Catching up LO22843
Sun, 10 Oct 1999 21:14:01 -0700

As I mentioned, I've been unable to participate or even follow the list
for a while. Nevertheless, I've saved the digests over the last several
months, and have been reading as many of them as possible, both to catch
up to the threads and to benefit from the wonderful "nuggets" that seem to
occur so often here.

Following are reactions to some of the threads; I'll link them to messages
where I can, but usually I'll be reacting to several of the thoughts.

On Pay for Performance (LO21181 for example):
A defining characteristic of a complex adaptive system is its ability to
adapt. This always arises from the variety of agents comprising the system.
If an organization wants to be able to adapt, it must encourage this variety
to some degree, since tomorrow's performance needs will differ in
unpredictable ways from today's. If management systematically identifies a
short-term set of performance goals, and measures effectively against them,
it will effectively reduce its ability to adapt. This relates to a later
message that described a recent book (The Alchemy of Growth: Practical
Insights for Building the Enduring Enterprise), which recommended that a
sustainable business work in the context of three time frames: the present,
the immediate future, and the longer term.

On Top-level Compensation disparity LO21214:
What bothers me about executive compensation isn't so much the absolute
disparity in salary, as it is the insulation from consequences. I've been
in a couple of companies that failed -- while most employees were laid off
with some severance compensation, the executives who led the companies into
demise walked off with large "golden parachutes" and went on to practice
their peculiar brand of leadership elsewhere. I know of one CEO in
particular who has recently "sunk" his second company (that I'm aware of).

In her novel "The King Must Die" (a retelling of the legend of Theseus),
Mary Renault describes the covenant between the king and people of the
ancient Greek city states: the king is an intermediary between the people
and the gods; when the gods send droughts or other punishments, it's up to
the king to take the appropriate actions to find out what's wrong and make
the gods happy again. In the extreme case, the king must sacrifice his
own life as an offering to the gods and an acknowledgment of his failures.
Essentially, ultimate power entails ultimate risk. I'm not suggesting
"The CEO Must Die" as an ethos for modern business (although it does have
a certain appeal in some cases ;-), but the level of accountability seems
to be out of kilter with the level of authority in many cases.

On How Does a Nation Learn LO21244
At de Lange wrote:
> May those who free themselves from the conquest by others not fall into
> the predicament of the conquerers.
Now there's a prayer that should open every session of the UN!

On Dan Bishop's signature quote:
> "It is the level of sincerity from the heart that will
> determine the speed of actualizing anything that is exceptional"
This reminds me of a line from Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance": "Care and quality are the internal and external
aspects of the same thing."

On Buildings, Offices as LO enabler LO21519
Although it's probably too late to help the 'anonymous inquirer', here's my
favorite references:
- Christopher Alexander, "A Pattern Language". This is one of a series of
books on Alexander's approach to making living spaces more human; you may
not agree with all the patterns, but it will change the way you look at the
buildings you visit or inhabit.
- Timothy Lister and Tom DeMarco, "Peopleware: Productive Projects and
Teams". There's some good stuff in this book on office spaces and their
effects on individuals and teams.

Relating to the points about designing buildings to increase the chance of
communication across department/project boundaries:
- Some of Alexander's patterns that relate: Heirarchy of Open Space,
Courtyards Which Live, Pedestrian Density, Activity Pockets, Intimacy
Gradient, Common Areas at the Heart, The Flow through Rooms, Flexible Office
Space, Small Meeting Rooms, Half-Private Office.
- Another benefit of making folks walk a distance for coffee, etc., is that
it provides for a significant break, a chance to subconsciously reflect,
digest, etc.(or just to slow down for a bit without guilt!).
- If the increase of cross-boundary communication is an important goal, just
having people rub elbows occasionally isn't enough. How about having
bulletin boards in the common areas that describe what's going on in various
parts of the company, regularly updated? These could provide foci and
stimuli for the desired communications.

On Language and Obfuscation:
Ludwig Wittgenstein's "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" ends with the words
What can be said, can be said clearly;
Whereof one cannot speak, therof must one be silent.
(Actually, the last line has a better ring in the original German:
Worueber man nicht reden kann, darueber muss man schweigen. )
One of the software engineering writers of the 60s came up with a nice (if
not as elegant) counterpoint to this:
What can be said, cannot always be said clearly at first;
Whereof one cannot speak well, thereof must one practice speaking.
A lot of the discussion on this list is necessarily "practice speaking",
which I believe is useful both for the speakers and the listeners (at least
the listeners that can and are willing to spend the time to assist in the

Good to be learning again,


[Host's Note: Glad to have you back with us, Don.

In association with, these links for the books Don has mentioned

The Alchemy of Growth : Practical Insights for Building the Enduring Enterprise by Mehrdad Baghai, Stephen Coley, David White, Steve Coley The King Must Die by Mary Renault Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig A Pattern Language : Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein Peopleware : Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Ed. by Tom Demarco, Timothy Lister Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Arthur Russell (Introduction), D. F. Pears (Editor) .. Rick]

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