Posted by jlubans on July 29, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: ILLUSTRATION BY the inimitable ARTHUR RACKHAM, 1912.

“They say that the king of Egypt once taught some monkeys how to dance the Pyrrhic dance (an ancient Greek war dance). Since monkeys are creatures that readily imitate human behaviour, they quickly learned their lesson and did the dance, dressed in purple robes and masks. For a while everyone was impressed by the sight, until a more discerning member of the audience threw some nuts which he had in his pocket into the midst of the dancers. When the monkeys saw the nuts they forgot all their performance; instead of dancing, they started acting like monkeys again. They crushed their masks and ripped their robes, fighting one other for the nutmeats. The whole pattern of the dance was thrown into confusion, much to the audience's amusement.”

“To change one's nature is but toil in vain,” concludes one moralist.
Oddly enough, the dancing monkeys bring to mind an early experiment in technology. The experiment aped, electronically, the old manual ways of doing something.
And, I suppose I was the guy with the bag of nuts to toss on the stage. The new way – much ballyhooed by its developers - was not ready for prime time. When I pushed the limits, the new way crashed, much to the annoyance of my colleagues who “believed”, really believed, that this was a finished and successful product.
I think I was supposed to clap and exclaim in delight over this “dancing monkey” rather than making a critical assessment. Had it been presented as a fragile beta test, I’d have applauded. Instead when on display as near complete and a fabulous improvement, I felt like I had to make certain; after all there were budgetary implications not to mention public service aspects.

Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

"The Four Day Week*

Posted by jlubans on July 25, 2016  •  Leave comment (2)

*“Fables for Leaders” my soon to be published book is diverting me from my blog. Hence, I am recycling some previously published essays. This item, from the vault, so to speak, was first published in December 2013 as “Freedom at Work: The 40-Hour Week.”

Caption: Inspiration for the four-day week.

A young friend landed a job at a software development company.
Whenever I asked how it was going, he’d always enthuse, “I’m pumped!” He was loving it, putting in long hours fixing bugs and producing bushel baskets of code. He told me the organization was a great place to work, free coffee, free parking, cool co-workers, and free gourmet lunch. They even let him bring his dog to work.
This went on for months – I’d ask and he’d gush, “I’m pumped!” He really liked the job and the boss was always telling him what a great team player he was. A great guy, the boss.
One day something changed. My friend was downcast and discouraged. “I’m not pumped!” he told me, even before I opened my mouth.
How come? Well, after weeks of sleeping at his desk or in his car in the free parking lot from working into the early hours – “death march” was his term for the marathon work sessions - he had a bit of a relapse.
He figured he just needed some sleep in his own bed and all would be well. After a good sleep, he took the morning off to pay bills, online of course. While he had some money in the bank, it was not much considering the hours he was putting in.
When he divided his usual 96-hour week by his salary, his hourly rate dropped to below entry level!
He was doing the work of two people and getting paid for one. Unpumped!
He left the job, gave up the on-call barista, the free laundry service, the super cool co-workers, the free shopping service and found a job in IT support for a non-profit. He works a 40-hour week and does good, solid work. While no longer daily “pumped” about the job, his overall quality of life is much improved; he has time for friends and family; and, on nights and weekends, he’s off the grid.
My friend’s story is not unique. There’s been much concern of late in the popular press about people putting in long hours, brown bagging in the cubicle, not taking vacations, and of being technologically tethered to the workplace 24/7. Some pundits claim the workforce is fearful of being downsized; others claim its supply and demand: too few jobs for too many workers (many of whom have already been downsized at least once!) The feudal spirit has returned to The Office.
So, it is a healthy indicator that some companies – especially democratic work places - are slowly returning to the 40-hour week, giving a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Some are experimenting with a four-day week. This new “norm” can attract the very good worker who’s tired of owing his “soul to the company store.” Who’s tired of recrimination about leaving the job at 5 instead of 7 or for taking a long week end or – worst of all - for going “off the grid” – for any reason -when away from the office.
There’s a payoff for the company. Research suggests that fewer “required” hours makes for happier workers, and that productivity, creativity and innovation soar. It is interesting to note that while fewer hours are officially required many people work extra hours to get a job done.
Piling on hours does not improve our work; it can have the opposite effect, a loss in productivity because of fatigue-induced errors. And forget the claims of the wonders of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is a euphemism for doing shoddy work.
Early in my career, (my first professional job advertised a 37.5-hour week) I was all for working extra hours, taking work home, writing reports on weekends. Why? To get ahead; to finger the brass ring.
I think that was good discipline for me as I learned about my business, but after a while, the extra hours and effort became burdensome. I cut back some, but not really enough.
I do hope the trend back to the 40-hour week or the four-day week flourishes.

