(3 points for every correct answer; 1 point for every bonus question.)


    1. This neighborhood of Niagara Falls became an infamous superfund site in the 1970s – the first time in US history that emergency funds were used for something other than a natural disaster. The health of hundreds of its citizen were adversely affected (including miscarriages, birth defects, and symptoms associated with leukemia) when the 22,000 barrels of toxic waste disposed by the Hooker Chemical Company (now Occidental Petroleum) were compromised during the construction of local schools.


    1. This Swiss-based company was the target of an international boycott in the late 1970s for their “aggressive marketing” of breast milk substitutes to the poor in less economically developed countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, as many as 1.5 million child deaths could be prevented each year worldwide through improved breastfeeding practices and a reduction in the use of infant formulas.[1]

    Bonus: Name any one of several other controversies this company has been involved in.


    1. This aerospace contractor (along with NASA) ignored warnings from its own engineers that the O-rings it had designed for the Space Shuttle “Challenger” performed poorly at low temperatures. The shuttle exploded shortly after launch on brisk January day in 1986, killing all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher from New Hampshire.

    Bonus: One of those engineers, Bob Ebeling, recalled telling his daughter what, on the day of the launch.


    1. In December of 1984, the leakage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from one of this company’s plants in Bhopal, India led to what is still considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. Estimates vary, but 2,259 to 3,787 people are believed to have been killed immediately, and approximately 20,000 deaths are thought to have resulted in total. It is further estimated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 3900 severely and permanently debilitating injuries.

    Bonus question: MIC is used as an intermediate in the production of what?


    1. With $63.4 billion in assets, the bankruptcy of this Texas-based American energy company in the 1990s was, at the time, the largest in US history, as well as the biggest audit failure. At least 20,000 people lost their jobs when this company collapsed. Its downfall also led to the demise of Arthur Anderson, one of the five largest audit and accountancy partnerships in the world, resulting in the loss of another 113,000 jobs worldwide.

    Bonus questions: What did this company’s bankruptcy result in the eventual passing of in July 2002, and what was the unofficial nickname given to its logo following the scandal?





    1. Love Canal. In 1953, Hooker Chemical had sold the property to the Niagara Falls School Board – and clauses were inserted in the contract which the company believed both (1) absolved them from any and all future lawsuits that might arise because of the site, and (2) transferred all responsibility for maintaining the site to the school board. Ultimately, the federal government relocated more than 800 families and reimbursed them for the loss of their homes. According to an article in USAToday in 2013, the cite may still be leaking chemicals today.[2]

    Give yourself 1 bonus point if you recognized the iconic photo shown above was taken at that site.


    1. Nestle – The boycott in the US was suspended in 1984 after Nestle agreed to follow an international marketing code endorsed by the WHO. However, in May 2011, the debate over Nestlé’s unethical marketing of infant formula was re-launched in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Bonus answers (any one of the following): Chocolate price fixing, utilizing child labor, making false or exaggerated packaging claims, and drawing water in California with an expired permit.


    1. Morton-Thiokol or Thiokol (now part of Orbital ATK)

    Bonus answer: Ebeling (pronounced EBB-ling)—who left the engineering profession entirely following the disaster—remembers telling his daughter on that fateful day: “The Challenger is going to blow up. Everyone’s going to die.”[3] It has been said that he never fully recovered after the accident. On the 30th anniversary of the disaster, he furthermore told Howard Berkes of NPR: “I think this was one of the mistakes that God made. He shouldn’t have picked me for that job. I don’t know, but next time I talk to him, I’m going to ask him, ‘Why? You picked a loser.’”


    1. Union Carbide. The cause of the disaster is still a matter of debate – the Indian government and local activists argue it was slack management and deferred maintenance that led to the leak, while the company claims it was an act of sabotage. Chemicals at the abandoned plant continue to leak, although whether they pose a health hazard is disputed. In 2009, the BBC took a water sample from a frequently used hand pump located just north of the plant. The sample was found to contain 1,000 times the WHO’s recommended maximum amount of carbon tetrachloride, a known carcinogen.[4]

    Bonus answer: Pesticides. (Rubber and adhesives are also acceptable.)


