CREEPING CORPORATE ENTROPY

Entropy is a thermodynamics principle that is a measure of the energy that is not available for work during a thermodynamic process. A closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy. More broadly, entropy says that things tend to move from orderliness to disorderliness.

Entropy rings equally true when translated to a cultural context. Left to themselves, things tend to move from order to disorder. If you don’t believe me, just look in your car’s back seat, your office, your refrigerator, your garage, or your nearest teenager’s bedroom. Entropy is something that we combat daily . . . or we fail to combat it and thus succumb to it.

When we look at organizational development dynamics, we often see what I like to call creeping corporate entropy. That is when entropy is affecting groups of people, organizations, or companies. What makes creeping corporate entropy so much more invasive and persistent is the simple fact that you literally have more moving parts (called people). The pervasiveness, individuality, unpredictability, and volatility of those parts render the organization vulnerable to being less effective at combatting entropy.

One of the many negative technological effects of creeping corporate entropy is that the entire organization will experience a degradation of its technical capabilities. Garrett M. Graff writing for Bloomberg Businessweek gives us a prime example of this from the nation’s presidency (“Trump Force One” 3/20/17–3/26/17, pp. 48–53):

On [September 11, 2001], aboard Air Force One, President George W. Bush was repeatedly frustrated by antiquated communications systems. At times he was less informed than the average CNN viewer, as the plane then had no access to satellite TV. Afterward, his administration undertook a wide-ranging effort to upgrade the president’s in-flight capabilities.” (p. 51)

That sad, surprising, and slightly humorous example reminds us that if we want our people and our organizations to be on the cutting edge, then creeping corporate entropy is something we can never ignore . . . on any level. The default setting of creeping corporate entropy is to win.

We have work to do.

LET THE FACTS DO THEIR JOB

Candace King Weir and Amelia Weir are a mother-daughter team that own Paradigm Micro Cap, a mutual fund specializing in small companies. The Albany, New York, mutual fund manages $800 million for its clients. Paradigm Micro Cap is one of the few mutual funds operated by women. Currently, women operate about 10% of all mutual funds.

That fact is not lost on the Weirs. They have routinely encountered stereotypes and misperceptions by some people. Amelia Weir acknowledges that reality yet she moves beyond it with a mitigation strategy (Bodnar, Janet. “All in the Fund Family” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. December 2016, p. 21):

People sometimes make amazing assumptions. For example, they often assume that Candace inherited the business from her father or husband. But you don’t take offense. If you’re not going to see eye to eye, you just move on. In this business, you stand on your credibility. If your ideas are good, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman.

She expresses a truth that I have observed repeatedly. First, people do make assumptions and second, you don’t have to let those assumptions stop you from doing your job. In short: let the facts speak for themselves. As the Weir team has simply handled business professionally and proficiently, Paradigm Micro Cap has demonstrated its worth to its customers. The facts speak for themselves.

The next time someone stereotypes you or makes blatant assumptions about you, don’t take it personally. Be gracious, move forward, do your job professionally and proficiently. Let the facts speak for themselves . . . they always do.

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM MARK ZUCKERBERG—PART FOUR

In late 2016 Fortune announced the conferring of “Businessperson of the Year” title upon Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Related to that, Adam Lashinsky wrote a fascinating article on what we can learn from Zuckerberg’s leadership and management style. A few key ideas jumped out to me. Here, Zuckerberg describes an empowering Facebook-improvement feature that is driven directly by the organization’s size (“How to Lead Like Zuck” Fortune. December 1, 2016, pp. 66–72):

‘At any given point in time, there’s not just one version of Facebook running in the world. There’re probably tens of thousands of versions running because engineers here have the power to try out an idea and ship it to maybe 10,000 people or 100,000 people. And then they get a readout.’” (p. 72)

This practice demonstrates two key leadership qualities from which every leader can benefit:

  • Capitalize On Your Company’s Characteristics. If not for the sheer size of Facebook with its nearly two billion users, these sorts of endeavors would be impossible. However, Zuckerberg is choosing to capitalize on one of his company’s key characteristics (in this case, size). He leverages that by creating an accelerated mechanism that generates new insights about how he can best serve his users. Your organization may not be a billion-customer behemoth. Nevertheless, you can identify the key characteristics of your company and leverage accordingly.
  • Be Willing To Experiment. An astute leader never assumes that everything is perfect. Instead, the astute leader searches for ways to experiment with new concepts, strategies, procedures, products, and services. Do you have something that you would like to change in your organization but you are not sure it will work? Develop a plan to beta test it. Many of the best practices in business today had their genesis in the beta test. Look at it this way: knowledge and insights can come even from failed experiments.

