Dunning Kruger becomes melody, in the “Incompetence Opera”

February 15, 2019

This should be worthy of watching, and of future commentary

"The Incompetence Opera" appears to have been a production of the 2017 IgNobel Prize ceremony in 2017. "‘They don’t know that they don’t know!’ Ray Bauwens sings about the Dunning-Kruger effect at the 2017 Ignobel Prizes ceremony in Harvard 2017 (AIR)"
“The Incompetence Opera” appears to have been a production of the 2017 IgNobel Prize ceremony in 2017. “‘They don’t know that they don’t know!’ Ray Bauwens sings about the Dunning-Kruger effect at the 2017 Ignobel Prizes ceremony in Harvard 2017 (AIR)”

Bookmark this video. Sadly, you’ll have much use for it over the next two years.

Tip of the old scrub brush to The Weekly Sift.

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W. Edwards Deming, the Life Diagram

August 23, 2014

In working to make quality common, and valuable, W. Edwards Deming seems to have learned a little about life along the way.

In 1989, he sketched out this diagram.

I think it speaks for itself, but what do you think?

W. Edwards Deming's Life Diagram

W. Edwards Deming’s Life Diagram

Tip of the old scrub brush to Richard Sheridan, from whose Tweet I took the diagram. 

The Deming Cycle for continual improvement

The Deming Cycle for continual improvement

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Remembering Warren Bennis isn’t enough. Read his books! DO what he says!

August 11, 2014

I come back from vacation, and no one tells me Warren Bennis passed on?

Why wasn’t that front page news, in every city with a corporation, a government, or a school?

Warren Bennis, in a publicity photo from the University of Southern California, the last of several academic institutions where he taught, or lead the entire school.

Warren Bennis, in a publicity photo from the University of Southern California, the last of several academic institutions where he taught, or lead the entire school.

We know why. Bennis, who some claim invented the study of leadership in the modern world, is too little read in corporations — and almost never read in government, and probably never read in education leadership.

Try this experiment, you teachers:  As you go back to school this month for the “in service” sessions that challenge your ability to stay awake, ask your principals and administrators what their favorite Warren Bennis book, or idea, is.  If you find one who knows who Warren Bennis was, will you send us that person’s name for a Wall of Honor here?

Bennis wrote too abstractly for many.  He was not one who would have ever thought about writing The One Minute Manager, not because there aren’t some good ideas in that book, but because he wrote to the higher levels of organizational thinking.  (Our good friend Perry W. Buffington used to point out in his lectures that you’d run from the waiting room if you heard your neurosurgeon was reading the One Minute Brain Surgeon.  Bennis would have put it more gracefully, and taken three pages to do it — but a serious reader would understand.)

With all the trouble we have in organizations these days, you’d think Bennis’s work would be on everybody’s bookshelf, and assigned to all incoming interns.

Hey, you MBAs:  What class did you read Bennis in?  Did you read Bennis at all?

Jena McGregor, who spoke with and corresponded with Bennis several times in the last decade, wrote a remembrance in the Washington Post:

Warren Bennis, who died Thursday in Los Angeles at age 89, was once called the “dean of leadership gurus,” a description that unfortunately stuck.

I say “unfortunately” because, for Bennis, there was never any kind of shtick. There was no silver bullet or four-box matrix or slide deck offering an oversimplified how-to guide to leadership. This giant among leadership experts — I take no exception to the “dean” part — was a thinker and an adviser, but not a guru. He wrote and talked about leadership as if the answers were still being shaped, even in his experienced mind.

He was a thoughtful, genuine, and always engaged man whom I came to know in these past eight years as a reporter covering management and leadership.

“I am as leery as anyone of the idea of leaping to conclusions, or making more of evidence than is demonstrably true,” Bennis wrote in his influential 1989 classic, On Becoming a Leader. “To an extent, leadership is like beauty: It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.”

For Bennis, leadership was a personal journey, something individual and introspective that must be learned through life’s experiences. He was a staunch believer that leaders are made not born, formed out of “crucible” moments and struggles that prepare them to lead. As he wrote in On Becoming a Leader — essential reading for anyone — leadership is about self-discovery and self-expression. “Before people can learn to lead, they must learn something about this strange new world.”

It may take me a few days to organize thoughts: Does it matter that he’s gone, if those who most need his work would never read it anyway?

Any guy who can look at a convention of high-paid CEOs and tell them that followers make them what they are, deserves much more than just a second thought.

What do others say?

(Note that the comments above came before news of Dr. Bennis’s death.)

We would expect David Gergen to know Bennis, and his work.

Larry Ferlazzo knows Bennis’s work?  But do Ferlazzo’s bosses know it?  There’s the question.

I once took a survey among teachers, and not one said they thought their principal would fight to defend them; it was a small survey, but it discouraged me from pursuing the question more.

 


Robert Townsend, Up the Organization

October 30, 2012

Web 2.0 asked for recommendations for books on leadership.  I’m sure I swamped them.

One that almost no one today has read should be required reading of every new school principal, and any principal who hasn’t read it yet:  Robert Townsend‘s Up the Organization.  It’s a great book, with very short chapters — each chapter can be consumed within ten minutes.  It’s also loaded with the kind of leadership advice that seems to be beaten out of education “leaders” before they ever get close to a real position of leadership.

I found a blog, LeadingBlog, probably a commercial outlet for a consulting organization, that mentioned the 2007 reissue of the book and carried several pithy quotes from it.  Heck, if most principals practiced just these few points of leadership, their faculties would be astonished.

