Krylov’s THE WHISK*

Posted by jlubans on September 30, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)


GREAT honours were suddenly conferred upon a dirty Whisk (broom or brush).**
It will not now any longer sweep the floors of kitchens; for the master's caftans are handed олег to it, the servants having, probably, got drunk.
Well, our Whisk set to work vigorously. It was never tired of belabouring the master's clothes, and it thrashed the caftans like so much rye.
Undoubtedly its industry was great; only the misfortune was, that it was itself so dirty.
Of what use, then, was all its toil ?
The more it tried to clean anything, the dirtier did it make it.
Just as much harm is done when a fool interferes in what is out of his own line, and undertakes to correct the work of a man of learning.
In the workplace,
I am bound to say, the ineffective whisk is analogous to he who would disdain – because of spite or jealousy – from going along with someone’s very good idea.
Instead, the disdainer promotes/defends a bad idea, thereby sabotaging the organization.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
** In Russian, a Golik. A bunch of bare twigs, greatly resembling a “scholastic birch” once used in the UK in corporal punishment of mis-behaving students.
More often nowadays, these are used in saunas all over northern Europe and Russia. However, the sauna birch whisks I’ve seen in Latvia all had leaves and intended more for swishing than twitching.

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© Copyright all text by John Lubans 2021

“Monday Morning Quarterback”

Posted by jlubans on September 21, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Gabe Brkic, University of Oklahoma football team kicker, with his power-inducing mustache.*

Back in February of this year, I wrote about the inestimable American footballer, Tom Brady in “Letting Go to Win”.
So, once again please bear with me, while I talk about another quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, from the Green Bay Packers.
Like Tom Brady, Mr. Rogders wants to be more involved in team decisions, especially when it comes to selecting players to retire and players to acquire. His bosses at GB, don’t appear to see it that way.
Today’s title is a descriptive phrase used for those fans who, at game’s end, would have done a better job than the coach or the players.
So, let me be a bit of a MMQ, a second-guesser.
But first, let me explain for non-sports readers that American football’s quarterback is the signal caller and lines up behind the center to receive the ball at the start of each play. His job is to get the ball to the end zone and score.
Even if not elected captain, once on the playing field, he is the team leader.
The quarterback gets the ball and either hands if off to a running back (full back, half back), or keeps it and runs, or passes it to a player down the field. Sometimes, in a play called the triple option, he does all three.
All the while the defenders on the other side of the ball seek to crush him under a combined weight of a ton (907 kilos) or two!
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are among the very best at eluding onrushing linesmen, gaining yardage and winning.
Contrast this quote from Tampa Bay coach, Bruce Arians, about Brady’s leadership with the following quote from Brian Gutekunst, the general manager of the GB Packers:
“(Brady) has been (the leader) all year. (He’s) got the air of confidence that permeates through our team every day. I allow him to be himself. Like, (the former team) didn’t allow him to coach. I allow him to coach. I just sit back sometimes and watch.”
Here’s what Gutekunst has to say about sharing his decision making power:
“So what’s your definition of input? Are you listened to? If you’re listened to, and a different decision is made, do you still feel listened to?
Or is it just doing what you want? I think there’s a difference there. But I do think those guys that have put so much into an organization, played at a high level, I think it’s important that they have a little bit of a voice.” Emphasis added.
What does Rodgers want? A lot more than “a little bit of a voice”.
Rodgers suggest a role:
"I can be used as a pseudo-consultant because I know this place," he said. "When you're a quarterback, you hear a lot of [stuff].... It's the people that get it done, and I just want to be a part of people decisions."
Moreover, in an unusually candid press conference -in which he came across as a thoughtful communicator with good ideas and a reasonable manner – he explained:
“People come here to play with me, to play with our team and knowing that they can win a championship here. And the fact I haven’t been used in those discussions was one I wanted to change moving forward.”
Let’s leave the stadium and ask the eternal work place question? What do people want from work?” There’s an easy answer:
mutual support and respect, and meaningfulness in what they do.
They don’t want to be ignored when they have good ideas to offer.
Being ignored and dis-respected are obvious signals from the organization or your boss for you to move on.
Rodgers is not going to go silently into retirement. He is articulating probably what many players (and workers) believe and would likely offer to a team.
So what effect is the GB power struggle having on the new season?
Latest score: Green Bay 35, Detroit Lions 17. The game was preceded by much Chicken Little, “Sky is falling”- behavior among the media after Green Bay lost the first official game the week before, 3-38. A shellacking for sure, but Rodgers re-assured everyone, it’s one game, we move on to the next game.
He is right. I hope GB and Mr. Rodgers can come to an understanding which welcomes him into the team's key decisions.
Look what "letting go" led to at Tampa: Victory in the Super Bowl.