    1. Enron. In May of 2004, former employees sued Enron, and were awarded $85 million (or about $3100 per worker) for the nearly $2 billion that was lost from their pensions. Unethical marketing practices, off-balance-sheet vehicles, complex financing structures, and “deals so bewildering that few people could understand them”[5] are all thought to have contributed to Enron’s (and Arthur Anderson’s) unraveling.

    Bonus answers: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and “The Crooked ‘E’.”[6]



    All questions/answers based on the relevant Wikipedia entries, unless otherwise noted.

    Want to know how you stack-up? Shoot me an email with your score at insubordinate@insubordinationblog.com.



    [1] “Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding” WHO and UNICEF, 2003. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/42590/1/9241562218.pdf?ua=1&ua=1. Retrieved June 28, 2016.

    [2] “Lawsuits: Love Canal still oozes 35 years later” by Carolyn Thompson, Nov. 2, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/11/02/suits-claim-love-canal-still-oozing-35-years-later/3384259/. Retrieved June 26, 2016.

    [3] From Eberling’s New York Times obituary, at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/26/science/robert-ebeling-challenger-engineer-who-warned-of-disaster-dies-at-89.html?_r=0. Retrieved April 21, 2016.

    [4] “Bhopal marks 25 years since gas leak devastation,” BBC News, Dec. 3, 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8392206.stm. Retrieved June 28, 2106.

    [5] McLean, Bethany, and Peter Elkind. 2003. The Smartest Guys in the Room. ISBN: 1-59184-008-2, p. 132-133.

    [6] “By the Sign of the Crooked E” by Michael Duffy. Jan. 19, 2002. TIME Magazine (online) http://content.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,195268,00.html. Retrieved June 28, 2016.


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  • 11 minute read


    In my last post in this series (“Managing: An art? Or a science..?”), I’d concluded that good management isn’t really about knowing what to do.

    It’s about knowing when to do it.

    Good managers, I argued, are those who seem to know when to make a particular decision for themselves, for instance, and when instead to delegate that responsibility. They also seem to know when to more closely monitor an employee’s performance, and when to back off so as not to come across as micromanaging him or her. And they know when…actually, for a more complete list of what good managers know to do when, check out my post: “Throw out that management advice book (part 2): The Ten Commandments.”

    But what if, as a manager, you don’t have a feel for this? What if you don’t actually know when to do one thing versus something else?

    What then?


    Help me if you can

    Well, as I also started to explain in that previous post, this question is not nearly as complicated as it might at first seem.

    I mean, I certainly know what I do if I don’t know what to do, if you follow me.

    I ask someone for help.

    That is to say, if I’m in a situation where I don’t know when to do one thing versus another (or anything at all, for that matter), I do what I think most people do: I ask someone to advise me, or perhaps give me some sort of direction.

    To be sure, I’ll make an effort to approach someone who I think has sound advice to offer, or possesses the expertise I’m looking for. I’ll also try to ensure that person has a genuine interest in helping me, and providing thoughtful guidance that I can trust. Nevertheless, as opposed to continuing to bang my head against the wall, I’ll ask for help.

    The problem, of course, is that asking anyone for anything in the complex political environment that is the modern American workplace is anything but straightforward – and why that is, is the subject of this week’s post.


    “My door is always open”

    There is, of course, someone you’re supposed to seek out when you have a question at work, or have concerns as to how best accomplish those tasks that have been assigned to you. That person even has a title:


    In their article “The role of the manager: What’s really important…,” researcher Allen Kraut and his colleagues assert that a major management task is to “provide technical expertise to help subordinates resolve work problems or questions.”[1]

    They are not alone in believing this. The authors of The Enthusiastic Employee (2005) also insist that providing guidance “is among the most basic of a manager’s responsibilities.”[2] Linda Hill of the Harvard Business School points out that most workers expect their supervisors to take responsibility “for solving problems the subordinates found intractable.”[3] And Rodd Wagner and James Harter (authors of 12, The Elements of Great Managing) contend that it doesn’t matter what this individual is called, be it “friend, coach, advisor, sponsor, counselor, supporter,” – or manager. Instead, what is important is that “the employee feels she is not abandoned inside the business.”[4]

    To be sure, managers are often uniquely qualified to serve in this capacity. It is not at all uncommon, for instance, for a manager to have once held the position occupied by those he or she is now charged with managing. (A former salesperson who is now a sales manager, for example). In fact, many organizations may not consider someone for promotion to management until he or she has mastered all of the capabilities and skills required of those reporting to him or her.

