Absurd!: Organizations Change Most by Surviving Calamities

by Ron Potter

“Like many men and women who have spent their lives struggling and are in many ways better for it, organizations that struggle develop a sense of pulling together, ways of coping that keep them afloat where others sink.”

I was with a group of men the other day and we were going through a set of questions to force us to think and help us grow. One question was “What encouraged you this week?” After we listened to several stories that covered topics of personal, family, work, aging and others, a very clear pattern became visible. Each story of encouragement started with a situation of great pain and struggle. To Farson’s point, great victories and times of plenty are not the first things we think of when asked about encouragement. Encouragement comes through coping with difficulties.

One of the most powerful books I’ve read is The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. The opening sentence in that book is “Life is difficult.” Dr. Peck goes on to explain that avoidance of pain and suffering will lead to mental illness. Life is difficult. We find encouragement dealing with the difficulties.

Farson relates this concept to our corporate world when he says, “Although individuals will acknowledge calamities as important in their development, managers are less likely to cite organizational calamity as the reason for change and growth. Calamities are an embarrassment to management and not likely to be regarded as the key to success.”

Flawless Execution. I’ve heard that concept being promoted in almost every company I work with. Bad idea? Absolutely not. We should always be striving to do our best and execute as quickly and elegantly as we can. Notice that I used the word elegantly, not flawlessly. Take as much friction out of the execution process as you can and operate flawlessly for as long as you can. Increasing your periods of flawless execution is a great goal. But, when you ingrain the idea of continuous flawless execution, you begin to bury the flaws, mistakes, and difficulties that help people and teams grow. You also rob them of encouragement. Encouragement comes through dealing with and overcoming difficulties.

How well do you handle setbacks as a leader? In our work lives, we look at mistakes and setbacks as failures. We need to shift them to learning experiences so that people are encouraged and reduce the number of mistakes and setbacks.

I’m continuing my series on an in-depth look at a wonderful little book that’s twenty years old this year. The title is Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. You may want to consider dropping back and reading the previous blog posts about ABSURD! I think it will put each new one in great context.

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