Quick Takes: Spontaneous Order

While looking for resources about spontaneous order, I stumbled upon this quote. I thought it was too good to keep it to myself.

 Is this all so very differentFrom what Lao-Tzu says
In his fifty-seventh poem?:
If I keep from meddling with people
They take care of themselves,
If I keep from commanding people,
They behave themselves,
If I keep from imposing on people,
They become themselves.

Friedrich A. Hayek. Original epilogue to “The Principles of a Liberal Social Order,” delivered at the Tokyo meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, September, 1966.


Source: The Online Library of Liberty

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Mentoring in an MBM Organization

Mentoring is almost always a hot topic in management circles. Most people agree that mentoring is crucial to developing new skills, expanding one’s network, and generally advancing one’s career. This is why so many organizations have developed extensive mentoring programs. Here are the usual hallmarks of a non-MBM® company mentoring program:

  • Centralization: one person (or a group of people) matches employees based on certain factors. Usually it’s impossible to know every important factor to ensure a productive mentoring relationship, but long forms are a typical way to attempt to get the right knowledge.
  • Group-based: Generally mentoring programs group people. Typical groupings of people who are to be mentored include things like “high potential,” “less than 5 years experience,” “women,” or “minorities.” Ironically, mentors tend to be grouped as well. The labels are less obvious, but they include things like “women in leadership positions,” “minorities with more than 10 years of experience,” “people with a title of director or higher.”
  • THE mentor: Usually there’s a bad mental model of one mentor per person. This mentor is supposed to help with all facets of one’s professional career.

From my experience, these type of mentoring programs just do not work. There are too many factors that a centralized program cannot take into account: personalities, individual goals, and logistics. Plus, overly relying on one person to be the subject matter expert for all things career-related is never good idea.

Instead, in MBM we turn to free societies to help us understand general principles we can apply. Here are a few important mental model/concepts from free societies that apply to mentoring:

  • Spontaneous order: Free societies are not centrally planned, but they aren’t chaotic/disordered either. Instead, free societies have institutions (structures) that allow individuals to make decisions based on their local knowledge. An MBM mentoring program cannot be a centralized program. Instead, we have to find ways to set up conditions so that individuals can make good mentoring connections, based on their own personal needs, career goals and personalities. These are the type of mentoring relationships that tend to be the most productive.
  • Individual-Based: Free societies are based on individuals. Individuals are the ones who will know the right things to help set a mentoring relationship up for success. For instance, a person being mentored will know what s/he is trying to learn from the mentor. The mentor will know if s/he is the right person for the job. Often, a sentence or two on a form isn’t enough to capture this type of knowledge. This type of thinking blows away ideas that a particular group “must” be mentors or “must” be mentored.
  • Experimental Discovery: Most people learn by trying out a bunch of different things. This means many of us can benefit from having multiple mentors. They don’t all have to be deep secret-sharing type mentors. It can a short mentoring relationship that allows you to learn a particular skill. It can be as simple as an informal lunch that allows you to learn more about a position you’ve been thinking might be a good fit for you.

What does this look like in a practical sense? In an MBM organization, there are many mentoring relationships. One of the most important is the supervisor-direct report mentoring relationship. Supervisors help direct reports define what they’d like to get from a mentoring relationship and help connect direct reports to someone who may be able to help. HR is a critical partner in this process. HR can help employees make connections to others and support supervisors in their mentoring responsibilities.

What questions do you have about mentoring? What were the conditions that led to the most productive mentoring experiences you’ve had?

Posted in Culture, Free Societies, Leadership, Principles | 1 Comment

For the slow times…

Many of the management blogs I read regularly have started to get those inevitable what-to-do-when-it’s-slow-at-work questions. While December may not be your slow time (especially if you deliver packages for a living!), there are certainly some times throughout the year when work slows down a bit. The standard management advice runs the gambit from working on your personal stuff if there’s nothing else to do to seeing if you can get dismissed from work early. But what do the principles of MBM® suggest?