    For all of these reasons then, managers of all shapes, sizes, and styles might be heard insisting that “my door is always open.”[5] This by now familiar refrain seems to have become the de facto expression most managers resort to when attempting to communicate to their employees (and perhaps convince themselves) that they are ready, willing, and able to serve in this capacity, and help employees do their jobs in the manner they need to be done.[6]

    Unfortunately, however, the organizational reality is often quite different.

    In fact, best intentions aside, most managers are anything but receptive to employees who cross the threshold of their offices with their questions and/or problems. And this is for a variety of reasons.

    For starters, most managers feel a bit overwhelmed by all they have to do already – or at least that’s what many confess to, when asked. [7] As a consequence, the idea of taking time out of a very busy workday to help someone out—even if it’s one of their own subordinates—is not likely to be high on their list of priorities.

    There is also the expectation that part of a manager’s job is to train employees to work through problems for themselves.[8] One way to perhaps force the issue—and get a subordinate to do just that—might therefore be to “close” that office door on occasion.

    And then there is the delicacy of the matter to consider. Many people (managers included) still believe that a truly competent supervisor will have a ready answer for anything, despite the impossibility of such an expectation.[9] As a result, in order to avoid any potential embarrassment, a manager may take some pains to avoid, or even subtly discourage questions from their direct reports.


    The advisor-evaluator paradox

    If managers aren’t crazy about their advisor/counselor/coach/supporter role, the feeling, it seems, is mutual. While most employees know they should go to their supervisor when they need help, direction or feedback, typically they’re anything but excited by the prospect.[10]

    And this, it turns out, is for a very good reason.

    One of the oldest unresolved dilemmas in all of management science is what might be referred to as the “advisor-evaluator paradox.” Simply put, it is the acknowledgement that a fundamental conflict of interest is created any time the roles of advisor and evaluator are assigned to the same person.[11]

    Consider, for instance, that if you or I stood accused of a crime, we wouldn’t solicit legal advice from the arresting officer, or prosecuting attorney. Instead, we would hire (or be provided) counsel of our own who is sworn to confidentiality. This is because the information gleaned in acting as “counselor” or “advisor” might later be used against us when it comes time for that person to act as “prosecutor,” “judge,” or “jury.”[12]

    (If this sounds at all familiar, it should. Recall that I first acknowledged the existence of this paradox in my inaugural post: “Why your boss probably sucks.”).

    The same holds true in the workplace. What a manager might learn about an employee based on the questions he or she asks, or the assistance he or she requests, might just as easily be used against that same individual when it comes to assess his or her performance. This is something that most people probably pick up on quite quickly, with the expected consequence: a chilling effect on any advisee-advisor relationship that might develop between an employee and his or her supervisor.

    Consider my own experience. While employed as a chemist in pharmaceutical research and development I can point to any number of times when I probably should have turned to my manager for some sort of guidance or assistance. As a scientist with 30 years experience working in the industry, he was perhaps the ideal person for me to approach. And on occasion, I would seek out his input.

    But not if I could help it.

    You see, I also realized that—as my boss—he was expected to assess my on-the-job performance as well. It was his responsibility, in other words, to make sure I successfully accomplished those tasks that had been assigned to me, and in a timely fashion, and in general performed my job at an acceptable level. Therefore, I very quickly realized that to approach him with a question—or for help of any sort—would be, in effect, to confess the limits of my own technical or managerial capabilities to the very person charged with assessing them.

    And that, to me, just did not seem like a particularly good idea, no matter how supportive he seemed…and whether his door was open or not.

