Reading and more reading

Coffee seemed a little more important this morning. It might be the colder weather that has moved into Colorado. It could be the time of year. Outside of my daily interest in coffee, my focus has been on reading a ton of scholarly management articles. Working on writing a literature review tends to focus my efforts. In this case, those efforts are clearly focused on reading academic articles. A few books may get pulled into the list, but only if they are consistently referenced in the literature. A few election articles have also jumped up into my reading queue. Over the last few months, I have gradually accepted how Google News aggregates coverage. Instead of sitting down to visit a series of websites I have just scrolled through the Google News coverage. I’m not sure if that is a solid way to consume content, but it has worked well enough.

Swiftly used and seldom understood business metaphors

My literature review is continuing at a good pace. I have started to think about all the swifty used and seldom understood business metaphors. Hot topics tend to pop up in the world of business. Problem solving in the business world should not be thought of as a game of whack-a-mole. Workplaces are full of real people striving to succeed in the face of very real problems. Successful leaders evaluate the impact of solutions on the workforce and workplace. Leaders sometimes go to the business theory grab bag of the moment. Some of the solutions of the moment from the grab bag involve metaphors or catchphrases. Like a bad game of telephone the meaning of those metaphors deteriorates over time. Problems keep popping up. Leaders will keep trying to solve them. It is inevitable that metaphors and problem solving technique will keep getting recycled.

Within the business world the burning platform remains a swiftly used and seldom understand metaphor of destruction. Complexity theory has sprung forward to answer questions about efficient problem solving. Creating or building up a burning platform hardly seems like an efficient method for problem solving. It would be easier and more efficient for leaders to use information to engage in informed decision making. Leaders have more sources of information available today. We are generating more and more information. Data scientist and other types of highly analytic data driven roles have sprouted up everywhere in the business world. Even with the rise of more information about decisions generalizing a theory requires a lot of academic effort. It is not something that should be taken lightly. Proving a special theory is generally the path taken before attempting any generalization.

Without question technology has driven disruptive innovation for a long time. The automobile disrupted the horse and buggy. Today that automobile with a combustion engine is being disrupted by electric batteries. That type of disruptive change cannot be directly generalized to workplace leadership. Intellectually a lot of internal linkages exist between understanding disruptive innovation in the technology sector and leading workplace change.

Ramping up the the literature review process

The Amazon Kindle service had the book “Managing At the Speed of Change” by Daryl Conner for only $1.99 today (1992). It should be an easy read on my Nexus 9 tablet. I’m not sure if that is the regular price or it is on sale. A quick search on the Google Scholar academic search engine for “Managing At the Speed of Change” produced 1,010 results in about 0.08 seconds. I even created an alert to send me any articles published after my search. Digging through 1,010 citations will take a couple weeks, but that is the fun part of a literature review. Google Scholar is a fun starting point that provides a good overview before digging into other digital libraries of academic journals.

At the University of Kansas, I remember taking an interest in researching civil society. Instead of using technology to ferret out every reference an entire different approach was utilized. A trip to Watson library occurred. I searched for a couple of civil society related books and located the right section of the library. What happened next changed my academic journey forever. I checked out a good portion of the shelf and started reading book after book about civil society. That singular act was what convinced me being an academic would be a good idea.

The academy itself is populated with ideas from generations of scholars. It is easy to tap into the collective thoughts of the academy. You just need the drive and desire to consume a large quantity of words. A section of a library shelf was a good start to learn about civil society. Digging through 1,010 publications related to disruptive change will take a little longer.

My master’s thesis advisor explained what it took to be a scholar in a pretty straightforward way. The test was pretty simple. Pick up the latest issue of the most prestigious journal in the field you are interested in exploring. Read that issue from cover to cover. Read the last six months to a year from that journal. If the process of reading all those academic articles is invigorating and enjoyable, then academic work might be something you will enjoy pursuing.

Anybody can sit down and start work on writing an academic article. Getting it published is a different story. Reading everything available requires passion. Learning how to utilize and follow the scientific method is something that can be learned.

Reconsidering disruptive change metaphors

My literature review related to disruptive innovation and change in the workplace is off to a great start. The weather has been changing in Colorado. Things are getting colder each day. I’m sure snow will be here before we know it. This type of weather is perfect for reviewing academic literature. A briskly cold morning helps make a cup of coffee even more satisfying. It also means that my daily walks will be on my treadmill. That adds an extra hour of day that can be spent reading.