© Copyright John Lubans 2013-2016

Friday Fable. “Diogenes Cup”*

Posted by jlubans on July 22, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Rube Goldberg, Muse of bureaucrats.

“One story … tells us that Diogenes was walking along one day, carrying all his possessions with him as usual, when he happened to see a child who was drinking from a stream of water. The child scooped up the water with his hands and drank it happily. ‘This child is far more wise than I am!’ Diogenes exclaimed, and he then threw away the drinking cup he had been carrying with him. ‘Why should I burden myself with this drinking cup, when it is a simple matter to use my hands instead?’"

Well, what could Diogenes (the Cynic and Ascetic rolled into one) have to say to us in these technologically superior times?
A lot.
I remember one organization – indeed it was a network of similar organizations - which had over time come to prefer the overly complex in doing its work instead of taking un-layered, direct action. Rube Goldberg would have been impressed with some of their designs and machinations.
Unlike Diogenes, these organizations acted as if the shortest distance between two points was not a straight line. Baroque might have stylistic appeal but its complexity - however pretty to some - hinders real work.
A child shows the way and Diogenes sees the underlying timeless message: “Keep it Simple”.

*Source: Laura Gibbs’ “The Un-Textbook of Mythology and Folklore” for students enrolled in MLLL-3043-995, University of Oklahoma.
Laura Gibbs is the go-to person for anything and everything to do with fables and myths the world over. See more about her work here.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

"Let’s get real about freedom at work". (From the Vault #6)

Posted by jlubans on July 18, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

As I work away on my book, Fables for Leaders (illustrated by Beatrice Coron!)
I am turning to the vault for some of my favorite essays. This week’s is from August 2013.

WorldBlu* (“Freedom at Work”) has kicked off its leadership-training program by nailing a list of 22 organizational elements to Hierarchy’s obdurate door. Kind of like what Martin Luther did back in 1517 when he hammered home his “95 Theses”.
Now, I am all for using hyperbole to separate the democratic workplace from the hierarchy; what bothers me is when our claims are akin to a religious schismatic: the believers on one side and the nonbelievers on the other! And, you know, yea, verily, who’s going to hell!
According to the list of 22, Fear-Based Leadership (FBL) is the devil’s spawn and Freedom-centered Leadership (FCL) is salvation.
There’s no middle ground (or purgatory) on this list, only certainty; you’re damned or you’re saved.
Now, while I agree with much of what’s on the list I do not see it in such absolute terms. I take issue right at the top, with the headers: “fear-based” vs. “freedom-centered”. Fear is relative and I dare say it exists in freedom-centered organizations when the economy slows down or the legislature decides to cut the budget, or when your competitor develops a break-through service, or, most certainly of all, when you have a bad boss!
Here are a half dozen of the 22 leadership elements, with those on the left defining “fear-based” and those on the right defining, “freedom-centered” leadership:

Blind dependency vs. Self-governed
Acts like a boss vs. Chooses to be a leader
Ego-driven vs. Ego-less
Arrogant vs. Humble
Unethical and immoral vs. Ethical and moral
Unhappy vs. Joyful
Undisciplined vs. Disciplined
Lacks purpose vs. Purpose-driven