*More Football and Parallel Parking:
University of Oklahoma Kicker Gabe Brkic (depicted) tied an American record with three 50-yard (46 meters) field goals Sept 4, 2021. Each field goal is worth 3 points. (By the way his name is pronounced Brr-kich).
Kickers are, we are told, a breed apart, (loners, superstitious, idiosyncratic and a bit zany) so his insights are well worth having.
He explained how he focuses on making kicks from mid-field:
“My dad’s best friend, when we were younger, he told me kicking a football is like parallel parking. Every kick, you just parallel park the football through the goalposts.” Goalposts are 18.5 feet wide (5.64 meters).
What about the Guy Fawkes mustache? “That’s where my power comes from, the 'stache,” Brkic explained. "I’m going to let that thing grow out.”
On September 25 against the University of West Virginia playing in Norman, Oklahoma, Mr. Brkic kicked the winning field goal with ZERO time remaining on the play clock. Just like parallel parking! Final score: 16-13.
Coincidentally, with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, Green Bay beat the San Francisco 49rs 30-28 on September 26 with a last second 51-yard field goal!
Today, October 14, Green Bay is 4 wins, 1 loss, and going strong.

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"Atkārtot!": Speaking up at Work. 2021

Posted by jlubans on September 13, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Below is an essay first posted on July 10, 2013.
Why repeat it?
Primarily, the essay gives an example of followers (choristers) being on an equal footing with their leaders (conductors). These followers know when something has gone well and want to celebrate it by repeating it – if a football player spikes the ball in the end zone after a score, well the choir says “let’s do it again!”.
That celebration of a job well done reflects on the followers and on the leader. The conductor’s way of leading contributes to the success of the song.
Would it not be nice for organizations to linger over sweet moments, to reflect and to celebrate genuine achievements? If not to repeat a success, then to talk about what went well, what challenges were overcome and to acknowledge those who contributed the most.

Here, slightly emended, starts the original blog posted back in mid-2013.
I’ve been immersed in Latvia’s quinquennial Song and Dance Festival.
This weeklong celebration – nationally televised from start to finish - of Latvian song, dance, music, theater, art and crafts involves approximately 40,000 performers. Every community in Latvia sends its best to take part in DZIESMU SVĒTKI in the capital city, Riga. And, Latvians from all over the world converge on the city and fill its streets, literally, with dance and song. The grand finale features a community-sing* with audience and choirs holding forth until 6.30AM the next day.

Caption: At sunset in the Mežaparks concert bowl, 10.30PM, the audience and the 14,000 singers, just getting started.

At the final song concert, held outdoors with 14,000 singers, led by ten or more male and female conductors*, I observed an unusual practice. After a particular song, one that went especially well, the choir would chant "Atkārtot!" to the conductor. You can hear it here, and, even better, here, asking to repeat the highly patriotic song “Saule, Pērkons, Daugava” (Sun, Thunder, and the mighty river Daugava.)
My cousin Ivars tells me that this chant is more about self-expression, “We want to repeat” than it is a command to the conductor. In my experience in the classical music world, I have never seen an orchestra say much of anything (with the notable exception of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, of course).
If there are to be encores, the conductor decides. If a particular piece goes well, the paying audience – in Italy, for example – may ask for it to be sung again. So, to have the performers feel this strongly and then express their desire is something I, frankly, like very much.
Why do I like it?
Because of what "Atkārtot!" says about the relationship between the nominal leader – the conductor – and those being led – the followers.
Getting people to speak up is one of management’s biggest challenges; not speaking up in the workplace is more the norm. How often have you been told to keep your head down; don’t rock the boat; don’t make a fuss?
Here’s an insightful note from cousin Ivars: “As this fest's grand finale is like a party after the 5-year work for the choirs, I guess they are feeling not that much as the performers but more like a part of the audience.” (Emphasis added.)
And I like what "Atkārtot!" says about the followers.
This kind of follower has her own mind – she knows a good thing when she hears it. These followers have internal standards to which they aspire.
Internal is the key word here. Knowing you’ve done a good job is as much a personal realization as it is something for which you receive external recognition.
These followers are analytic and they love – as does the conductor – what they are doing. When something goes really well, they want more of it.
"Atkārtot!" is remarkable because it confirms the trust between leader and follower. The conductors (half were women – this is Latvia, remember!) are publicly honored by the choirs.
After the conductor leads the singing of a song, several of the choir members run up to the conductor’s platform and present him or her with flowers, smiles and hugs. You can see that at the end of the video.
What does this have to with work?
If we enjoy what we do and we do something really well, would it not be nice to do it again, that the accomplishment be recognized by one and all?
If we have been well led, then let the boss know. Maybe we do not do the flowers and the hugs but we surely can smile and offer thanks.
This is part of a realization that all – each and every one of us - have done a good job and that it is worth taking the time to celebrate the achievement.
"Atkārtot!" brings to mind the Taoist and early genuine – not fake - anarchist, Lao Tzu:
“The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’"

*NOTE: In Latvian, conductor is “Diriģents”. While translated as conductor, the Latvian word may have some etymological nuances not associated with our (English-speaking) interpretation of the word.
More photos:
Caption. Opening ceremony in the original location of the first song and dance festival near city center, Riga. Photo by author.

