Some years ago, while I was employed by a well known corporation in the UK, I worked with a team from one of the big consultancies on an organisational transformation project. Whether it was successful is debatable, I think in the main it was, others disagree. That I learned a lot and was changed by it is without doubt. I recall it costing many millions of pounds. I am of course, worth it. I also made two very good friends in the process. Both began from positions of conflict and mistrust, each is a separate story best saved for another day.
I learned about big topics like operational planning, organisational design, resource strategy, vendor management and project portfolio management. I took my first steps, though without realising it, into culture development and had the shocking realisation that the person in my life I knew least well was myself. I’d never really thought about what I was like very much. That was quite a shock.
In the middle of all that I learned that I have a behavioural tick, a tell, something that gives away when I am frustrated, not bought it, that I think you are an idiot, no matter what I might say.
It is not a dramatic gesture, I don’t cry blood. I just take my glasses off and put them on the table.
I discovered this in a progress review in the middle of that transformation project. Someone said, “It’s all about **some fad or other**”. I can’t remember which fad it was supposed to be “all about”, people, process, tools, strategy, contraints, culture, take your pick. The glasses came off and were quitely placed on the table and a few people chuckled. I didn’t even know what I’d done.
“So why do you disagree, Anthony?”.
“I haven’t even said anything!”.
“The glasses are off, you plainly disagree, it’s what you always do when you think other people are idiots”.
I had indeed been thinking they were all idiots. I then wondered how often I removed my glasses in meetings and how long everyone had perceived this insult for what it was actually was.
It was all good humoured. Frankly, I told them out loud that I thought they were all idiots quite often anyway. Usually, I was informed, a few seconds after I’d taken my glasses off.
Perhaps I expected to get into a fight. Taking my glasses off is quite sensible in those circumstances.
Anyway, whenever anyone says, “It’s all about **insert fad**”, I still take my glasses off, I probably sigh loudly and then likely kick off about fads and over simplfications.
There is one exception to that, if someone says, “It’s all about accountability”, I wheel out another tell, the one that says, “I think you are probably right but I am not sure I dare say so just yet, do go on”. It involves me half smiling, half wincing, while almost imperceptibly nodding and looking you right in the eye. Becuase I think you might actually get it.
I have quite a list of fads, I am vertitable Mr Toad, serially excited by the next big thing. I even utter the phrase “It’s all about **lazily insert latest over simplification**”, myself from time to time.
But I have noticed that despite all our fads, the things we think it is now, “all about”, we need to remain accountable no matter how our institutions, social norms, laws evolve. For our fads to become part of a sustained, valuable and ethical whole, be that corporate, charitable, sporting, social, religious, poltical etc. etc., without triggering unintended negative consequeces so great they outweight the benefit and so as to maximise and accelerate the positive, you have to add accountability.