

Some might refer to this Attribute as Character, but Character is more the broader category that has many separate aspects (see posts beginning here). A much closer Attribute would be Integrity (see posts beginning here), but there’s an issue here with our understanding of the word. We typically consider a person as having integrity when they adhere to our (common) values, presuming these also to be their values. I would suggest that in its simplest form integrity is when a person can be counted upon to adhere to their values (which might not all be in common with ours – see Sleeper Values). In this case, while we and the rest of the world hold Russia and Vladimir Putin in low esteem for their actions, they are actually acting with high integrity because they are behaving exactly according to their professed values. And while we might hold ourselves up with high integrity as Americans, the rest of the world does not due to the inconsistent behaviors they experience from our leadership (are we out of Gitmo yet? what was promised during the Iran nuclear negotiations? And Congress?).  (See relevant post here).

The Missing/Underappreciated Attribute, this Response to Adversity, then is the unity of properly aligned Values with the Integrity to act on them, to make Professed Behaviors and Practiced Behaviors indistinguishable.

It is often remarked that in the Chinese language the character for “Crisis” is actually the composite of two separate characters (true): the character for “Danger” (true) together with the character for “Opportunity” (not quite. The second character is separately paired with another for the word “Opportunity,” so there is a weak connection. But apparently it is good enough for English-speaking leaders to have used this motivational bon mot for decades). In any case, this dual way of thinking is indeed embedded into the Chinese language, and thus into their culture, and contributes to their success whenever they emigrate to other cultures.

This Response to Adversity is what I was observing when stranded a few weeks ago in the Las Vegas airport: how did airline personnel respond when unexpected events disrupted their normal operations (and caused a crisis for travelers who had three plane flights cancelled out from under them).

Some passengers responded from the first question: Who Did This to Me? followed by What Are You Going to Do About It? Others responded from the second question: What Can We (all) Make of this Opportunity?

Airline personnel uniformly responded with What Can We Make of this Opportunity? It is their Culture.

For most people, this isn’t an inborn response. It must be culturally and intentionally trained in, becoming a new Cultural Mean, an attribute of Organizational Character.

After all, Crisis Doesn’t Develop Character, it Reveals It.

Next: The $100 Question

*Note: In other words, they kill him or her, and then years later remark, “Hey, that wasn’t such a bad idea.”

Posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing, 10: Integrity, 12: Character, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SIT Happens

Sorry, I seem to have gone AWOL (Away Wandering Over Land) for a while. Part of this was intentional (planned travels), and part was purely spontaneous (though necessary travels). Suffice it to say that since April we’ve been from east to west coasts (plane), and from (nearly) north to south (by car).

All the while I did have a couple of main bullet points to begin a series of posts on Organizational Culture, but was just missing a flow, the proper narrative, the glue that would hold it together. It wasn’t until mid-August at the close of our travels that things began to come together (for a post) as they literally fell apart (for travel).

We departed on a Thursday afternoon from Albuquerque, NM, after another week on the ‘Dude Ranch’ with our friend Carol, connecting through Las Vegas on the way to Philadelphia. Lots of dodging of clouds during our approach to Las Vegas was a portent of things to come. We were one of the last planes to (roughly) land at 3:00 pm, and got to watch the thunderstorms and lightening roll over the airport, closing it and leaving loaded planes on the tarmac and at gates. Our 4:40 pm connection was delayed to 5:50 pm as our plane was diverted to Albuquerque (great irony here), leaving us to sit and ‘make friends’ in the terminal. Then it was cancelled due to weather, joining a feast of other cancellations. And so, SIT Happens, again. Rebooking was already an issue (1 hour wait on the phone; can’t rebook online because ‘your flight is already underway;’ and dare not exit security and try at the check-in counters), so now STAND Happens, a slow wait in line. By the time I reached the counter, there were no seats left to Philadelphia for Friday (and no courtesy accommodations as it was due to weather, out of their control), so I opted to get to Chicago, and then to Philadelphia Friday morning.   This flight was scheduled to depart about 8:00 pm. The plane arrived, unloaded passengers, and as we lined up to board came the announcement that the plane wasn’t going anywhere due to mechanical problems. So, SIT Happens, again. Another plane was redirected, and we were scheduled to depart at 10:00 pm. Once again, the plane arrived, unloaded passengers, and as we lined up to board came the announcement, a pilot and stewardess were over hours and they had to find replacements.  And so, once again, SIT Happens. We finally departed at midnight, arriving in Chicago at 5:00 am, and eventually arrived in Philadelphia at 12:30 pm (incidentally, while my thoughts are ‘flowing,’ this was in a narrow window just before the FAA computers went down and shut down the east coast for 4 hours). (Oh yes, luggage arrived the following day and was delivered).