Let me start with a few items I’m certain the MBM principles DO NOT imply:

  • Busy work: don’t make up work so you can look busy.
  • Idleness: don’t stare off into space or stare at the clock just to be at your workstation for the allotted time.
  • Flash: don’t overdo or be over dramatic about the small tasks you do need to accomplish.

Here a few items I think are implied by MBM:

  • Pull out your RR&E summary document. Use it to ensure you have actually met your expectations.
  • Revisit your team’s vision. Is there an idea you’ve had that could help realize the vision? Now is the time to develop and research the possibilities.
  • Read the Guiding Principle of Value Creation. One way we create value is applying MBM. If you truly don’t have anything more to work on AND you cannot think of an idea that will create value, one option is to study MBM.

Surely these are not the only things implied by the principles of MBM. What else comes to mind when you think about the slow times at work? What MBM principles, mental models, or tools could help us figure out what to do in these situations?

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Economic Thinking

Did a shiver go down your spine when you read the title of this post? For some reason, economics and economic thinking has gotten a bad reputation. Many people just hear the word economics and they have flashbacks to bad ECON101 courses, playing the stock market game in high school, or cramming the night before an exam to memorize how supply and demand graphs move around. For people who don’t understand the basic principles of economics, it seems like a series of abstract semi-math problems.

I’ve always found this to be a bit tragic - not just because I think economics is great, but because many people are very good economists in their day-to-day lives. Fundamentally, economics is about making decisions in a world of scarcity, which involves weighing the costs, benefits and risks of alternatives. If you watch a typical people, they tend to be good (not perfect) about making choices with their own scare resources.

So why does the average person get a chill down their spine when they see the word “economics”? Usually it starts a bad experience with a class, book, or an economist. Then, many people tell me that they are “bad” at economics. Yet, I would wager you could take many of these “bad economists” and put them in a situation where they weigh the costs, benefits and risks of alternatives and pick an alternative that works best for them, they will do well.

So what makes this difficult when we come to work? Besides the fact that the range of alternatives may be much greater within an organization (due to more resources), think about everything you need to understand in order to make a good economic decision:

  • Benefits: In our own personal decisions, we know exactly what the value scale is — I prefer this over that. At work, we have to be well-connected to the vision and values of the organization to have a good grasp on what exactly the benefits are.
  • Costs: Accounting costs are one thing and economic costs are another. When we make decisions in our personal lives, we only have to worry about our opportunity cost (and maybe the costs of a few others around us). At work, because there are so many people who may share in the costs of the decision (like when a team takes on a new project), there are many opportunity costs to consider.
  • Risks: In our own decisions we can judge how much risk we’re willing to take on. At work, we have to align our risk appetite to that of the organization’s.

The good news is that economic thinking comes natural to many of us. The other side of the coin is that economic thinking at work requires us to be intentionally connected and knowledgeable, which can take time and effort.

What have you done in the past to learn more about economic thinking? What are some ways we can practice better economic thinking at work?

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Vision Statement(s)

The purpose of the Vision Dimension is to determine where and how, given our capabilities and available opportunities, the organization can create the most long-term value for customers and society. This is a big purpose – one that requires a good deal of thought and a good grasp on reality. A well-done vision will address the needs of customers, the organization and society while taking into account what the group can achieve.

In case you hadn’t guessed, a vision statement just doesn’t hack it. There is no way a vision statement alone can summarize all the thought, effort, and nuance of a vision. There is no way a vision statement can tell employees everything they need to know in order to make good decisions. There is no way a vision statement can inform our thinking on variety of possible outcomes inherent in every business decision. There is no way a vision statement can help us predict the future.

Vision statements are not intended to be the point of the Vision Dimension. Instead, vision statements are tools intended to support the purpose of the Vision Dimension. Once an organization has a good grasp on its vision — including a reality-based view of their own capabilities and the opportunities — a vision statement summarizes their thinking. When an employee reads a relevant vision statement, it should remind her of how and for whom she creates value. In an ideal world, it will remind her of the pertinent detail and nuance the Vision Development Process discovered. A vision statement that flows out of and supports the purpose of the vision can help employees make decisions because it will remind them of the right things.

