Sunday, June 2, 2013

Died on TV

In Tiananmen Square, a young girl died and became the affixation that television screens carried to global audiences in 1989. After more than 2 decades, that upsurge of anger is still running its course. Turkey rises today, in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring; and the scene of action has shifted to social media screens. Not in the distant past, a lady called Nirbhaya (fearless) got people protesting across India, especially in Delhi. Comfortably, numb, social media enables the gush of dissent and the clean swipe of memory loss follows effortlessly, navigating our neural pathways with an accurate mirror effect of our take on life. This conceptually new phenomenon of the aborted superstar cannot as easily be messaged on the medium that constructs the identity.

Too many lives end on TV. It is in similar vein, that leadership, management, and corporate development efforts rise and fall to the laws of the market of ‘eyeballs’. Actions precede embodied thought, and the waste of human energy a curse that passes unseen from the conscience that we admittedly summon in times of crises. In such a phenomenon, the language of ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’ seem framed in a truncated premise, that evades the real issues of the organisation as an open system.

I was recently sent a business quotation request, from one the world’s forerunners in automation, to bid for a process for a multi-year business plan ‘training’ opportunity. It was presumably for their captive Information Technology Systems teams. Automated all right, but, where’s the mind of the worker, I thought? Business plan and training?

In school, a transferred epithet, was a figure of speech. Today, the object of transfer is information of fleeting value. With mindless anxiety reduction, the narrative of the economic system is of market capital and the epithet is power through material acquisition. The workplace that keeps the worker awake for most hours in a day / night, no longer holds the perimeter of conscious living. Heartless procurement officers deal with nuts, bolts, paper, human resource and marketing agencies with the same temperament, to ‘standardise’ business process. 

In another business interaction, the business leader wanted a leverage, that was too easy to imitate according to him. He showed the Board how he cut costs in several areas, including in HR processes like dealing with manpower suppliers. When it came to courage to take on development of his business teams’ ideas to a credible implementation, he tried a repeat of 'cost' reduction. Neither would the service provider (read consultant) relent for having facilitated the new insights for the business, nor would the business leader be able to proceed with the plans his teams creatively brought up. That plan died  too. No shoe fits all feet, especially the one on our own feet. 

Here are some tell-tale signs of the system being out of synch with the genuine potential of the people who reside in it.
1.       At water-cooler or coffee-table conversations, co-workers talk more of the latest film, music or sports event. At times, it is about the gadgets that fit in palms. In seasons of corporate mood, it is about a new CEO, a new leader appointed or the gossip around an unexpected employee resignation. A new business idea or improvement on existing process will conveniently elude the aroma at the table.
2.       At business meetings, employees rationalize to the extent that previous meetings plans seemed archaic enough to justify new ones garnished by the latest social gossip or online access. Omission steals into routine as a commission of default natural consequence.
3.       Delays in decisions are propounded in the name of requisite (democratic) consultation. The decision itself is based on an idea that never came up as insight from the employees’ own efforts, but from the analysis or inference of an external consultant. Personal turf finds new encroachments if the threat of invasion is already not perceived. Neither clarity of the premises of the decision, nor of the reason to commit to the implications of the insight find room in the long-drawn consultation process.
4.       Famous eating and beverage hang-outs attract colleagues and ex-colleagues to new possibilities across the city. Not having found their Alma-mater cosy enough to nudge expression, they ask for double-shots in the caffeine as they conjure up pages of the Dumbledore in them.
5.       Bookstores across the city reorient their shelves, if not pull down their shutters altogether, for want of discerning clientele. Reading in long-form is considered a luxury. Linguistically decrepit emails, lifeless spread-sheets of data, and  E-learning via SMS replace the papyrus in the name of the environment.

Well, I could perhaps go on, to describe, the decadence of thought and the intellect in our civilisation. The ascent of colour and sound via the internet is not the object of my critique though. It is the pathos of the worker escaping the richness and wealth of his/her inner resourcefulness that makes the above a commentary of our times. The desultory rant of a moral brigade sounds strikingly similar to the pleas for innocence from the accused.

The defenceless and powerless gait of the disempowered and confused is not an accident in the corporation’s evolution. It is the cop-out of our times, that gets socialised ad nauseam, thanks to the information blitzkrieg on contemporary media. So what if an old leader returns. So what if a new leader arrives. The concept of the ‘leader’ as we knew it is also dead. Going undercover with television cameras to play the ‘hero’ leader is also passé. As Peter Senge puts it “Realizing desired results in a global society requires both learning and leadership, but above all it involves collective creating”. 

Leadership is a new sport. It is a capacity distributed inimitably and to be understood differently in the effective enterprise. And old media has yet to learn the skills to ‘cover it’. For the current debate is as Gabriele Lakomski states it : Functionally adequate but causally idle: w(h)ither distributed leadership? 

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