That’s a rough synopsis from the passenger side of the events. What is more interesting, although of less interest to tired, irritated, and delayed travelers, was the response from the airline personnel, both the visible (on the floor and at the counters) and those not visible.

Staff, including managers, manned every available counter, immediately. They were courteous and accommodating in spite of passenger frustration and shortness; at the second cancellation, snacks and water were provided, and management remained to answer questions. (At the third cancellation they did bring a policeman ‘just in case’ but he didn’t have much to do). Communications were as transparent as they could be, under the circumstances. When we finally boarded it was by names on the booked passenger list as most boarding passes had been collected on the previous flights, a process that was tedious but fully explained ahead of time. The employee doing this remained courteous if not humorous throughout the process, moving as quickly and efficiently as he could. And when we pulled away from the gate, I noticed that a high up counter manager, one that had been on the counter for a couple of hours, was also on board, accompanying us on the flight.

Behind the scenes, while I can only imagine the specifics, I am familiar enough with scheduling and logistics to recognize the response to chaos, turmoil, and incomplete information. Shuffling planes becoming available when weather AND air traffic control permit; shuffling available crews; finding replacement crews; shuffling ground personnel and baggage; shuffling counter and ticketing staff, all these can be anticipated in theory, but the real thing is always unique. And stressful.

Bottom line, it was a rough travel day (and work day), and in spite of unusual circumstances (three cancellations for three different reasons) we all managed to make it through. A significant reason for this, observable during the developing situation, was the culture of that organization, and to a significant degree, the passengers’ recognition of that culture.

To apologize for the unusual circumstances of three cancellations for three different reasons, the passengers on our flight were compensated with vouchers for future travel. For the record, the organization is Southwest Airlines.

LAS Rainbow 2015.08.13 crop

So, here’s the connection, the flow: How does an organization create and maintain an operational culture conducive if not optimal to its mission, that is also sustainable, especially during a crisis?

First, take the obvious: you need a product or service (a What); you need a mission (a Why); you need goals to achieve (another What); you need a business plan and strategy (the How’s); and you need a realistic time frame to measure healthy progress (the When). But these are all inanimate things. They are not culture, nor can they have culture, nor can culture be thrust upon them.

Next, take the obscure: Culture is a characteristic of people, in this case both customers and employees. It is the way they think (Fundamental Principle 16), which then leads to how they behave.

Customers will be attracted to (or repulsed by) two organizational things. First, to/by the inanimate ‘What’ that is built and delivered: products or services; and second, to/by the animation that is the organization’s culture.

Finally, take what should be obvious but is often overlooked: employees are the fundamental building blocks that are essential in creating or building and maintaining the culture.  As I posted earlier, employees are not just ‘resources’ (which are consumed), but assets (which are to be developed so they will grow in value as they add value to the organization and its stakeholders).

Even as assets, we are still individuals. We each have a ‘Personal Culture’ (my picture), made up of our Temperament (our inborn behavioral and emotional patterns) and our Personality (which emerges through external cultural influence and experience), 1 which includes our unique Values (Professed and/or Practiced), Attitudes, and Beliefs. Along with this Personal Culture, parts of which are widely and commonly recognized and discussed in leadership literature, we bring more specific and desired attributes to the organization: our Skills, Talents, and the ability to learn and grow. I’ve posted earlier a bit on each of these attributes.

But there is one additional Personal Culture attribute that I have rarely seen discussed which I think needs to be introduced, and which connects directly from our recent travel experiences above. And I think this attribute is a critical one to recognize in creating a sustainable organizational culture.

Next: The Two Questions

1 Quiet, Susan Cain, p 101.  A most excellent, enjoyable, and instructive read.

Posted in 14: Behavior, 16: Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Culture 5 – The Whopping Effects of the Nonexistent Culture of Nations

While researching materials for the topic of the Culture of Nations, I discovered a very impressive book, one that I have now readily added to my Top Ten or More List of significant books (in this world there really needs to be room for more than ten, much more room). The book is The Central Liberal Truth, by Lawrence E. Harrison, and it has to do with, you guessed it, the Culture of Nations. The Introduction alone is one of the best essays I have ever read.

Why does This Matter? We’ve seen that culture has its roots in the individual and family and is nurtured by the people groups (s)he is part of, and that Regression to the Cultural Mean permits Behavioral Continuity to extend up into larger and larger groups. If Behavioral Continuity extends even to the Culture of Nations, then there is reason to expect Organizations to fit into this continuum. If culture does not matter to nations, then we are left with a more difficult explanation for culture in organizations, and the illogical predicament that organizational culture does not matter either.