    Nevertheless, at most companies today, managers (like my own) are still saddled with both roles as matter of routine, despite the obvious conflict of interest. Indeed, that a manager act as advisor to their subordinates, as well as their evaluator is considered standard operating procedure at most for-profit enterprises.[13] And yet what management theorist Douglas McGregor observed almost 60 years ago still holds true today:

    “The role of judge and the role of counselor are incompatible.”[14]


    The collegiality of your colleagues

    If asking your manager for his or her help, advice, assistance, or direction is less than appealing, the alternatives are not, in fact, all that much better.

    There are, of course, your co-workers to consider – and again, they too would seem in some ways ideally suited to help you should you need it. It is often the case, for instance, that your closest colleagues will be engaged in very similar work to what you yourself are doing, perhaps belonging to the same department, or workgroup. Or, it may be that in the not-so-distant past, one of them held the position that you know hold. It is therefore quite possible that someone you work with may have already encountered whatever problem or issue that you now face, and having worked through it themselves, be able to advise you as to how to do the same.

    Many organizations recognize this—that their employees are in essence an enormous reservoir of organizational expertise and experience that they might tap in to.[15] “Our people are our most important asset” is not just something nice that managers say; it’s true. In fact, many businesses now go so far as to design their corporate campuses, and/or the layout of their workspaces, just to increase the likelihood that chance encounters between co-workers will further facilitate collaboration and cooperative efforts.[16]

    If only it were that simple.

    In fact, while turning to a colleague for help might seem the ideal approach to take in many instances, doing so is not without it’s own set of complications – ones that have very little to do with how your offices are laid out.

    For starters, there is the simple fact that—like managers—most people have plenty to do at work already.[17] Hassling a co-worker with questions, or burdening them with your own problems is thus perhaps something most people are loathe to do out of simple consideration.

    Then there is the fact that most workers harbor a desire for respect.[18] To he held in high regard by colleagues can be, for some, one of the most satisfying aspects of their job. To be in constant need of assistance, however, could reasonably be interpreted by colleagues as incompetence, or perhaps that a particular individual is in over his or her head.

    Finally, there is this to consider: Our closest colleagues—that is, those individuals who might be best suited to help us work through our most difficult challenges—may also be the very same people with whom we are competing for raises, promotions, and other organizational rewards.[19]

    And as such, they may not be…well, all that “motivated” to help us out.

    Why help a colleague “shine a little brighter,” in other words, if doing so might end up costing you down the road?[20]

    Now in my own career experiences I must confess to having been quite lucky. Never for a moment have I doubted the integrity of any of my colleagues—nor the advice they offered me on those occasions I asked for it. Most were more than generous with their time as well, and all too happy to help me out when I requested it. But that does not negate the fact that there was very little incentive for them to do so – unless, of course, I was willing to credit them for their help in some way.

    But if that’s what it takes, why turn to a colleague at all? In other words, if the whole point in approaching a colleague is to conceal any weaknesses on your part from your manager, yet securing that assistance requires you to publicly acknowledge your coworker’s help in the end anyway, you might as well have just gone to your boss in the first place. Right?


    Ask not what your co-workers can do for you…

    So there you have it.

    If you, as an employee, are unsure of what to do, or how best to do your job, the options available to you for counsel, assistance, advice, or direction aren’t terribly inviting.

    Ask your boss, and you risk damaging whatever reputation you may enjoy in his or her eyes. Ask a colleague, but be wary; he or she is not necessarily motivated to help you, unless due credit is given.

    And so this is the great irony: The workplace is teaming with people who have the knowledge, expertise, and insights to help us perform our jobs better, faster, and more efficiently. But it is not necessarily in our own best interests to ask for it, nor in their best interests to provide it.

    So how did it come to this?

    Well, the problem here actually has nothing to do with the people your company employs, their attitudes, nor your organization’s “culture” – as some might suppose.[21] And it’s got nothing to do with whether your manager’s office door is open wide enough.

    Instead, the problem lies in how your company is structured. (And I’m not talking about how its offices are laid out, either.)