My research efforts have lead me to one principle finding so far. That finding is something that I have been considering in considerable detail. That finding developed in the form of a story. Starting in the 1990’s advocates of disruptive innovation and change started to begin evaluating “the burning platform” and other methods of achieving change. I started my literature review with a book by Daryl Conner titled, “Managing At the Speed of Change” (1992). In that book Daryl evokes a metaphor related to a burning oil rig. That metaphor brings forward a situation that involves making very real choices on how to move forward. Since the 1990’s business leaders have started to shift from understanding the burning platform and applying the metaphor to other situations to creating burning platforms. My mental model of that dichotomy breaks down in the form of a metaphor driven story.

The story begins based on a general premise then moves to a special theory related to the creation of burning platforms. Every workplace is in some ways is like a community. In this case, imagine the community in question as a village with buildings surrounding a central town square. Some of the buildings are new and some of them have been around for awhile. The community is full of rich institutional knowledge and skilled professionals. A community like this village develops processes and crystallizes bureaucracy mechanisms over time. Just like companies a community builds a social fabric that helps people work together. Theorists like Putnam and Feldstein have explained the importance of restoring community within the book “Better Together” (2003). It is probably safe to assume that theorists like Putnam and Feldstein are correct and that stronger communities inherently strengthen the social fabric of a community and that shift benefits everyone.

Imagine that workplace community as the previously described vilage. One day a new leader arrives and starts to build a platform in the town square. The community continues working together based on the process and crystallized bureaucratic structures that already existed. Everyone starts to see the platform get bigger one board a time. People have seen platforms be built for concerts, town hall events, and even a state fair. Some of those platforms lead to great celebrations within the community. Some of them brought the people together.

One day the new leader stands up on the platform and proclaims the need for change. The need for disruptive innovation. The need for destructive change within the village. The leader proclaimed that the a great platform had been built to enable that change. The leader expected the community to appreciate and buy into the platform. In the middle of looking around and talking to the crowd that leader proclaimed that now was the time for change that that the community needed to be ready to accept and deal with real change. This challenge was not the type of challenge that Spencer Johnson brought forward in the book “Who moved my cheese?” (1998). It was something else. People can prepare to deal with change in a variety of ways. People have gotten used to managing change and engaging in continuous improvement.

The next day the people of the community looked toward the town square and realized the platform was burning. Everyone was informed that the platform was supposed to be burning and that nobody should be worried. Smoke was in the air throughout the community and the platform continued to burn throughout the day. Teams from the local community fire department offered to put out the fire, but the new leader warned them to let the burning platform take its course. Changes were announced to improve the processes and breakdown the crystallized bureaucracies within the community.

After a few days of announcements and the introduction of sweeping changes the burning platform had turned to ash. The new leader had left the community to campaign in another community down the road. Everyone gathered around the town square to clean up the burnt timbers and ash left from the burning platform. One of the community managers looked back and said, “It takes a community to rebuild from something like this.” Everyone nodded in silence as they worked to clean up the town square. The community knew they would have to work together and that the town square was central to being better together. Everyone had to come together. Everyone had to work together. They were better off together. A town will always be a town. People in that town have to work together toward achieving common goals.

Everyone knew that building a platform and burning it down did not help the community. Leaders often think of change in the workplace as a sport. Maybe this metaphor will help explain why the end of disruptive change as a workplace sport is so important. Restoring a community involves building out a stronger community. A large body of academic literature exists related to building strong organizations that are designed for success. A wide variety of techniques exist related to organizational development. Building and burning down platforms over and over again in the middle of a community does not make sense. It is destructive.

The End of Disruptive Change as a Workplace Sport

My Parker IM rollerball pen has been busy today. Today was a great day for writing. The air was cold and crisp this morning. Weather in Colorado has started to turn colder. Earlier today I started to work on a new research article. Right now the literature review phase is fully underway. The academic article will fall within the general theme of exploring alternatives to engaging in disruptive change within the workplace. Alternative approaches exist to facilitate change. Change can happen in a variety of ways. Some of those ways can be very positive and constructive. I tend to separate research on disruptive social change techniques and disruptive innovation within the workplace. All of my research efforts at the moment are targeting workplace alternatives that help facilitate the end of disruptive (destructive) change. Over the last few years, I have started to take umbrage at the sport of disruptive change in the workplace. Moving beyond change as a sport within the workplace involves rejecting the need for disruptive/destructive innovation for the sake of being disruptive or destructive. It is possible to take action and strive toward positive change without focusing on being disruptive or destructive. Alternatives exist based on investing in people combined with building strong organizational structures, process, and procedures.