Go with the flow

Jerry Johnson, one of my instructors at business school, taught us facetious business maxims such as "There are always three things." As I've become grayer and wiser, I've found that Jerry's rules often held up well. There often are three things.

Jerry's universal, three-step model of everything has proved itself particularly useful.

Applied in a learning context, it's a reminder to pay attention to what comes before and after a focused learning experience. Pre-work, screening, and maybe a getting-to-know-you pizza party before, and follow-up sessions, an alumni support network, and recognition after, can turn a lackluster workshop into something inspirational.

Thoughtout most of my life, I've been in a hurry to complete the 1-2-3 and get on to the next project. The fourth letter of my Myers-Briggs is always a big "J," indicating that I value Closure. I thought of projects like phone calls: 1. Ring, 2. Talk, 3. Hang up.

On Tuesday I was chatting with a friend in the U.K. We were using Skype, a nifty combination of instant messaging and free VOIP phone calls. We had been talking about all manner of things for twenty or thirty minutes when a client call interrupted our conversation.

When my friend started to say good bye, I suggested we not think of it like that. We weren't terminating our conversation; we were merely putting it on hold. We'd pick up where we left on whenever Skype showed that we were both online and available. Recognizing our conversation as a flow of information rather that a discrete event let me keep it open. Our conversation is like my connection to the net. It's up 24x7 but frequently idle. It's not off, it's merely not in use. Our conversation is not over, it's merely on hold.

Tuesday night half a dozen of us went to see the interminably long screed against business called "The Corporation." This movie slams business very hard, saying that if the corporation is legally a person, it's a psychopathic one. Examples abound: Monsanto shutting down a (true) Fox news story, Bechtel trying to charge Bolivians for water, Kathy Lee and Nike employing child labor, a market research outfit counseling retailers to increase sales by teaching children how to nag, and IBM colluding with Nazis. Noam Chomsky tells us it doesn't have to be this way. Michael Moore cuts up and tells us the only thing the corporation cares about is the bottom line. Milton Friedman agrees.

This movie is anything but balanced. Corporations = bad, bad, bad. Nonetheless, it raises some fundamental questions. The corporation is heartless. It has no morals. It leaps borders, becoming more important than government. It pollutes the environment and suffers no consequences. It pledges allegiance to only its shareholders. Public companies are following the old 1-2-3 model:

How can we get corporations to focus on the longer term? How can we hold them accountable for damaging the earth? What would make corporations support sustainability?

Posted by Jay Cross at June 17, 2004 01:39 PM | TrackBack

Your ideas reminded me what I was taught long ago--you can never do only one thing--there are ALWAYS cosnequences (what Hindus call 'Karma'). This concept sees the universe as a very dense web of an infinite number of some obvious, some apparent actions and reactions--some bearing fruit/feedback in the short run, the others in the medium or the long term. If we accept it, there is no true beginning or end, no finished conversations, no accidents, only a continuum spanning generations and milleniums. Accordingly, the corporation may be seen as a device to dodge/dilute the inevitable by passing on the real costs (and gains/losses) to others including the future generations. They may be changed/refined by insisting on computing all knowable costs and benefits (whether quantitative or qualitative) and constantly refining the model to widen its scope.

Posted by: Vijay Luthra at June 19, 2004 10:41 AM

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