    The “structure” I refer to is the organizational blueprint that most modern companies use to coordinate their efforts. It is an organizational design subscribed to, for the most part unquestioningly (and even unknowingly), by the managers, executives, and CEOs who manage these enterprises – whether they care to admit it or not.

    It is also a means of organizing all but universally accepted—if not necessarily embraced—by the management academia. And it is furthermore codified by the business schools at which they teach, and thus permeates the MBA curricula these schools continue to offer.

    It is therefore a way of managing that continues to be impressed upon the minds of the managers, CEOs, and business leaders of tomorrow who attend them.



    Next in the series: Why that MBA might not be worth as much as you think



    [1] Kraut, Allen I.; Pedigo, Patricia R.; McKenna, D. Douglas; and Dunnette, Marvin D. “The role of the manager: What’s really important in different management jobs.” Academy of Management Executive 19:4 (2005), p. 123.

    [2] Sirota, David; Mischkind, Louis A.; and Metzer, Micheal Irwin. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. Upper Saddle river, NJ: Wharton School Publishing, p. 208.

    [3] Hill, Linda. 2003. Becoming a Manager. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, p. 28.

    [4] Wagner, Rodd; and Harter, James K. 2006. 12, The Element of Great Managing. New York: Gallup Press, p. 83.

    [5] So far, I have been unable to determine the origin of this particular management cliché. The earliest mention of it that I have come across is David Packard’s reference to Hewlett-Packard having an “open door policy” in the company’s nascent days (From The HP Way, 1995, New York: Harper Business, p. 157).

    [6] “Is your door really always open?” by Jason Fried, Inc. Magazine, November, 2015. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201311/jason-fried/what-open-door-policies-actually-mean.html. Retrieved May 18, 2016.

    [7] “Reclaim your job” by Sumantra Ghoshal and Heike Bruch. Harvard Business Review, March, 2004. https://hbr.org/2004/03/reclaim-your-job. Retrieved May 18, 2016.

    [8] “How managers can teach employees to solve their own problems” by Cornelia Gamlem and Barbara Mitchell. Fast Company (online edition), Sept. 28, 2015. http://www.fastcompany.com/3051480/know-it-all/how-managers-can-teach-employees-to-solve-their-own-problems. Retrieved May 13, 2016.

    [9] “Why bosses don’t need to know all the answers,” Fortune Magazine (online version), June 1, 2011. http://fortune.com/2011/06/01/why-bosses-dont-need-to-know-all-the-answers/; “Managers can’t know everything: 6 tips for managing outside your areas of expertise” by Chuck Leddy. September 14, 2011. http://www.middlemarketcenter.org/expert-perspectives/managers-cant-know-everything-6-tips-for-managing-outside-your-areas-of-expertise. Retrieved June 8, 2016.

    [10] “Are your employees avoiding you? Managerial strategies for closing the feedback gap” by Sherry E. Moss and Juan I. Sanchez. Academy of Management Executive, 18:1 (2004).

    [11] Hill, Linda. 2003. Becoming a Manager. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, p. 209.

    [12] In effect, the US Constitution acknowledges this fundamental conflict of interest in the Sixth Amendment, which states that defendants have a right to counsel. It has since been further codified by stipulating that the accused first be informed of their Miranda Rights in order for their testimony to be admissible in a court of law.

    [13] For a complete list of what are currently thought to be a manager’s primary responsibilities, please see my post “Throw out that management advice book (Part 2): The Ten Commandments.”

    [14] McGregor, Douglas. 2006. The Human Side of Enterprise – Annotated Edition, New York: McGraw-Hill, New York, p. 117. (Originally published in 1960.)

    [15] Surowiecki, James. 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds. New York: Anchor Books; “Valuing Your Most Valuable Assets” by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer. Harvard Business Review (online edition), Oct. 10, 2011. https://hbr.org/2011/10/valuing-your-most-valuable/; “Nine Ways to Keep Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset – It’s Employees” by Roger Dean Duncan, Forbes Leadership Forum, Aug. 20, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipforum/2013/08/20/nine-ways-to-keep-your-companys-most-valuable-asset-its-employees/#497c814b4390. Both retrieved June 23, 2016.

