Friday, February 26, 2010

Tom & Jerry: An Ode to Today's Organizations

It is only once in a rare while that you come across articles that resonate with you and your values, put hope in your heart, a smile on your face and positive thoughts in your mind. On the particular topic of organizations and business, the last time I remember feeling this way was when I read an article by Peter Senge. I hung on to every word. This article by Gary Hamel gives me a sense of deja vu - of hanging on to every word and indulging in a musical chord-striking experience or whatever. Thanks to @rajwaghray for leading me to this article via his blog post. I am going to do what Raj has done, put out some extracts of the article here because I am so fascinated by it. 

Here’s an experiment for you. Pull together your company’s latest annual report, its mission statement, and your CEOs last few blog posts. Read through these documents and note the key phrases. Make a list of oft-repeated words. Now do a little content analysis. What are the goals and ideas that get a lot of airtime in your company? It’s probably notions like superiority, advantage, leadership, differentiation, value, focus, discipline, accountability, and efficiency. Nothing wrong with this, but do these goals quicken your pulse? Do they speak to your heart? Are they “good” in any cosmic sense?
Now think about Michelangelo, Galileo, Jefferson, Gandhi, William Wilberforce. Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. What were the ideals that inspired these individuals to acts of greatness? Was it anything on your list of commercial values? Probably not. Remarkable contributions are typically spawned by a passionate commitment to transcendent values such as beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.
.........A noble purpose inspires sacrifice, stimulates innovation and encourages perseverance. In so doing, it transforms great talent into exceptional accomplishment. That’s a fact—and it leaves me wondering: Why are words like “love,” “devotion” and “honor” so seldom heard within the halls of corporate-dom? Why are the ideals that matter most to human beings the ones that are most notably absent in managerial discourse?
...........The next time you’re stuck in a corporate staff meeting, wait until everyone’s eyes have begun to glaze over from PowerPoint fatigue and then get up and announce that what your company really needs is a lot more luuuuuv. When addressing a large group of managers, I often challenge them to stand up for love (or beauty or justice or truth) in just this way. “When you get back to work, tell your boss your company has a love deficit.” This suggestions invariably provokes a wave of nervous laughter, which has always struck me as a bit strange. Why is it that managers are so willing to acknowledge the idea of a company dedicated to timeless human values and yet so unwilling to become practical advocates for those values within their own organizations? I have a hunch. I think corporate life is so manifestly inhuman—so mechanical, mundane and materialistic—that any attempt to inject a spiritual note into the overtly secular proceedings just feels wildly out of place—the workplace equivalent of reading a Bible in a brothel.
............Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist, held a similar view, which he expressed forcefully in “Man’s Search for Meaning:” “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended consequence of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself . . .."
So, dear reader, a couple of questions for you: Why do you believe the language of beauty, love, justice and service is so notably absent in the corporate realm? And what would you do to remedy that fact?

My immediate response to Gary's post went something like this:

I relished this article. Thanks so much for such a wonderful post. It also reminds me of some of Peter Senge's wonderful thoughts. I wish more people like you would instill such values in the corporate world. Well, I am no expert in collective human behaviour but I guess it all boils down to the fact that there will always be a set of people who listen to their minds and bodies rather than their souls and also the fact that many of us have been conditioned gradually since ages to focus on money/profits/efficiency etc. Like some of the comments indicate, most senior managers with a severe focus on profits would ask you to cut the article short or just go back to work and stop being so impractical and idealistic. *wry smile* It is up to the small set of people who listen to their souls to do whatever they can to make a difference and then leave the rest to nature! :-|

Another thing is that people are ruled by fear. Fear of not making enough money to indulge in their silly needs. If they don't toe the line and bring in the moolah, they are not going to get their monthly paycheck. They need to be appreciated and recognized as someone who toes the line and accomplishes the goal in order to survive and thrive. So why unnecessarily take the trouble to think of and advocate things that don't fit in? Just keep running in the said direction becomes the motto.