OK, OK, I put down 8. I got carried away in my enthusiasm.
This short list is useful in discriminating between the two types of leadership, but we should note these are the extreme end points, the yin and the yang, on a scale, with many degrees of separation in-between. Let me clarify by using an attitudinal scale like the Likert: Strongly agree / Agree / Don’t know / Disagree / Strongly disagree in responding to a series of statements. For example:
“My leadership is ego-driven.” Circle one: Strongly Agree, Agree, DK, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.
Almost immediately you run into questions of meaning of terms. What’s ego-driven leadership? Is it necessarily bad for the organization? It sounds bad, so why would anyone admit to being ego-driven?
“I am joyful at work.” SA, A, DK, D, SD?
(Then, again, I might ask myself, “How much does my happiness derive from work?)
“My leadership is unethical and immoral.” Some leaders are indeed unethical and immoral but who is going to admit it? Who is not going to sign on with, “My leadership is ethical and moral”?
“My leadership is disciplined.” (What does it mean to be undisciplined at work? Don’t most fear-based organizations depend on discipline to keep people in line?
“I am an arrogant leader.” Who would confess to that? Would not the most arrogant of us claim to be the most humble? Does not that form of self-delusion go with arrogance, if you get my meaning?
I am all for using a continuum rather than an absolute scale. On a continuum I can pinpoint where I am between “unhappy” and “joyful”. Or, I can plot how I am doing in my quest to be “purpose-driven”. Or, I can mark on a continuum where I stand between “Selfish” and “Selfless”.
Listings like this all have some truth, but none have absolute truth. How would I do it differently? Well, I would say that to be an effective freedom-centered leader one aspires to those 22 characteristics. I may fall short in several, but I keep trying. Leadership, if anything, is always a work in progress. What went well last year, may not go so well this year – I may lapse, fall off the heaven-bound wagon and have to figure out how to scramble back on.

*WorldBlu is a good source for finding corporations and other agencies that apply democratic principles to how they organize and how they treat workers. Their “List of Most Democratic Workplaces” is the starting point if you are looking for examples of this type of company.

© Copyright 2013 & 2016 John Lubans

Friday Fable. LaFontaine’s “THE LION AND THE ASS HUNTING”*

Posted by jlubans on July 15, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by W. Aractingy 1994

“The king of animals, with royal grace,
Would celebrate his birthday in the chase.
‘Twas not with bow and arrows,
To slay some wretched sparrows;
The lion hunts the wild boar of the wood,
The antlered deer and stags, the fat and good.
This time, the king, t’ insure success,
Took for his aide-de-camp an ass,
A creature of stentorian voice,
That felt much honour’d by the choice.
The lion hid him in a proper station,
And order’d him to bray, for his vocation,
Assured that his tempestuous cry
The boldest beasts would terrify,
And cause them from their lairs to fly.

And, sooth, the horrid noise the creature made
Did strike the tenants of the wood with dread;
And, as they headlong fled,
All fell within the lion’s ambuscade.
“Has not my service glorious
Made both of us victorious?”
Cried out the much-elated ass.
“Yes,” said the lion; “bravely bray’d!
Had I not known yourself and race,
I should have been myself afraid!”

The donkey, had he dared,
With anger would have flared
At this retort, though justly made;
For who could suffer boasts to pass
So ill-befitting to an ass?”

I’ve been known to do my share of “braying” - in the organization, not the forest. We were hunting for a different kind of game; ways to improve what we were doing, ways to eliminate the obstacles to necessary changes. And so, I got to play the silly ass by asking “dumb” questions and by not accepting the conventional wisdom that was throttling change for the better. Like the donkey’s braying, it was not always fully appreciated. While in my case the “king” understood, some of my colleagues did not. One, a beneficiary of my “braying” indeed turned on me and became a vocal critic; “once an ass always an ass” may have been her "ill-befitting" assessment.

*Source: From the second edition of A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine, illustrated by Percy Billinghurst 1900 ca. Un-named, the translator is Elizur Wright: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882. Available at Gutenberg

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Switching & Giving and Going: Teamwork: From the Vault #5

Posted by jlubans on July 11, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

(A note: While working on my book Fables for Leaders I am bringing back some of my favorite postings. This one, from June 19, 2013, is especially apropos because of the dismal news that Kevin Durant, the sun in the NBA's Thunder solar system is going over to the Warriors camp, leaving much of Oklahoma City bereft.)