    [16] Apple: “Look Inside Apple’s Spaceship Headquarters With 24 All-New Renderings” by Kyle Vanhemert, Wired (online), Nov. 11, 2013. http://www.wired.com/2013/11/a-glimpse-into-apples-crazy-new-spaceship-headquarters/. Google: “How Goolge’s Flexible Workspace Ignites Creative Collaboration” posted at http://www.fastcompany.com/3017824/work-smart/how-googles-flexible-workspace-ignites-creative-collaboration-on-wheels. Both retrieved June 23, 2016.

    [17] “Study: US workers burned out,” posted by ABC News, May 16, 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93295&page=1. “This is why we feel so overworked” by Jeanne Sahadi. CNNMoney, Sept. 10, 2015. http://money.cnn.com/2015/09/10/pf/working-too-hard/. Both retrieved June 16, 2016.

    [18] Moss, op. cit.; Sirota, op. cit., p. 12; “The 6 most important things employees need from their leaders to realize high potential” by Glenn Llopis. Forbes (online edition), Sept. 30, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/09/30/the-6-most-important-things-employees-need-from-their-leaders-to-realize-high-potential/#26387387315c. Retrieved June 16, 2016.

    [19] “Get employees to compete against each other” by Serguei Netessine and Valery Yakubovich. Havard Business Review (online edition), June 1, 2012. https://hbr.org/2012/06/get-employees-to-compete-again. “Internal competition at work: Worth the trouble?” by Shelly Dubois. Fortune.com, Jan. 25, 2012. http://fortune.com/2012/01/25/internal-competition-at-work-worth-the-trouble/. Both retrieved June 16, 2016.

    [20] “What to do when a co-worker tries to make you look bad” by Stephanie Vozza. Fast Company (online edition), Sept. 28, 2015. http://www.fastcompany.com/3051385/know-it-all/what-to-do-when-a-coworker-tries-to-make-you-look-bad. “Coworker Sabotage” posted Aug. 20, 2015 by The Creative Group (TCG) at http://creativegroup.mediaroom.com/coworker-sabotage. “Handle a sabotaging co-worker” by Beverly West. Posted on Monster.com at http://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/handle-a-sabotaging-coworker. All retrieved June 16, 2016.

    [21]“Actionable feedback: Unlocking the power of learning and performance improvement” by Mark D. Cannon and Robert Witherspoon. The Academy of Management Executive (1993-2005) (2005): 120-134.


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  • < 1 minute read



    Yes – I know. It’s important for me to be a team player. But “taking one for the team” – that is, subordinating my own self-interests to those of the collective? How did THAT get in there..?


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    In previous installments of a series of posts I’m calling the “Paradox of the Week[*] I pointed out some of the contradictory statements made by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

    This week, I’ve decided to add Louis V. Gerstner Jr.—formerly of IBM—to the mix. He’s the CEO frequently credited with turning that company around in the 1990s following their unsuccessful efforts to remain competitive in the PC market.

    • In Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? (2002, HarperCollins), Gerstner insists that a part of his management “philosophy” is an aversion to hierarchy (p. 24):

    “Hierarchy means very little to me. Let’s put together in meetings the people who can help solve a problem, regardless of the position.”

    However, he later confesses (p. 35):

    “…I would have liked more advice from Dick [Gerstner’s own brother, a long-time IBM employee himself], but there was a very watchful group of people at IBM waiting to see if I was setting him up as my own force behind the throne.”

    Gerstner also seems slightly chagrined when people don’t realize “who he is,” so to speak, as this early episode with IBM security suggests (p. 30):

    “There I was, the new CEO, knocking helplessly on the door, hoping to draw someone’s attention to let me in. After a while a cleaning woman arrived, checked me out rather skeptically, then opened the door—I suspect more to stop my pounding on the door than from any sense on her part that I belonged on the inside rather than the outside of the building.”