So if you read a vision statement and it doesn’t trigger some deeper thought or help you make decisions there are some of possibilities why:

  •  The vision statement isn’t well written.
  • The vision of the organization just doesn’t make a lot of sense. 
  • The vision hasn’t been well communicated. 
  • The vision statement isn’t written for you.

For those of us working in large organizations, there are likely many vision statements that could apply to you. In my role, the vision statement of the larger corporation just isn’t meaningful for what I do day-to-day. Instead, I often refer to the vision statement of the MBM Team (which connects to the larger corporation vision). When I read the vision statement of the MBM Team, I don’t just see a single statement. I read a single statement that causes all sorts of things to flash through my mind.

For instance, one phrase in our vision statement says that we advance MBM by building capability. When I read that, it reminds me of our point of view about how people change, learn, and grow. Also, it helps me make decisions about how I interact with customers. Often, I find myself asking, “Is this going to build capability or is this just doing the work for them?” This phrase causes me to pause and think about the many conversations and the varied research we’ve done about how individuals absorb and apply knowledge.

Sometimes it makes sense to have multiple vision statements. I use the MBM Team vision statement as an overarching approach to my work, but I also have project vision statements when I have a long term project. Most of my role in the past two years has required me to work on long-term projects. A vision statement is incredibly useful for projects that are particularly large, new to the portfolio of projects, or last a long time.

So it’s not about finding or writing THE vision statement. It’s about developing a tool to help communicate, remind, and aid in making decisions. What are some of your experiences with vision statements? Is there a vision statement that works for you and your group? When was the last time your team discussed your team’s vision statement?

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Why bother with theory?

One common misunderstanding about MBM (and about philosophies in general) is that it is a bunch of mental exercises, theory – not practice. So you’re probably not surprised to hear that I often get questions and comments that have an underlying tone which says, “Why even bother with all the theory?” Usually, these come from well-meaning people who are very action oriented (which is a good thing).

Ideas Matter: Movements in History
I believe there is a reason movies like Inception and The Matrix strike a chord with so many people: they are built on the premise that what happens in someone’s mind can be powerful. Moreover, shared ideas have great potential. Think about the major triumphs and failures throughout history: they are all rooted in ideas. For instance, the US was built upon ideas about the proper role of government and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People risked (and lost) much to bring these ideas to fruition.

Point to any number of turning points in history, and they are built upon ideas. From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Arab Spring to the fall of Apartheid, great changes (both positive and negative) can be traced back to ideas. It is a rare thing indeed for humans to rise up and change without a grand idea — a vision of a better state.

Ideas Matter: Everyday Stuff
It can be interesting to look at the big ideas that caused the great shifts of history. However, ideas matter for everyday stuff and everyday people. Mental models (ideas, theories, beliefs, etc.) impact the way we behave and the way we interpret the world around us. Many of our mental models are built subconsciously, so we don’t even know we have them until something happens we can’t explain.

What’s even better is that we can train our brains to learn new mental models and let go of old mental models. Usually the process goes something like this: unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, and unconsciously competent. Think about a skill you’ve learned in the past like riding a bike. Most people fit this general pattern. Until you try riding the bike, you don’t realize how hard it is. Then, you keep trying and practicing until you reach a point where you can ride without training wheels, but it takes concentration. Eventually, you just hop on your bike and ride. Once you hit the last stage (unconsciously competent), you just do it without even thinking.

Why Bother with Theory?
One of the many reasons there are people dedicated to studying, advancing and growing the theoretical side of MBM is because of the unconsciously incompetent stage. Instead of having everyone discover what works best by trail and error, the mental models (theory) in MBM helps to move one toward being unconsciously competent by starting with useful ideas.