Caption. Crowd at rehearsal performance prior to the big blow out night time event. Thousands of singers on stage. For approximately a week, Riga houses singers in schools gyms, sleeping on cots. By week’s end, the singers and dancers are exhausted, but happy.

Caption: Close up of one dance. Photo by author. An amazing effort of coordination, planning and competition. Photo by author.

Caption: Close up of dance groups. The groups come from all over Latvia and merge into one large dance group. Photo by author.

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"The Dog Under Your Desk" 2021

Posted by jlubans on September 07, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: People and dogs share computers and space, productively. Alas, the way it used to be pre-pandemic at Menlo Innovations. Now that dog (left of center) is under your kitchen table and you’re connected with peers on social media.

Here (WAY BELOW) from early 2014 is my first attempt at defining elements of the democratic workplace.
The workplace, at least the white collar one, has undergone unprecedented stresses during the past 18 months.
It’s called “working from home” (WFH) and I do wonder what if any influence those months out of the office (OOO)) have and will have on the staff and management relationship.
It is apparent that work which relies on the Internet can be accomplished anywhere: from the lakeside cottage to the lobster shack at the beach; from a national forest to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (at least while a satellite soars overhead).
What other jobs can be done from home?
Will we enter a hybrid era, a foot in the office door and a foot in the home office?
Very likely for some industries.
How will managerial roles change?
Remember, as managers we should be providing guidance to our direct reports. How does that happen OOO? How do we set and maintain trust?
Are we now in the era (no choice) of “letting go” with workers taking responsibility for their performance with minimal guidance?
Are the dreaded and wasteful performance appraisals still being done, now Zoomed, adding yet another artificial layer to the ritual?
PAD, I’d call it - pun intended - Performance Appraisal at a Distance.
How are managers now aware of WFM people excelling and those working well below the norm? For that matter, what will the norm be?
Will it differ for onsite workers vs. those working from their kitchens with home-schoolers in the background?
How much slack will managers (also at home) cut their workers?
There are reports of WFH workers who hold down two jobs – said to be a legal if unethical practice - each kept secret from the other. A few workers report that they can do both in less than 40 hours, so why not?
One double dipper claims that he was able to do his first job in less than 2 hours a day, so why not add another for twice the pay?
No telling where this will go. Nor do we know the extent of this underground movement.
As organizations move toward gig workers (no benefits), it is only to be expected that gig workers will seek to maximize their situation vis a vis the organization(s).
Is it not the Marxist dream to work a few hours a day and spend the rest of the time fishing and thinking deep economic thoughts? It’s happening. Well, all but the latter.
Are Zoom teams as productive as face-to-face high performance teams? Somehow, I have my doubts.
Many questions. Is this the dawning of the Democratic Workplace?
The BBC in its usual woke way offers another perspective on double-dipping; they call it "overworking"!
Here starts the 2014 essay, slightly edited:
My new class on the Democratic Workplace meets for the first time this week. In preparation, I’m in the throes of defining the concepts behind the class. I have lists of what it is and what it is not, but no coherent manifesto.
People ask me, “What is the Democratic Workplace?” “Does everyone vote on everything?” “Is it Marxist?” What exactly is Freedom at Work? Is it a New England town hall meeting? Or, is it something akin to participatory management, in which some of the organization’s decision-making is shared with staff? Is it a kindly capitalism, gently exploiting labor?
Well, perhaps it is a mix of all that. A hybrid, then. But, it does have something else that sets it apart; the real Democratic Workplace (DW), in the right circumstances, gets results. It can be more productive, quantitatively, than the Hierarchy. (In my personal experience of freeing up a tradition-bound Hierarchy, in which I implemented many democratic ideas, we danced rings around our traditionally organized competitors. Other explorers of the DW report similar improvements.)
Let’s see if I can get it right:
The Democratic Workplace includes elements of democracy (rule by people) more than do other systems of organization; it is an evolving hybrid (imagine two overlapping circles (Venn); the overlap is the hybrid; the DW is waxing, the Hierarchy waning) blending the elements of a less restrictive Hierarchy/Bureaucracy with the freedom of the DW.
The DW relies heavily on individuals taking ownership of their work – thinking about what they do - and having the freedom to make decisions about their work (hence the improved productivity). The worker’s perspective is that of an owner, a manager. A DW worker has authority commensurate with his/her responsibility; motivation is internal.
