(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘management

“If you want to change the culture, you will have to start by changing the organization”*…

That’s perhaps especially true of cultural organizations. As Ian Leslie explains, while rock bands are known for drink, drugs, and dust-ups, they have something to teach us: beyond the debauchery lie four models for how to run a business…

… The notion that bands should make music for the love of it was always romantic and now seems positively quaint. Rock groups are mini-corporations (some of them not so mini). Bands such as Coldplay or Kings of Leon operate sophisticated corporate machines that are responsible for multiple revenue streams; at a recent conference, Metallica’s drummer spoke about the importance of using the right customer-engagement software. Yet the music machine ultimately depends on a small group of talented individuals working closely together to create something magical. Once members of a group decide that they can’t stand to be in the same room as each other, the magic stops and the money dries up.

If rock groups are businesses, businesses are getting more like rock bands. Workplaces are far more informal than they used to be, with less emphasis on protocol, rank and authority. Many firms try to cultivate the creativity that can come from close collaboration. Employers attempt to engineer personal chemistry, hiring coaches to fine-tune team dynamics and sending staff on team-building exercises. Employees are encouraged to share lunch, play table tennis and generally hang out. As the founder of Hubble, a London office-space company, put it, “We hope that our team will become friends first, and colleagues second.”…

Successful startups have to make a difficult transition from being a gang of friends working on a cool idea to being managers of a complex enterprise with multiple stakeholders. It’s a problem familiar to rock groups, which can go quickly from being local heroes to global brands, and from being responsible only for themselves to having hundreds of people rely on them for income. In both cases, people who made choices by instinct and on their own terms acquire new, often onerous responsibilities with barely any preparation. Staff who were hired because they were friends or family have their limitations exposed under pressure, and the original gang can have its solidarity tested to destruction. A study from Harvard Business School found that 65% of startups fail because of “co-founder conflict”. For every Coldplay, there are thousands of talented bands now forgotten because they never survived contact with success.

The history of rock groups can be viewed as a vast experimental laboratory for studying the core problems of any business: how to make a group of talented people add up to more than the sum of its parts. And, once you’ve done that, how to keep the band together…

The Beatles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, REM, and the Rolling Stones– four bands, four models for business success: “A rocker’s guide to management,” from @mrianleslie in @1843mag.

Mary Douglas


As we learn from the loudest, we might recall that it was on this date in 1968 that The Beatles (one of the four cases discussed in the piece linked above) performed “Hey Jude,” the #1 song in both the U.S. and the U.K. at the time, on the television show Frost on Sunday on BBC-TV.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 8, 2022 at 1:00 am

“People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete – the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are”*…

Ed Zitron argues that America has too many managers, and managers misbehaving at that…

In a 2016 Harvard Business Review analysis, two writers calculated the annual cost of excess corporate bureaucracy as about $3 trillion, with an average of one manager per every 4.7 workers. Their story mentioned several case studies—a successful GE plant with 300 technicians and a single supervisor, a Swedish bank with 12,000 workers and three levels of hierarchy—that showed that reducing the number of managers usually led to more productivity and profit. And yet, at the time of the story, 17.6 percent of the U.S. workforce (and 30 percent of the workforce’s compensation) was made up of managers and administrators—an alarming statistic that shows how bloated America’s management ranks had become.

The United States, more than anywhere else in the world, is addicted to the concept of management. As I’ve written before, management has become a title rather than a discipline. We have a glut of people in management who were never evaluated on their ability to manage before being promoted to their role. We have built corporate America around the idea that if you work hard enough, one day you might become a manager, someone who makes rather than takes orders. While this is not the only form of management, based on the response to my previous article and my newsletters on the subject, this appears to be how many white-collar employees feel. Across disparate industries, an overwhelming portion of management personnel is focused more on taking credit and placing blame rather than actually managing people, with dire consequences.

This type of “hall monitor” management, as a practice, is extremely difficult to execute remotely, and thus the coming shift toward permanent all- or part-remote work will lead to a dramatic rethinking of corporate structure. Many office workers—particularly those in industries that rely on the skill or creativity of day-to-day employees—are entering a new world where bureaucracy will be reduced not because executives have magically become empathetic during the pandemic, but because slowing down progress is bad business. In my eyes, that looks like a world in which the power dynamics of the office are inverted. With large swaths of people working from home some or all of the time, managers will be assessed not on their ability to intimidate other people into doing things, but on their ability to provide their workers with the tools they need to measurably succeed at their job.