Additionally, there's one another - to my mind - related story that I want to share. It's an interesting coincidence that this happened just a few hours after I read Gary's post. When I went back home and the door was opened to let me in (by a person who was perhaps muttering 'Why Me?') I froze on my tracks and did not even take the trouble to put down my heavy laptop bag, for in front of me was something delightful - A rollicking episode of Tom and Jerry on TV. Now, being a person who does not watch a lot of TV and for some crazy reason it having been ages since I had watched Tom and Jerry, this was like Manna from Heaven. I picked up a yummy-looking bun that was lying nearby (without caring about who it was actually meant for) and plunked into the sofa to munch on and roar with laughter at Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse (Just making sure you got the names right). Now, catch this and see it in juxtaposition with Gary's article. Shut the jaw. You'll see what I mean. 

Tom exhibits extreme laziness and does not care to bring Jerry's naughtiness to a halt, much to the chagrin of the house lady. So, the house lady decides to order for a cat-machine (that looks exactly like a cat) whose vendors claim that it can catch mice come what may. Stop me if you've already seen this episode. So...the cat-machine with no soul arrives. It knows just one thing - its only goal is to catch any mice that may be around. The cat-machine is extraordinarily innovative in its methods and seems to know a way out of every difficulty. 

But Jerry gets smart a little later and introduces plenty of mechanical mice (mice-machines) into the house in order to fight the cat-machine. The cat-machine now has many mice to catch and goes about maniacally and ends up destroying the house in order to trap all the mice! Jerry watches on in glee while Tom watches in bewilderment from outside (he gets sent off after the arrival of the cat-machine). And then the lady of the house realizes her folly and decides to call Tom back. Meanwhile, ironically, our cat-machine ends up almost destroying itself as well in its relentless, err, shall we say, rat race? ;-) The one last piece of machine that perhaps represents the mouse sensor in the cat-machine is all that remains and it accidentally slips into Tom's throat! Even as the house lady tells Tom to go about things in his own way and that she wants peace and quiet in the house, Tom starts behaving like the cat-machine because of the mouse-sensor in his tummy! The episode ends as Tom speeds toward Jerry in a cat-machine-like manner and the house lady screams in exasperation. 

Now, this, to my mind, is a very metaphorical example (no soul, rat race, human-machines, destruction and what not!) of the situation in today's organizations as explained by Gary. Let's just hope that we don't fully replicate the Tom and Jerry episode and realize, before it is too late, that there is in us - especially as a member in a ruthless commercial organization - an artificial and mechanical object that needs to be removed. I don't believe this is a case of adding an ingredient to ourselves. I dare say it is a pure case of removing from our minds, a foreign ingredient that is beginning to condition our souls!


Yayaver said...

TOm and Jerry was nice interpreation and that article was written by an idealist only. People want to be practical in life and these hollow words of "leadership, differentiation, value, focus, discipline, accountability.." just make me sick. Corporate offices are most boring place on th earth. And people who leads seek work as passion and love, while others just follow them. Self sustainability is most difficult thing to pratice. Work where the heart lies but you need money first to pursue your goal. Nimmy, you are a senior level employee, can you tell us how do you groom leaders and learners ?

Nimmy said...

Thanks, Yayaver. Well, I guess some of these words may sound silly but only when coming from people who are not really sincere and passionate. Else, they can inspire.
Well, if you ask me how I groom juniors who work with me, I'd say I don't think I do anything focused as such - I generally go about my work in a passionate and determined manner and simply hope that my behaviour is exemplary. I do try to pass on my excitement about work whenever I find the right opportunity or speak words of hope, positivity and optimism when required. I also like to pass on good things via quotes and articles that are influential. I become very conscious about my own behaviour and attitude and ensure that I don't set any bad examples. I guess that's about it. All said and done, you can't really change others just like that. You have to be so good that others are subconsciously influenced to follow you and be inspired by you. :-)

Yayaver said...

Thanks Nimmy for telling your way of doing things. I am at the bottom level of ladder in my company. Thats why I asked tis question. Inspiration works in a unconscious way. That is the way I feel. But the introspection part is quite needed. Nimmy, you are absolutely true that meaning of words changes when one integrate it with action. The hypocrite nature is just extension of multi layered personalities in the same person. Knowledge sharing and moral boosting is quite most important for me to groom leaders . Words like accoutability, integrity and honesty holds value in evaluation of person at personal level. But Corporate companies more focus on formalities and yet want to people share their honest ffedback in a emotion lesss cold environment.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, your idea it is brilliant