For instance, I could try to figure out how to create value. I could go through a trial and error process or just do whatever without a plan. Alternatively, I could turn to a body of thought, like MBM or any number of management philosophies to get me started. It’s still up to me to learn the ideas, practice and apply. In MBM, we have a distinct view of how to develop a vision (the vision development process), which was developed over decades of business experience AND it is consistent with the rest of MBM.

The theory part of MBM should enable better results because it gives us the benefit of learning from decades of business experience. It’s up to each person to practice and use the mental models that are most pertinent to what they do until they become unconsciously competent at applying them.

Sound theory leads to sound actions. Now imagine for second how if shared ideas can change a society for the better what shared mental models can do for an organization.

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Career Development at an MBM organization

Over the past several months I’ve been thinking quite a bit about career development in an MBM organization. There are many different ways an organization can approach career development. You’re probably not surprised that MBM organizations use a general principles approach to career development. Many of the tools that we use regularly can apply to career development. Here are a few thoughts on career development.

  • The Guiding Principle of Fulfillment seems to be a great place to start when considering career development. There are at least three major things to keep in mind. 1. People who create real value are more likely to be fulfilled (as opposed to the idea that happy people produce more). 2. Fulfillment doesn’t mean “happy all the time.” It’s more of a sense of satisfaction or job well done. 3. Notice value creation is at the heart of this principle.
  • Find places that create win-win situations for the company and for employees. The marketplace is constantly changing. Helping employees improve and grow is good for employees as well as the organization.
  • Subjective value: different employees want different things from their careers. We cannot centralize or force-fit people into pre-made career paths. Instead, by working with individuals and treating employees as individuals, each employee will have a unique plan for developing his/her skills and achieving his/her unique career goals.
  • Rarely does training alone help individuals grow. Training has to be coupled with application.
  • There are a variety of tools that you may already be using that can help your employees learn, grow and develop their careers – RR&Es, performance reviews, and compensation reviews are just a couple.

I’ve found that there is no substitute for experience — doing real work. What have you learned about career development? What other general principles may apply?

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Creative Destruction

The MBM(R) Guiding Principle of Change states the expectation that we drive creative destruction. Creative destruction is a phenomenon we observe throughout free societies: new things, processes, ideas are created and the old ones go away or decline. Usually it’s not literal destruction. Instead, things stop being made (or are drastically reduced). You can probably think of any number of products that fall in this category: cassette tapes, horse buggies, typewriters, etc..  

Creative destruction can apply to how we do things and idea as well. For instance, think about how you’d go about applying for a new job today versus 20 years ago. Imagine what it would take to assemble a car in a modern day factory versus in 1950. Think about how much science and medicine has changed.

The key to creative destruction is that the new way of doing something is better than the old way. Creative destruction is not painless. Sometimes jobs are lost or a way of life is altered. Sometimes there are individuals who prefer the old way. Yet, creative destruction is progress. New ideas, new invention and new innovation emerge. In free societies, people are free to pursue the new. Often in free societies, the resources to develop the new things are more readily available. We see more creative destruction in free societies than in less free societies.

Below are two videos that can help put some context around the bigger picture of creative destruction out in society. How can we bring this idea into our day-to-day jobs? What are some things we can do or questions we can ask to help push us toward driving creative destruction?

I, Pencil: The Movie

I, Pencil Extended Commentary: Creative Destruction

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Economic Freedom

Earlier this week the latest Economic Freedom of the World report was released. The US stayed in the same general area (at 17th) as last year, but compared to a decade ago (6th in 2003), there’s been a decline.

Below is a long video of one of the authors of the Economic Freedom of the World report giving a more in depth explanation of the report. He frames his lecture by comparing some of Adam Smith’s and Karl Marx’s ideas. If you have the time (the clip is longer than an hour) and want to learn more about economic freedom, this is the clip for you.

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Data, Knowledge and the America’s Cup

Thanks to David for passing along this great video about the technology used in the America’s Cup. While the technology itself is pretty neat, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between data and knowledge. These folks found a way to take data and turn it into something useful.

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