    • Then there is this insight to chew on (p. 188):

    “…at the same time I was working to get employees to listen to me, to understand where we needed to go, to follow me there, I needed to get them to stop being followers.”


    See you next week.


    [*] An instance in which a business or management “expert”/author/advice-giver/guru offers contradictory, or otherwise paradoxical advice, typically without any apparent awareness of having done so. For more on why this happens—or more specifically, why it is all but impossible to avoid—please see my post “Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1, 2, & 3).”



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  • < 1 minute read



    The roles of “advisor” and “evaluator” are fundamentally incompatible with each other. So why is my boss expected to act as both..?


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  • 3 minute read


    This week I’m introducing a new category of posts to my blog.

    These entries—which I’ll group under the heading “Unconventional (mis)management non-wisdom”—build on an observation I first made in a post titled: “Is nothing sacred?

    In that post, as you may recall, I offered examples of CEOs and/or successful businesspeople who either did not fit the mold of the stereotypical CEO or manager, or did not act in the way we might expect one to.

    Importantly, however—and as I was careful to point out—they did so with no apparent cost to their organization. (In fact, in some cases it seems to have actually contributed to their success.)

    For instance, I offered examples of successful CEOs, company founders, and other executives who:

    • …had no coherent vision for their company when they started it (Hewlett-Packard and 3M)
    • …lacked charisma (Douglas Conant, formerly of Campbell Soup)
    • …had little or no confidence in their product (Paul Allen of Microsoft)
    • …don’t bother adhering to budgets (Charles Koch)
    • …dismissed the idea of setting goals (Ray Kroc)
    • …weren’t really all that hard-working (Andrew Carnegie)

    I even found a couple of CEOs who:


    Weird, right?

    Well, just to be clear, it wasn’t my aim then—nor is it my intent now—to suggest that these CEOs don’t know what they’re doing. Quite the contrary, in fact.

    Nor is it my hope to convince you that these business “mavericks” are the smart ones, and everyone else is wrongheaded or misinformed.

    Far from it.

    Instead, the point I’m trying to make is simply that for each and every pearl of management “wisdom” that you might come across, or have otherwise come to believe, there exists an equally convincing argument for behaving in precisely the opposite way, or engaging in precisely the opposing action.

    (To find out more about why this realization is so important, and what that says about “good management” and its practice, please see my post: “It’s not what you do. It’s when you do it.”)

    Alright – that’s enough preamble. Let’s get to this week’s example:


    • In their book, What (Really) Works: The 4+2 Formula For Sustained Business Success (2003), authors William Joyce, Nitin Nohria, and Bruce Roberson argue that one way for a company to encourage talented workers to “stick around” is to make them eligible for stock options. The aim, they contend, is to make “the employees feel like owners, operators, and independent agents.”[1] This is not by any means a novel idea; many companies offer stock options or profit-sharing to their employees[2] – presumably to encourage them to work harder (and pursue the organization’s broader goals, instead of their own self-interests) as well as convince them to hang around longer.

    And so in light of this, it is interesting to hear Phil Knight (the former CEO of Nike, and current chairman of the board) explain in a letter to shareholders how Nike’s employee stock option program was responsible for the loss of key people at the company:

    “This has been one of the problems. We have lost experienced people for whom the stock option program has created lifetime financial security.”[3]


    See you next week.

    [1] Joyce, William, Nitin Nohria, and Bruce Roberson. 2003. What (Really) Works: The 4+2 Formula for Sustained Business Success. New York: HarperBusiness, p. 35.

    [2] Google, Facebook, and Apple, for instance.

    [3] Letter to shareholders, 1998 Nike Annual Report. Full excerpt from that letter: “This has been one of the problems. We have lost experienced people for whom the stock option program has created lifetime financial security. Add that to the incredibly competitive nature of our industry and you’re going to see key contributors leave for other challenges. This is an insight I think the media has missed this year. I can honestly tell you I hope we have that problem again. We won’t spend any time trying to fix that one.”

    http://s1.q4cdn.com/806093406/files/doc_financials/1998/letter_ar.html. Retrieved May 26, 2016.


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