The leader – yes, there is one – is of the unboss* variety.
What’s that? Well, someone that let’s go of the minutiae and empowers (gives power away) workers to accomplish goals, to get the job done. Someone that listens to worker ideas and says “Do it” more than “Don’t” – or she may say nothing since doing is preferred.
It is a work in progress,
it is the Gettysburg address, “…of the people, by the people, for the people ….",
It’s Lao Tzu
and Thoreau applied to where we work.
The DW hears the customer more clearly, listens better, than those agencies with the customer on the other side of the bulletproof glass. The DW customer/client/user is not the enemy; the DW has no monopolistic delusions; it is not OK to be unpleasant and uninviting.
OK, OK! Basta! How easy is it to implement?
A new organization can implement DW ideas more easily than can an old one.
There’s no template. Just like the hierarchy evolved over a couple hundred years, from a highly regimented bureaucracy to something far less so, a blend of Theories X ,Y and Z, it will take time - a lot of it - to introduce and refine elements, like “open books”, effective teams, and “egalitarian salaries” and to flatten the organization. The process speeds up once people see positive results.
But, the beneficiaries of the hierarchy will do all they can to sabotage the shift.
The organizational chart may change monthly; no one gets to stay in his or her spot for too long, including the unboss.
Regular movement in the organization is encouraged, facilitated but not mandated. The goal is a mutually satisfactory balance of fulfilling the needs of the organization and of the individual. Neither is the slave of the other.
Work is as important as ever, even more so. It is understood that the organization must take in energy and resources to continue to thrive, to evolve, to avoid irrelevance. That’s nothing new.
The DWs S-shaped curve which depicts an organization’s life span is upward, not downward. You re-invent, adapt as necessary to survive and to excel.
There’s no blueprint to follow but the unboss and others have the idea, the vision of what it can be. The vision trusts in the overall notion that when people have similar interests and capabilities and are given authority and responsibility they will do better on their own, than under supervision. There’s no need for external motivation.
I have to say that no one has completed the entire puzzle – with all the pieces in place, the riddle solved. As a proponent (and a practitioner) of the DW I am aware that many DW ideas have been put into practice.
Ideas like creating effective teams, setting your own salary, giving spending authority to project teams, working without managers, eliminating formal evaluation, and sharing the budget.
While the DW can be imagined as an orchestra without a conductor it is not without leadership or management. It is made up of musicians that want to understand a piece of music as well as the conductor and then interpret it as if they were playing the whole piece, not just their instrumental part. The musicians select the music, decide on the theme, and schedule the rehearsals.
The DW welcomes independent, critical thinking and action-taking followers; there are fewer "survivors", fewer of the alienated, fewer yes people, fewer sheep-like followers than in the Hierarchy.
DW staff steer away from the usual jealousies and infighting found in any group; there is more energy spent on producing and less spent on discussing.
The DW permits staff to help rather than hinder; it dispenses with jargon; it favors an easily understood language. If something is patently wrong, the DW permits – writ large -the wrong to be righted, without endless discussion. But, let’s keep in mind that the DW takes teamwork, it is not a maverick or a vehicle for pettiness or caprice, granting some favors, denying others. It does things with intelligence and awareness. If it errs, it self corrects.
That intelligence emanates from the freedom enjoyed by its well-qualified staff, to do what is right. The law is obeyed; all else is open to question. We do not endanger, nor do we stymie just because someone has a need to officiate.
The golden rule rules.
The DW is the worker who improves what he does without consulting the boss. Without having to get permission.
It is the worker who screws up and owns up to it and goes on to do a better job the next day, without fear of reprisal,.
If a worker is not performing well, then we find out why and try to do something about it. If there’s nothing that can be done, it is time for change, and not just for the “scapegoat” employee, as in the Hierarchy; if the worker is weak, the team leaders, the team, share the responsibility.
The DW recognizes that 95% of the staff do not need to be controlled.
The DW understands that 5% may need extra training and discipline, for legitimate reasons, not just for willful neglect or incompetence.
The DW expects great things of its staff and provides the resources for that to happen.
The DW is a “cool” place to work; it has a waiting list of applicants, all for the right reasons.
It’s not “dog eat dog,” it’s the dog under your desk.
*I first used – maybe even coined - the term unboss in my 2006 essay, “The Invisible Leader”, about the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

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© Copyright all original text by John Lubans 2014 & 2021