In order to survive, managers, in other words, will need to start proving that they actually do something. What makes this shift all the more complicated is that many 21st-century, white-collar employees don’t necessarily need a hands-on manager to make sure they get their work done…

The pandemic has laid bare that corporate America disrespects entry-level workers. At many large companies, the early years of your career are a proving ground with little mentorship and training. Too many companies hand out enormous sums to poach people trained elsewhere, while ignoring the way that the best sports teams tend to develop stars—by taking young, energetic people and investing in their future (“trust the process,” etc.). This goes beyond investing in education and courses; it involves taking rising stars in your profession and working to make them as good as your top performer.

In a mostly remote world, a strong manager is someone who gets the best out of the people they’re managing, and sees the forest from the trees—directing workers in a way that’s informed by both experience and respect. Unfortunately, the traditional worker-to-manager pipeline often sets people up for inefficiency and failure. It’s the equivalent of taking a pitcher in their prime and making them a coach—being good at one thing doesn’t mean you can make other people good at the same thing. This is known as the Peter principle, a management concept developed by Laurence J. Peter in the late ’60s that posits that a person who’s good at their job in a hierarchical organization will invariably be promoted to a position that requires different skills, until they’re eventually promoted to something they can’t do, at which point they’ve reached their “maximum incompetence.” Consistent evidence shows that the principle is real: A study of sales workers at 214 firms by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that firms prioritize current job performance in promotion decisions over whether the person can actually do the job for which they’re being considered. In doing so, they’re placing higher value on offering the incentive of promotion to get more out of their workers, at the cost of potentially injecting bad management into their organization.

What I’m talking about here is a fundamental shift in how we view talent in the workplace. Usually, when someone is good at their job, they are given a soft remit to mentor people, but rarely is that formalized into something that is mutually beneficial. A lack of focus on fostering talent is counterintuitive, and likely based on a level of fear that one could train one’s own replacement, or that a business could foster its own competition. This is a problem that could be solved by paying people more money for being better at their job. Growing talent is also a more sustainable form of business—one that harkens back to the days of apprenticeships—where you’re fostering and locking up talent so that it doesn’t go elsewhere, and doesn’t cost you time and money to have to recruit it (or onboard it, which costs, on average, more than $4,000 a person). Philosophically, it changes organizations from a defensive position (having to recruit to keep up) to an offensive position (building an organization from within), and also greatly expands an organization’s ability to scale affordably…

The problem is that modern American capitalism has equated “getting the most out of someone” with “getting the most hours out of them,” rather than getting the most value out of them. “Success,” as I’ve discussed before, is worryingly disconnected from actually succeeding in business.

Reducing bureaucracy is also a net positive for the labor market, especially for young people. Entry-level corporate work is extremely competitive and painful, a years-long process in which you’re finding your footing in an industry and an organization. If we can change the lens through which we view those new to the workforce—as the potential hotshots of the future, rather than people who have to prove themselves—we’ll have stronger organizations that waste less money. We should be trying to distill and export the talents of our best performers, and give them what they need to keep doing great things for our companies while also making their colleagues better too.

All of this seems inevitable, to me, because a remote future naturally reconfigures the scaffolding of how work is done and how workers are organized. The internet makes the world a much smaller place, which means that simple things such as keeping people on task don’t justify an entire position—but mentorship and coaching that can get the best out of each worker do.

Hopefully we can move beyond management as a means of control, and toward a culture that appreciates a manager who fosters and grows the greatness in others.

The pandemic has exposed a fundamental weakness in the system: “Say Goodbye to Your Manager,” from @edzitron.

* Peter Drucker


As we reorganize, we might recall that it was on this date that Henri Giffard made the first first powered and controlled flight of an airship, traveling 27 km from Paris to Élancourt in his “Giffard dirigible.”

Airships were the first aircraft capable of controlled powered flight, and were most commonly used before the 1940s, largely floated with (highly-flammable) hydrogen gas. Their use decreased as their capabilities were surpassed by those of airplanes- and then plummeted after a series of high-profile accidents, including the 1930 crash and burning of the British R101 in France, the 1933 and 1935 storm-related crashes of the twin airborne aircraft carrier U.S. Navy helium-filled rigids, the USS Akron and USS Macon respectively, and– most famously– the 1937 burning of the German hydrogen-filled Hindenburg.