For a reference point, albeit a generally obscure one, psychologist Geert Hofstede’s extensive analysis of national cultures and their effects on IBM’s worldwide organizations is well recognized within organizational psychology. While I have taught on his theory, it seems more academic and theoretical (read: great for researchers and difficult for managers and expatriates) and did not fully connect with the realities of observable cultural differences I have experienced overseas. But I only had my personal mental list of behaviors that, in practice, actually pinpointed a number of significantly real cultural differences. I was at a loss as to how to formulate this list into something practical and useable. Up to now the list had become the seeds of this concept of Practiced Behaviors and Professed Behaviors.

But back to the book: Now I knew I was onto something. It put data and documented examples to ideas that I had. I also knew it was potentially going to be a challenge. You already know that I would describe myself as either a Conserviberal or a Liberative, depending upon whether the half-full glass was being filled or emptied. More or Less Middle of the Bird but Comfortable Going Out on a Wing is my mantra. So, what were the clues that the book was going to be challenging? How about the following list of facts:

1) The title of the book is The Central Liberal Truth (yes, with “Liberal” boldly printed in Red);
2) The book review, entitled The Culture of Nations, was published on the Opinion page of The New York Times;
3) The author describes himself as a young socialist at one time, before realizing socialism didn’t work;
4) The thesis of the book is a quote (an aphorism) from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late American liberal politician and sociologist;
5) The quote itself is, The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” (Clearly only one way to save the culture);
6) The vast majority of the data and information comes from various United Nations studies; and
7) The book is a synopsis of three different Culture Matters symposia (1999+) held at Harvard University.

Clearly I was heading into staunchly-much-more-than-Liberative territory. And it felt very good (hey, I can go out on a wing, even a left one) because vast realms of verifiable public data are used, they are discussed unemotionally, consistent conclusions are drawn, criticisms are calmly addressed, and a majority of the practical and observable cultural differences (“Behavioral Markers” I will called them) from my mental list were validated. I like very much nearly everything the book presents, from the data through to the conclusions and recommendations. It definitely deserves to be on a Top Ten and More List. I only wish it had been available when I went overseas to live and work.

A crux of the book’s thesis is that the culture of a nation is not an insignificant contributor and with other forces has a direct effect on the direction and success of a society’s development. The elements of its culture are planted at an individual’s birth and nurtured by family, clan, and the culture’s social institutions (that is, self-reinforced by the culture itself. In other words, Regression to the Cultural Mean).

The real impact for me came in seeing what the identified cultural Factors (“Behavioral Markers”) were, and what effects certain social institutions have upon them and how these institutions bring about their influence.

In the interests of brevity, the following table is reproduced from The Central Liberal Truth, with the Factors (“Behavioral Markers”) indicated along with their typically observable manifestations in different cultures. (Note: Yes, I was cheap and bought a used book that was described as “Gently used, some highlighting.” The bold, dark circles and underlines belong to the “previous gentle highlighting owner;” the penciled remarks are mine. Since the two of us, this previous owner and I, agreed on so many things, I didn’t have to highlight much.)

Table 2.1a

Table 2.1b

For comparison, Hofstede proposes six dimensions of cultural differences (more on these later when we get to the Cultures of Organizations), variable scales such as Individualism-Collectivism and Low Uncertainty Avoidance-High Uncertainty Avoidance, which seem to me to be more like deep Foundational Attitudes which then influence behavior. The Factors in the Table above seem more readily describable in terms of both Values/Beliefs/Attitudes (No.s 1-8) as well as Observable Behaviors (No.s 9-24), thus I went with the additional descriptor, Behavioral Markers.

The following are the main culturally different behaviors I had observed and had to learn to “live with” (my mental list), which are also found in the Table above:

Wealth (No. 4): Do behaviors indicate the belief that Wealth can be created (Positive Sum: +∑), or is fixed and must be fought over (Zero or Negative Sum: 0∑, -∑)?;

Ethics (No. 6): Is an ethical code foundational (drives behaviors), or merely a convenient façade?;

Education (No. 8): Is education seen as a means of self- and cultural improvement, or a waste of resources?;

Work (No. 9): Is work a vehicle through which wealth (as added value) can be created, or is it as waste of time and of little or no benefit?;

Rule of Law (No. 16): Is the Rule of Law foundational, or again merely a convenient façade? My experience in Eastern Europe significantly illuminated this Marker. A reasonable description of how we view the law is that it is the steel beams and structure that supports a skyscraper, driven down to a bedrock foundation. The floors and walls are open, however, so that we can design and construct a living and working space that meets our needs. In Eastern Europe, however, the law is viewed more as a concrete floor and ceiling, with four walls with no windows or doors whose purpose is to contain you and your behavior. Any way you can evade its effects (and not get caught) are culturally permitted. One time we were stopped at a traffic light at a major intersection with six full lanes of traffic, including left turn lanes. Just before our light turned green, a car pulled up on the sidewalk to our right, and as the opposing light turned yellow, bounced off the curb and accelerated diagonally across the intersection turning left across all six lanes of startled drivers. This didn’t happen often, but ‘often’ and ‘Right of Way’ are relative words…

Corruption also falls into this category. While most people we knew spoke strongly against corruption and the drag it had on life, the economy, and the culture, when it was felt necessary to use it to get something done, they freely participated;

Individual/Group (No. 20): Is individuality and individual thinking encouraged or discouraged?;

Authority (No. 21): Is authority established to maintain the greater good, or is it a reward, a position of power to be exploited?;

Women (Gender Relationships) (No. 24): How are women socially regarded and treated in the culture?