Do you want to improve your leadership? Adopt these two approaches and enjoy the benefits.

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM MARK ZUCKERBERG—PART THREE

In late 2016 Fortune announced the conferring of “Businessperson of the Year” title upon Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Related to that, Adam Lashinsky wrote a fascinating article on what we can learn from Zuckerberg’s leadership and management style. A few key ideas jumped out to me. Here is one of them from the article (“How to Lead Like Zuck” Fortune. December 1, 2016, pp. 66–72):

One of Facebook’s key business innovations is a ‘growth team’—today made up of hundreds of people—that designs tactics for various parts of the company, relying on a rigorous set of metrics to gauge success. The unit has broad latitude to weigh in on any aspect of Facebook’s business. . . . [Venture capitalist and former Facebook top product executive Mike] Vernal affirms ‘The team owns no single product. Instead, it owns any issue that is preventing people from signing up for or using Facebook.’” (p. 71)

The fact that Zuckerberg has chosen to put this growth team into place demonstrates several aspects of being a quality leader:

  • Fresh Perspective. Quality leadership recognizes that good ideas can originate from anyone anywhere. It is not addicted to the NIHS (Not-Invented-Here Syndrome). Quality leadership craves that fresh perspective that intrinsically arises from elsewhere. By virtue of having a growth team in place, a constant invitation exists for critique and input. I don’t know of any leadership situation that could not benefit from this.
  • Stop The Bleeding. Sometimes an entrenched department or team can become so engrossed in its own world that it cannot see the real problem. That outside growth team has the ability to come in and metaphorically speaking apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding. It is this lifesaving intervention that then enables the group to regroup forces and move forward with a renewed focus and energy.
  • Diversity Of Idea Generation. Diversity of idea generation leads to superior solutions. Chances are that the growth team is diverse and adds an element of diversity to the immediate problem solving situation. That diversity ensures a better solution than what would have been arrived at without that diverse perspective.
  • Refocus On The Mission. The growth team owns any issue that prevents people from signing up for or using Facebook. Sometimes a leader must rearticulate the bottom line mission of the organization. Why are we here? What are we trying to accomplish? What are the barriers to our progress? How can we overcome them? A quality leader will constantly reinforce the organization’s mission, the raison d’etre, the ultimate vision, and thus inspire the team to move on to success.

Do you want to be a quality leader? Infuse your leadership approach with these four points and watch them work.

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM MARK ZUCKERBERG—PART TWO

In late 2016 Fortune announced the conferring of “Businessperson of the Year” title upon Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Related to that, Adam Lashinsky wrote a fascinating article on what we can learn from Zuckerberg’s leadership and management style. A few key ideas jumped out to me. Here is one of them from the article (“How to Lead Like Zuck” Fortune. December 1, 2016, pp. 66–72):

Ideas typically do not just come to you. They happen because you’ve been talking about something or thinking about something and talking to a lot of people about it for a long period of time.” (p. 70)

Haven’t we all had the embarrassing experience of thinking we have a brilliant idea . . . until the moment we begin to verbalize it? Upon verbalizing it, we suddenly realize how stupid it is. Well, that process works positively just as much as it works negatively. The more you can talk about your idea, the more you can crystallize your thinking and design. That is why we need to keep talking!

Do we all occasionally have those stroke-of-genius moments when our best ideas come to us alone? Of course we do. However, by and large, my best ideas have come to me when I have had the chance to collaborate, consult, and dialog with other people. Therefore, in a sense, my best ideas truly are not my ideas as much as they are our ideas. That is what Zuckerberg is saying.

The more you have the opportunity to kick your ideas around with other people, the better. It gives you the chance to hear yourself think and it opens the door to instant diverse viewpoints, many of which you never would have arrived at on your own.

Are you developing a brilliant idea? Just keep talking!