We need to stress that personal integrity is as important as executive skill in business dealings….Setting an example from the top has a ripple effect throughout a business school or a corporation. After nearly three decades in business, 10 years as chief executive of a Big Eight accounting firm, I have learned that the standards set at the top filter throughout a company….[Quoting Professor Thomas Dunfee of the Wharton School:] ‘ A company that fails to take steps to produce a climate conducive to positive work-related ethical attitudes may create a vacuum in which employees so predisposed may foster a frontier-style, everyone for themselves mentality.’ ”

— Russell E. Palmer

via http://www.leadershipnow.com/integrityquotes.html


Leading ethically (thoughts provoked by the movie “Lincoln”)


I found “Lincoln” to be a great movie indeed.  Of all the US Presidents, Lincoln is probably the best known and admired by non-Americans (with the possible exception of Obama).

There is a scene in the movie where Daniel Day-Lewis says (something like):

I am the President of the United States, clothed in great power.  You will procure me those votes!

This is done through Lincoln insisting his inner-circle “procure” the ~20 votes he is short of getting the 13th Amendment (Abolition of Slavery) passed, after it had been defeated at a previous vote in Congress.  He was of course seeking to pass this Amendment during the Civil War when some Northern “doves” wanted to avoid offending the South (with the Abolition amendment) and so dissuading the latter from suing for peace…

His demand made me wonder whether by “stooping to buy votes”  Abe was unethical.

A visit to Wikipedia to check on descriptions of ethics revealed to me the three broad ethical “standards” of virtue, duty and consequences.  By all three I cannot fault what this courageous President did.  I must confess that I was comforted that he HAD acted ethically.

I am saddened that I dare not apply similar standards to many leaders in our times.  The answers would be heart-wrenching.  Perhaps better to “play ostrich”, then…

The only problem with that approach is then we get the leaders we deserve!

Coordination – Connecting – Protecting: Eureka!

I have become a big fan of Dave Snowden’s work (not the guy currently sitting in the Moscow airport; he’s the upstart, Johnny-come-lately Snowden).  A senior client first told me about Cynefin about six years ago…I’ve been hooked since then.

Here it is again in all its startling beauty!


It reminds us that not all situations we encounter are “Simple”; if they were Best Practice is king and “big data” has all the answers!  But we know it is not so.  Things are often “complicated”.  That’s where your experts and MBA’s can save the day…here analysis is tops!

We all of course know things can get “chaotic”.  Here every disaster and debacle shows off its novel nature.  Here an action response is called for (with a very brief pause for sensing in between).

But wait.  I’ve left out the “Complex” domain.  This is where the wonderful/scary phenomenon of emergence happens.  This is where wise folks don’t rush in, seeking rapid resolution.  They know they need to be much more reticent/respectful/reserved.  Dave Snowden counsels them to then proceed as follows: PROBE -then- SENSE -then- RESPOND.

I have recently seen the following extension of the Cynefin framework from Verna Allee and her associates.  It’s a good thought-provoker:

It has a tetrahedron in each “quadrant” with differing amounts of solid and dashed lines.  It then goes to show how the role of hierarchy declines, and networks increases, as one proceeds from Simple to Complicated, etc.

Notice it does not say hierarchy is defunct.  It states where hierarchy is best used and where its application becomes problematic.

That reminds me of Elliott Jaques Requisite Organisation, or stratified systems theory as it was called earlier.  I have written about it here and here before.  His associates and colleagues have wonderfully extended his work and so made it even more accessible.  I have shown examples of the latter’s efforts before.  I’ll do so again here and then attempt to link it to Verna and her team’s insights!

Here is that awesome schema from BIOSS with Hoebeke influences:

These seven levels (“themed”, and not numbered, from Quality to Corporate Prescience) correspond to Jaques’ seven strata (or levels-of-work).  The three Hoebeke overlayed “ovals”…

  1. Added value for the present
  2. Added value for the future
  3. Value systems

correspond quite closely, in my view, with Snowden’s domains described as:

  1. Simple
  2. Complicated
  3. Complex

So I agree with Verna & team that hierarchy has a central role in organisational life where ORDER prevails.  With the onset of UNORDER (complexity & chaos), networks are the way to go.

BUT HERE’S THE POINT.  Not everyone in the organisation needs to be “networked”.  This fluid/dynamic/ambiguous networking role is played by a relatively small percentage of the organisation’s inhabitants.  The majority of its inhabitants are largely insulated from this frenzied turmoil (or ought to be if the “leaders” are doing their “boundary management” job sufficiently).

Here’s to these sentinels!

More anon.

Complexity economics is … a different way of thinking about the economy. It sees the economy not as a system in equilibrium but as one in motion, perpetually “computing” itself—perpetually constructing itself anew. Where equilibrium economics emphasizes order, determinacy, deduction, and stasis, this new framework emphasizes contingency, indeterminacy, sense-making, and openness to change. There is another way to say this. Until now, economics has been a noun-based rather than verb-based science. It has pictured changes over time in the economy function as changes in levels of fixed noun-entities—employment, production, consumption, prices. Now it is shifting toward seeing these changes as a series of verb-actions—forecast, respond, innovate, replace—that cause further actions.

– W. Brian Arthur