Profoundly important things I noticed this week:
- When did people start using “concept” as a verb? For example, an employer’s description of a marketing position said the ideal candidate would be someone who “will fully concept ideas.” The English language is over. We’re just living in the fully concepted linguistic dystopia that came after English collapsed.
- There was a time in the past when the NFL’s Pro Bowl didn’t look like a poorly organized flag football game played in front of fewer fans than would attend an average regular-season high school game in Texas. Even worse, ESPN’s broadcast this year was apparently sponsored by every law firm that has won a recent class-action settlement against a major pharmaceutical company. So, basically, the NFL thinks people want to watch a farcical simulation of football repeatedly interrupted by the words CANCER, AMPUTATION, and PREMATURE DEATH. This is the kind of savvy brand-marketing strategy that’s sure to make the TV ratings go back up.
- Leadership expert Bill George of Harvard Business School wrote about “Why It Is So Hard to Be an Authentic Leader.” What he says might be alright as far as it goes, but he overlooks the fundamental problem. To be an authentic leader, you need to be an authentic person first. Many people seem to rise to leadership positions after skipping the initial part of the process.
- A recent study found that morning people are not only happier but also less likely to experience mental illness. I have a message for those perky, chirpy, positive-thinking morning people: (1) You spend a lot of time unconscious while we’re still awake. (2) We’re mentally unstable. Pleasant dreams.
- “The seven most expensive words in business: ‘We have always done it that way,” writes Travis Bradberry, who promotes himself as an expert on emotional intelligence. I say the seven most expensive words in business are: “Let’s hire consultants to change things.”
- A polar vortex vorticized its way through the United States this week, thereby destroying life as we know it, if media hype was to be taken seriously. I checked my journal for the last time a polar vortex combined with snow to destroy civilization. My entry said, “And on the day after The Blizzard That Ate The World, the sun rose over the frozen carcass of civilization as I stood on my front porch wondering which neighbor I should eat first.”
- A few years later, advances in research indicate that the optimal survival strategy would be to wait until the morning people go to bed early full of optimism about tomorrow being a better day and then eat them first.
- A meme has been going around LinkedIn: “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” The people promoting this meme must be negative thinkers who don’t appreciate the genius of this approach to leadership. Such leaders have obviously learned the “Top 10 Leadership Secrets of Highly Self-Important Executives.” Secret #4 states, “To reduce the risk of having to explain the negative outcomes of poor decisions, surround yourself with people who are afraid to tell you the truth.” This principle is closely related to Secret #7: “The best way to increase diversity is by hiring more conformists.” Leaders who rise to the highest levels of organizations have learned how to promote the free flow of uniform thinking.
- It’s important to understand the deep psychological motivations of leaders who surround themselves with people who have nothing disagreeable to say. The people who don’t agree with a transformative leader are by definition too negative and afraid of change to be part of the solution for the dysfunctional cultural transformation the leader wants to achieve. I once held a position in which important people occasionally copied me into email threads among senior executives. That experience gave me valuable insights into the decision-making process of transformative leaders. The threads went like this:
CEO: I have a vague idea that’s misinformed, misguided, and impractical.
Senior Vice President #1: That’s a brilliant addition to our strategic vision!
SVP #2: This new strategic concept is so awesome my department needs a larger budget to implement it, which means I’ll need a more important-sounding title to direct it. Also, we need to absorb SVP #1’s group to achieve the goal of being 10% more efficient, which was the vague idea you had at last month’s leadership meeting.
Chief Marketing Officer: I’ll have my group get to work designing a deck of PowerPoint slides with impressive graphics to fully concept this idea into colorful arrows pointing toward the new future state, which will increase employee engagement with your brilliant leadership.
SVP #3: You should post that idea on LinkedIn so people will recognize your thought leadership.
CEO: Great. Someone tell the word guy to turn this idea into compelling content that will engage our key stakeholders and reinforce our brand strategy by positioning our organization as an industry thought leader.
Me the Word Guy: [Bonks head on desk in despair.]
- According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 55% of executives believe their organizations lack the necessary skills to lead digital transformation. I don’t think the competence of their “organizations” is the primary problem. According to my experience (backed up by widely available public evidence of executive behavior in the world), a lot of executives lack the necessary skills to lead their organizations in any kind of visionary transformation, much less a concept as vague as “digital transformation.” A few years ago, the CEO of GE attracted positive media coverage by boasting that his visionary leadership had turned the big old traditional transnational corporation into a 124-year-old startup. By 2017 the great transformative leader had been fired for damaging GE’s value and reports said the company was “seeking to identify how even GE’s board was unaware of how deep problems ran beneath [the CEO’s] veneer of confidence.” When they start replacing some of the executives with digitally transformed artificial intelligence, we’ll know they’re serious about fully concepting transformative change.
- “The Case for Decluttering as a Form of Marriage Therapy”: Maybe there’s a case to be made for it, but I’m still not getting rid of my comic book collection. Then again, how much is a Black Panther #1 in good condition going for these days? I invested in T’Challa decades before Marvel Studies fully concepted him into a movie star.