Caption. Times change. Sam Presti the Thunder’s Manager, looking on, listens to Kevin Durant at a press conference. Mr. Presti’s various actions of firing a winning coach and trading star players may well have convinced Mr. Durant to leave OKC. If it’s a business more than a team, so be it. There’s no “switch, give and go” in the business end of the NBA.

Frank Deford writes in his essay, “The Ultimate Contradiction”, that basketball is: "…the most intimate — even organic — of all the team games, with its players more fundamentally involved with one another.” That’s an illuminating observation, even to me since I am no stranger to transferring insights from the hardwood to the workplace.
Chapter 8 in Leading from the Middle is “More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team,” about how a team met challenges and displayed the finest kind of transcendent teamwork.
Besides noting that all players touch the ball and play both offense and defense – no platooning and specializing - Deford gives us two basketball terms to consider. The first is “Switch” in which a screened or blocked player calls for help and literally switches his role with another player.
His second is “Give and go," a basic play where after passing – giving up the ball - to a team-mate, the passer quickly cuts toward the basket, and receives the return pass back from his team-mate for the score.
I would add a third, the “Assist.” It’s the end result of the “cut and go” and other stratagems in which a player creates a scoring opportunity by giving up the ball. Blocked inside, a player “kicks out” the ball to an open player – she scores. That’s an assist, and a perfect metaphor for the workplace where what you do directly helps another succeed.
While I was dwelling on Deford, my nephew posted or “facebooked” his experience with an on-line-class project:
“Professor says: "I want your mini-essays to be 300-500 words"
Team gives: 3 short paragraphs totally MAYBE 200 words.
Professor says: "You must cite at least one peer-reviewed journal in each mini-essay"
Team gives: Only cites the textbook
In other words, guess who gets to rewrite the team's mini-essay that's due at midnight? Wheeeeeeeeeeee!”

No give and go, no switch, and no assist. He’s not the first or the last to encounter dysfunctional teams in class or the office. Yet, some teams, somehow, become high performing. How does that happen? Luck? In my nephew’s case, I doubt if the professor explained what was expected from each team member. He probably left it open on how they would go about doing their work. And, I doubt if the project teams established any guidelines on how to work together. For many team projects, everything is assumed and nothing is agreed. The same happens in the work place when we create teams and provide them with little guidance.
Basketball, like all team sports, can help us understand why some teams click and why many fail. The best teams communicate, all the time. In basketball, a team that chatters, signals, and talks through each play will disconcert a silent opponent – the opponent does not know what to make of it. Nor can the switch or the give and go be done in communicative silence. When screened or blocked, the player calls out, “Help, help, switch” and as Deford says, “At least for a while, you must become me, and me you.” That’s extraordinary teamwork. Not only does the player know what to do, how to switch, he willingly does so, replacing you so you can get free to shut down an otherwise easy goal by the opposition. How often do you hear, “Help, help, switch” in the office?
Players on the best teams help each other. It is an accepted norm and behavior. It is what you do. In my chapter, “The Unstodgy Airline” I explain how ramp agents – the ground crew - help each other out; indeed, switching is part of their game plan.
“Southwest is resourceful. Ramp agents know to plan ahead, to anticipate. … “Our turnaround time (the best in the business) is not the result of tricks,” CEO Kelleher says, “but the result of our dedicated employees, who have the willpower and pride to do whatever it takes.” On an occasion, pilots have helped empty luggage bins. I asked a supervisor if “whatever it takes” was indeed widely practiced at Southwest? The answer: “Some people help so much they miss their lunch.”
And, the training coordinator told me.” It’s common sense to help each other out. Not helping is rare; you know if you are helped, you help in return.”
While I was on the tarmac observing the ramp team’s work, I saw switching in action. When the provisioner’s job was done inside the plane, he dropped down to the tarmac – in the wind and rain - to help hoist luggage onto a belt-loader. I’d score him an “assist!”.
Becoming a good team takes work. I have held for a long time that a team itself has to figure out most of its working dynamics – a coach’s or supervisor’s assigning roles, at best a first step, is not the same nor as effective. It is best for the team to take the time to decide who is going to do what and when and why. The team has to answer these questions: What happens when one or more of us slack off? How will we disagree? How will we confront each other when things are not going well? How will we ask each other for help? Will we give help when asked?
My nephew’s group project team is going the way of too many teams; one or two people will do the work, while others appear to be content to coast along and accept credit for non-work. No one takes on the risk of calling the behavior and confronting the team. You’re left with a tacit, shrugging acceptance – it is what it is - instead of a spirited questioning and a fair and trustful resolution. In sports, when a team is struggling, the coach will often ask for help from the captains – or, better, the captains will intervene on their own. These peers are expected to confront the team, away from management, away from the coach and to help get the team back on track. When I asked about the three captains on a women’s team I studied, a player told me, “Anytime we aren’t playing focused or hard, our captains are always the 1st people to say something to try and pull us together again. They keep us from being down on ourselves and help us to play as a team.”
I do not think we have anything like elected captains on our work teams, perhaps we should – they might get us past the inevitable “being down on ourselves” and to “help us to play as a team”.