Up the Organization

Up the Organization

Cover of Robert Townsend’s Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits

Jossey-Bass has released a commemorative edition of Robert Townsend’s (1920-1998) leadership classic, Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits. Originally published in 1970, this candid and provocative book deserves to be re-read every year. Here’s a sample of Townsend’s straightforward and practical advice:

On People: Why spend all that money and time on the selection of people when the people you’ve got are breaking down from under-use. Get to know your people. What they do well, what they enjoy doing, what their weaknesses and strengths are, and what they want and need to get from their job. And then try to create an organization around your people, not jam your people into those organization-chart rectangles.

On Delegation: Many people give lip service, but few delegate authority in important matters. And that means all they delegate is dog-work. A real leader does as much dog-work for his people as he can: he can do it, or see a way to do without it, ten times as fast. And he delegates as many important matters as he can because that creates a climate in which people grow.

On Leadership: True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders. In combat, officers eat last. Most people in big companies today are administered, not led. They are treated as personnel, not people.

On Rewards: Rewarding outstanding performance is important. Much more neglected is the equally important need to make sure that the underachievers don’t get rewarded. This is more painful, so it doesn’t get done very often.

AVISOn Compromise:Compromise is usually bad. It should be a last resort. If two departments or divisions have a problem they can’t solve and it comes up to you, listen to both sides and then, unlike Solomon, pick one or the other. This places solid accountability on the winner to make it work.

Robert Townsend served as the president and chairman of Avis Rent-a-Car from 1962 to 1965 during its celebrated turnaround. You may remember the infamous the “We Try Harder” advertising campaign that helped to transform it into a world-class organization.

See if you can find the book in your school or local library.


Reading for government classes: Obama’s shift in governing philosophy

January 28, 2009

No, Obama didn’t change his mind.  He’s changing the way government does business — putting government on a more solidly-based, business-like model for performance, according to at least one observer.  That’s the shift discussed.

And it’s about time, I say.

Max Stier’s commentary on the Fed Page of the Washington Post quickly lays out the case that Obama’s making big changes.  Copy it for students in your government classes (or history classes, if you’re studying the presidency in any depth).  Stier wrote:

There are some fundamental reasons why our federal government’s operational health has been allowed to steadily deteriorate. It’s hard to change what you don’t measure, and our government operates in an environment with very few meaningful and useful measurements for performance. Perhaps more significantly, it is run by short-term political leadership that has little incentive to focus on long-term issues.

A typical presidential appointee stays in government for roughly two years and is rewarded for crisis management and scoring policy wins. These individuals are highly unlikely to spend significant energy on management issues, when the benefits of such an investment won’t be seen until after they are long gone.

(According to the Post, “Max Stier is president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, a group that seeks to revitalize the federal government.”  I don’t know of him otherwise.)

Political appointees can be good, but too many have not been over the past 25 years.  A bad enough political appointee can frustrate even the most adept, dedicated-to-the-people’s-business career federal service employees, and frustrate the law and good management of agencies.

Let’s wish them all good luck.

Potential questions to follow-up this article in discussions:

  • Constitution: Under the Constitution, who specifically is charged with managing the federal agencies, the “federal bureaucracy?  What is that charge, in the Constitution?
  • Constitution, politics: What is the role of Congress in managing the federal bureaucracy?
  • Evaluating information sources: Do some research on the internet.  Is Max Stier a credible source of information on managing federal agencies?  Why, or why not?  Who provides an opposing view to Stier’s?  Are they credible?  Why or why not?
  • Evaluating information sources: Is the Fed Page of the Washington Post a good source of information about the federal bureaucracy?  (Students may want to investigate columnists and features at this site; the Fed Page was started as a one-page feature of the newspaper in the early 1980s, covering for the public issues that tended to slip through the cracks of other news coverage, but which were very important to the vast army of federal employees and federal policy wonks in Washington.)  What other sources might be expected?  What other sources are there?  (Federal News Radio is another site that focuses on the functions of the federal agencies — Mike Causey started out writing the column on the bureaucracy in the Washington Post; this is an AM radio station dedicated to covering federal functions in the federal city.  Other sources should include National Journal, and Congressional Quarterly, especially if you have those publications in your school library).
  • History, maybe a compare and contrast question: How has the federal bureaucracy changed over time?  Compare the size, scope and people employed by the federal government under the administrations of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, William McKinley, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton.  What trends become clear?  What major changes have occurred (civil service protection, for example)?
  • Analysis: How does the transition process from one president to the next affect federal employees and the operation of government?
  • Analysis: How does the transition of President Barack Obama compare with past transitions — especially that of President Franklin Roosevelt, who also faced a tough economic crisis, or Ronald Reagan, whose transition signalled a major shift in government emphasis and operation?

What other questions did your students find in this article?  Comments are open.


6 ways to tell if your boss is a good one?

November 12, 2007

Oh, if only. The post is advice to women wondering whether they should keep the guy or throw him back, “Six tests to determine if he’s Mr. Right.” *

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see the boss in those situations, too, so you know whether to take the job? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see your principal or department head in these conditions, so you’d know more about what to expect?

We’re generally more careful about long-term romantic relationships than we are about jobs. That may be why marriages — even the bad ones — often last longer than jobs.

It may explain why some jobs last longer than marriages, too. I remember sitting down with people from Southwest Airlines’ People Department once, and hearing them describe Herb Kelleher’s vision of the company: Kids grow up, siblings move away, spouses come and go, but Southwest Airlines will be there for you always.

Even when you’re sick?

Something to think about.

* Yeah, I noticed it’s from a blog called “Suddenly Christian.” He talks about a two-week trip, in a car, cross-country, with a potential mate. The author has at least one foot on the ground.


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