The Giffard dirigible [source]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 24, 2021 at 1:00 am

“All business sagacity reduces itself in the last analysis to judicious use of sabotage”*…




Since World War II, US intelligence agencies have devised innovative ways to defeat their adversaries. In 1944, CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), created the Simple Sabotage Field Manual.

This classified booklet described ways to sabotage the US’ World War II enemies. The OSS Director William J. Donovan recommended that the sabotage guidance be declassified and distributed to citizens of enemy states via pamphlets and targeted broadcasts.

Many of the sabotage instructions guide ordinary citizens, who may not have agree with their country’s wartime policies towards the US, to destabilize their governments by taking disruptive actions. Some of the instructions seem outdated; others remain surprisingly relevant. Together they are a reminder of how easily productivity and order can be undermined.

Here’s a list of five particularly timeless tips from the Simple Sabotage Field Manual:

  1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

  2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.

  3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

  4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.

  5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument…

From the CIA, a “classic” that can be read (as Veblen suggests) as a guide to what an executive should avoid in his/her own organization and what s/he might encourage in others: “Timeless Tips for ‘Simple Sabotage’.” Download the full Simple Sabotage Field Manual here.

(TotH to David Perell)

* Thorstein Veblen


As we muse on the fragility of it all, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that Thomas Edison was gratnted his first patent (U.S. Patent 90,646) for an “electric vote recorder.”  He was in Louisville, KY at the time, where he had as a night shift employee of Western Union, assigned to the Associated Press; Edison preferred graveyard duty, as it left him lots of unsupervised time to read and experiment.  He had been fired a few moths earlier, when one of his projects leaked sulfuric acid onto the floor… where ran between the floorboards and onto his boss’s desk below.   When his vote recorder failed to find a market, Edison moved to the New York City area, where his career as we all know it began in earnest.

vote recorder source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves”*…


management slavery

Caitlin C, Rosenthal didn’t intend to write a book about slavery. She set out to tackle something much more mundane: the history of business practices. But when she started researching account books from the mid-1800s, a period of major economic development during the rise of industrialization in the United States, Rosenthal stumbled across an unexpected source of innovation.

Rosenthal, a Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in business history at Harvard Business School, found that southern plantation owners kept complex and meticulous records, measuring the productivity of their slaves and carefully monitoring their profits—often using even more sophisticated methods than manufacturers in the North. Several of the slave owners’ practices, such as incentivizing workers (in this case, to get them to pick more cotton) and depreciating their worth through the years, are widely used in business management today.

As fascinating as her findings were, Rosenthal had some misgivings about their implications. She didn’t want to be perceived as saying something positive about slavery. On the contrary, she sees her research as a critique of capitalism—one that could broaden the understanding of today’s business practices…

The balance of this review of Rosenthal’s book, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management, at Forbes (and here— the source of the image above– and here).

Slavery was, this essay suggests, baked into laissez-faire economics from the start; it was central to the thinking of the French thinkers who shaped Adam Smith’s theories.

By way of further American context, this essay from Rebecca Solnit: “The American civil war didn’t end. And Trump is a Confederate president.”

And more globally, lest one think that slavery– overt bondage– is something in humankind’s past, consider the plight of the 40 million enslaved today (and the ways that our regular patterns of consumption support their exploiters); follow The Global Slavery Index.

* Abraham Lincoln


As we face history, we might celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on this day marked in his honor.  The holiday was established in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating this federal holiday.  Reagan had opposed the holiday, citing its cost, joining southern Republicans like Jesse Helms, who were more naked in their reasoning; but the enabling legislation had passed by a veto-proof margin.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“What gets measured gets done”*…


Goodhart’s Law: when a measure becomes a target, it cease to be a good measure.

In other words, if you pick a measure to assess people’s performance, then we find a way to game it..

More illustrated explication at Sketchplanations.

* one of many aphoristic echoes in the vernacular of a statement by William Thomson, the Scottish physicist also known as Lord Kelvin


As we’re careful what we ask for, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that Oxford mathematician and amateur photographer Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson– aka Lewis Carroll– delivered a handwritten and illustrated manuscript called “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” to 10-year-old Alice Liddell.  The original (on display at the British Library) was the basis of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland… which was published exactly one year later, on this date in 1865.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

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