© Copyright John Lubans 2013 & 2016

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Man Bitten by a Dog”*

Posted by jlubans on July 08, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Woodcut by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) with the bitten man and his friend staged as if in a Roman or Greek comedy**

“A MAN who had been bitten by a Dog went about in quest of someone who might heal him. A friend, meeting him and learning what he wanted, said, ‘If you would be cured, take a piece of bread, and dip it in the blood from your wound, and go and give it to the Dog that bit you.’ The Man who had been bitten laughed at this advice and said, ‘Why? If I should do so, it would be as if I should beg every Dog in the town to bite me.’"
“Benefits bestowed upon the evil-disposed increase their means of injuring you.”

The bitten man responds with common sense to his friend’s nonsensical advice for a cure. It is the moral that suggests this is more a man bites dog story than dog bites: When we provide benefits to evil, those benefits do not stop the evil person from seeking to injure us. Or, as Thomas James put it 1848: “He who proclaims himself ready to buy up his enemies will never want a supply of them.”
That’s good advice to consider when we seek to pacify a problematic employee or a toxic boss instead of taking direct action to confront the evildoer. A state unwilling to risk war may well make concessions to an enemy; the end result is not peace, rather subjugation.

*Source: FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop’s fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at the Gutenberg Project.

**Bewick brings to mind Greek or Roman staging for comedies by Aristophanes or Plautus. The bitten man and his friend could be stock characters; while bandaged the mangled man has a smile on his face and the advice giver appears to be a doofus grampus. Note the nearby eavesdropping dogs.

Copyright © John Lubans 2016

Another Independence (4th of July) Weekend Marriage

Posted by jlubans on July 04, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

(From the vault #4. This essay first appeared on July 8 2014. Yesterday, July 3, 2016 I was in Augusta, Maine to celebrate the wedding of my niece Mandi to her fiancé, Jay. This posting includes a toast which is entirely fitting to offer Jay and Mandi.)

Caption: The Statue of Liberty obscured, NYC Harbor, one foggy morning in 2014. Photo by author.