Those were my eight “most noticeable variable behaviors” from my overseas experiences. Some of the remaining 25 Factors from the book I could see incorporating as subcategories. The importance is, these culturally distinct attitudes and behaviors are hard to avoid noticing. And impossible not to have to adjust to when you’re living in that culture, an activity that can be tremendously draining both emotionally and physically.

The book also assumes that societal or cultural Progress is a desired goal. I posted earlier that bonsai trees need to be constantly growing and so do we as learning beings, so this seems a fair assumption. Toynbee (and following posts) also identifies cultural growth and further expands on the ebb and flow of progress and the sources of it within the longer cyclical lives of civilizations (societies and cultures).

The uphill battle for the thesis is that sociologists, historians, economists, and those in development circles generally disdain or attempt to refute that cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes can have any effect on a society’s (culture’s) progress, even despite compelling evidence to the contrary presented here. They prefer to place the blame for a culture’s lack of development on external forces, including geographic constraints, lack of resources, or interfering influence from outside (such as Dependency Theory).

One of the reasons for this, I feel, is the development of cultural relativism after the Second World War and its offspring in the US, Political Correctness. While the premise was to prevent denigrating comments to be made of a person or group (attributing nonexistent or outlier behaviors to the whole group, true ‘stereotyping’), it morphed into primarily preventing any comments the group considered negative, including honest recognition of behavior that represented the group’s actual desired behavioral norm (their Cultural Mean).

Following the tenets of Political Correctness, then, it is inappropriate to attempt to identify a culture’s (or group’s) contributions to its own lack of success or progress through practicing its own expected behaviors (to do so would be construed as racism, a form of “Blame the Victim”), as everything is relative, and thus the forces preventing success must be external.

Unfortunately, one of the major unintended consequences of the cultural relativism and Political Correctness approaches is that they therefore shield and prevent real problems and their sources from being clearly identified, thus preventing any progress in reaching real solutions.

The ultimate irony is that as Political Correctness attempts to block any attempt to identify deeper problems, it also prevents Political Correctness itself from being scrutinized. It has morphed itself into an idol.

Based upon my number of years of observations, it seems that the truth is more the following:

Political Correctness: when one person intimidates another into feeling guilty and abandoning their values and beliefs, so they can cram their values and beliefs down the other’s throat.

The book recognizes this issue when it states, “For culture to matter, there must first be a realization that it needs fixing.” The blind practice of Political Correctness seems intent on preventing a fair chance for that to occur.

One of the strongly supported conclusions from the book’s analyses is that religion has a pronounced effect on influencing a society’s culture. The surprise conclusion, and one running completely counter to Political Correctness, is that particular religions (historically and currently) are more Progress-Prone (Protestantism, Confucianism) or Progress-Resistant (Eastern Orthodoxy, Western Catholic, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam). This conclusion is also reflected in two of my earlier posts (here and here), but not directly, as that would not be Politically Correct.

I love what the book says, the issues it tackles, the data it presents, the counter arguments to critics, and the conclusions it draws. Where I have a (small) issue is in what it says too little of. Parenting and child rearing are indeed covered as institutions creating both values and beliefs, but the importance of these in influencing change in a culture seems to suffer compared to the importance placed on other “village” (as in, “It Takes A Village”) institutions, including education, religious organizations, government, development institutions, universities, the media, and the private sector. The latter all can no doubt be instrumental in furthering cultural change, but by the time they can begin to act on an individual, say from the age of 5 years onward, research has shown that much of values, beliefs and attitudes have already been cast in stone.

This places greater emphasis on the roles parenting and family play in creating cultural foundations, while the other institutions seem better suited to influencing the culture through their collective supportive effects on parents and heads of families, and not in an approach that replaces them by awarding the privilege to the state, regardless of how well intentioned.

The good news is that a major conclusion of the book is that cultural change must be catalyzed from inside the culture, and not by external forces or influences. Bye, bye Nation Building. This would seem to modify the impact of Moynihan’s aphorism, which as an either/or condemning statement does appear to be both naïve as well as arrogant.  It would be better off and more effective if understood as an and/and visionary motivation.


Next: Organizations

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