A few days after my essay on “The Un-hierarchy” I was in New York for my granddaughter’s July 4 wedding.
Now, you may be thinking what does a wedding – especially one on a celebration of national independence - have to do with the un-hierarchy. Actually, quite a lot.
One of my recent readings is “The Good of Government” by Roger Scruton. Scruton addresses the mistaken perception that conservatives desire no government; indeed that any and all government is THE problem. While liberals might say “What’s new?” to that, in reality conservatives – when they really think about it – want a good government, one in which all of us are thinking partners, not subservient participants. As I read Scruton, I got the glimmer of a new and fresh kind of toast for the bride and groom at their wedding banquet.
The 4th is more than an opportunity to blow a finger off with fireworks; it is a heartfelt celebration of American independence and the astonishing philosophy behind it: We are a society of free individuals. What does this mean? What does it mean to be a free society? “People become free individuals by learning to take responsibility for their actions.” And, good government and good organizations and good marriages develop through this mutual accountability.
When we hold each other accountable – to the best of our ability – then we have a free and growing, mutually respectful, relationship.
Scruton: “When, in the first impulse of affection, one person joins in friendship with another, there arises immediately between them a relation of accountability. They promise things to each other. They become bound in a web of mutual obligations. If one harms the other, there is a “calling to account,” and the relation is jeopardized until an apology is offered. They plan things, sharing their reasons, their hopes, their praise, and their blame. In everything they do they make themselves accountable. If this relation of accountability fails to emerge, then what might have been friendship becomes, instead, a form of exploitation.”
So then, what is a hierarchy? I suspect the hierarchy is less about individual freedom and mutual accountability than it is about top down domination. However you dress it up or down, the autocratic boss is regent. And, as individual freedoms must of necessity be limited in a regency, we may wind up with an organization based on exploitation rather than a mutually accountable partnership. Scruton explains the leader in good government is bounded by those governed, one is not subordinate to the other. In our complex world, we relinquish necessarily some responsibilities to the good leader (the unboss), but we never surrender our right to self-government and self-responsibility. Hierarchies function on domination, on creating a dependent class; the un-hierarchy thrives on partnership, collaboration, and individual acceptance of responsibility and a wide distribution of mutual respect. I can hardly think of a better definition of a marriage between two free and abundantly affectionate individuals.
So, there was my toast of to Tom and Te’sa on the day we celebrate a wedding and freedom for a nation and its individuals.
And, now, felicitously, that’s also my toast to Mandi and Jay, wife and husband on July 3, 2016.

@2014, 2016 Copyright John Lubans

Friday Fable. Lubans’ (à la George Ade*) Billy the Baker

Posted by jlubans on July 01, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Once upon a time there was a Young Man who decided to do Something with his life. This was not a spontaneous Moment. No, his father put it to him, telling him it was time to pay Rent or move out.
So, Billy, as he was called, said he was going to the Tontine Baking School in a distant city. It was something, he said, he always wanted to do, although that was News to everyone.
Irregardless – yes, I know – the neighbors and his friends gave him a send off Party – gifts and all - and put him on the Express Train to the distant town, his parents waving Fervently.
Sue, his gal, was not all that keen on Billy’s leaving, but there was Harold who might be getting a job at the mill, so ….
After a while Billy came back. When would he start baking? he was asked. Well, it seems that Bakery School did not really work out. He’d had some Bad luck. He lost all his Money and someone stole his good clothes.
His dad, Lester, had a heart-to-heart talk with Billy and told him, “I’m sorry Bakery School did not work out, son. Rent’s due on the 15th.” Momma cried in the hall way and felt bad for her son.
Billy was inspired again. He said he no longer wanted to be a Baker; what he wanted to be was a Computer Technician; he sure knew a lot about Gaming, Hacking and Spamming, etc, so announced he was headed to school again, this time to the Garfunkel School of Cyber Technology in Des Moines.
Well, it was time for another send-off party and everyone gave it their best, albeit a bit begrudging. They knew Billy was glued to his Computer, so maybe, just maybe he’d find his Role in life. After a big Party, more gifts and send-off speeches Billy took the train to Des Moines. Nothing was heard from him for several months and then one night he was back in town. Well, things had not gone as planned, etc.
Dad Lester was not Pleased, having footed the Bill for the Bakery School and for the School of Cyber Technology. Mom was happy to see Billy but wondered about his Appetite and not cleaning up after Himself.
After a few Weeks, Lester asked Billy for the Rent and Billy said he had really found a career – this time he was going to go off and become a
Phlebotomist and get a degree at the nearby Leech Institute for Phlebotomy.
No farewell party this time, Billy snuck off on the late Train. Halfway, an Airplane crashed into the train and the airline compensated the Survivors each a million dollars. Billy, a Survivor, put his money in the bank, and no one ever again asked him about his life ambitions. He no longer lives with Lester and Momma; they live with Billy (and Sue) on the Lake in a Mansion with a fulltime Housekeeper. Everyone admires Billy, especially around gift giving holidays.

Moral. Sometimes flunking out of Bakery School is a good thing.

*George Ade information here.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016