If you happen to hear yourself repeating ” … but I thought we had a deal” too often, you need to read this article.

Business education the way we know it seems to produce better results in free market economies where rules of the game are set in accordance with somewhat free and fair competition. Command market economies, however, require a different breed of managers who are able to not only survive but succeed in hostile territories facing international sanctions, extortion, bribery, corruption, double-crossing and copyright infringement to name a few.

Undoubtedly, such dark management practices to require some special mindset not taught in most business schools but acquired if one happens to have had the pleasure of working with or coming across a command market survivor. This paper would be of exceptional importance to those managers who intend to bridge between free and command market economies but have little or no experience living and working in a hostile territory.

What is a hostile territory anyway?

Regardless of its geographic location, a hostile territory is where the rule of law is outweighed by the influence of your opponent’s connections. If you find yourself in a similar situation, forget about what you have learned in school and read on; but please keep in mind that all I am going to share with you here is what to expect and how to prepare for it.

Who are you up against?

You are up against an opponent who is not necessarily an “evil looking” person. He or she may, in fact, be a very sociable, fun, pleasant and even pious person who happens to have grown up in a system with misplaced moral values! Meaning that he or she has been brought up in a society where connections to and favors from high above were often regarded to be of more importance, and so to him or her the rule of law was and still is intended only for the common man and not some special men of power or social status.

The term “Misplaced Moral Values” simply means that when a person regards life as a game in which the ends almost always justifies the means, twisting the long arm of the law is regarded as a sign of intelligence, business mastery, entrepreneurship and even manhood to some extent! That is because the rule of law is incapable of protecting an average citizen, so the “Survival of The Fittest” principle takes over instead, making any action justifiable for as long as one’s intentions are fulfilled. How would the corresponding society regard the person in question you may ask? No less than a sexy looking desirable superhero I’d say!

When you understand this simple fact, then you may also realize why having an agreement with such a person even if it is in the form of a legal contract wouldn’t worth the paper it was written on if you fail to continuously enforce the carrot and stick policy. Carrots are the future sweet deals to follow if the current deal goes through and the stick is some boogeyman, who is capable of making the unimaginable happen, should the agreement fail for any reason at all.

The 15th-century Italian diplomat and philosopher, Machiavelli believed that only the well-armed can live free; so carry a big stick if you intend to command an armed man! In his cutthroat worldview, mercenaries are hired because neither opposing forces know how to fight. Machiavelli regards the mercenaries as lazy and untrustworthy since they only look for easy money and can turn against the prince as soon as a better offer is made.

Again I must remind the reader that this is not some sermon on business ethics, for both morality and ethics are considered a luxury in a society overrun by economic injustice. – [Now is a good time to look up the definition of command market economy if you haven’t done so].

When a man’s primary agenda is to survive the day, he rarely gets the time or the direction to reflect on secondary less important issues such as fairness, justice, and morality. So just because he is forced into a certain style of living it does not necessarily make him an evil person – at least from his point of view. In fact, you will be surprised to find out how many self-proclaimed Robin Hoods are out there taking pride in inaugurating and running multimillion dollar corporations!

Nevertheless the main issue to remember is that while you may very well be accustomed to practicing the Golden Rule treating others as you would like others to treat you because you happen to have the luxury of legal protection as a free citizen living in a relatively well-governed country or even simply because you are a good natured person, there may coexist a second paradigm in some less developed parts of the world, engendered as a result of necessity and survival [perhaps even ignorance]: Do unto others as you would expect others do unto you – Machiavelli’s Golden Rule.

So, the next time you hear yourself saying “… but this wasn’t what we agreed upon” remember that unlike you, some believe that “The promise given was the necessity of the past, the word broken is the necessity of the present”-The Prince by Machiavelli, that is unless you can swing your stick high above the common man’s law or throw in more carrots.

Could it get worse?

Now that I have your undivided attention and despise, let me reassure you that if you are not prepared to lower your expectations, it could indeed get much worse; I have seen companies still begging to get paid for the goods shipped as far back as five years ago while their competitor’s turnover skyrockets. But why is that so?

Due to political instabilities encountered as a result of corruption, international pressure, and social/ economic injustice, the command market economies, in general, tend to behave very much like spot markets; high profits yet no promise of continued trends or long-term returns. It would be futile to enter such a market with long-range expectations, employing conventional business development and consultative selling tactics since you’d be dealing with spot opportunities as opposed to long-term ones. And that is simply because your connection’s lifespan in so-called high places is as short-lived as the overall political stability; thus, the promise of a returned business is as serious as “your guy” holding on to his chair! For this reason alone, the primary aim of a business developer in such constituencies is not to start a long-term relationship but to initiate as many shadow potentials with no solid promises as possible. Get as many cards as you can and wait patiently to see which one enters the game. Play as fast as you can while being ready to break new deals [just about any deal] even with your nastiest competitors if possible.

But why, you may ask? A buyer’s decision-making process in a favored system is different. He or she must use his power to produce as much profit before his time is over, so the final verdict does not necessarily involve inputs from several other senior managers nor does it require their rational justification to ensure the outcome. A typical buyer’s main concern, in this case, is to hold on to his position for as long as possible, close the deal ASAP and bury the skeletons where no one can find it. Just how low are you expected to sink, in order to survive such a hostile territory?

As far as I know, if you don’t play by their rules soon you will be commanded into becoming an unwanted philanthropist unless somewhere along the way you choose to be or at least pretend to look greedy, stingy, intimidating, cruel, and dishonorable while projecting a false social image of importance and popularity! – [Don’t take my word for it; Read The Prince by Machiavelli Chapters 15-23 / the character and behavior of the prince.]

Also, under no circumstances let others know your intentions thus looking mysterious even if all you were going to do was to buy a cheap cup of coffee. A false sense of social importance is produced, for instance when your social network assumes that you always drink a special blend of coffee imported just for you from the deepest and darkest forests of Brazil when all you had was actually some cheap local blend! You could even fly your helicopter to work taking 45 minutes of your precious management time, as opposed to a 10-minute drive, while you owe a considerable sum of money to your clients and employees!

You may find the last paragraph silly even childish, but you’d be surprised to know that I can relate each and every one of the portrayed characteristics to some actual person in my professional life including the coffee bean and the helicopter examples. Unfortunately, these Machiavellian principles work as well today as it did at the time of its writing nearly five centuries ago simply because

“there are plenty of people willing to overlook all kinds of deceit as long as their state is peaceful and prosperous”

… if you like to know what actually got you to expect fairness in business the following may help you get over the “Just World” bias.


Don’t Blame The Operator If You Still Work With Faulty Tools!

Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change – W. Dyer

It is amusing for instance that this young lady’s image could transform into a hooknose old lady in a blink, but what about more complex situations in life. Could these so-called amusing optical illusions point to a greater mix-up in our observations?

If there is one thing life has taught me well is that my hard earned, dearly held beliefs are often in contrast with its ever-evolving reality and that better judgment yields to better results. That being said, I can’t help but recall this famous undocumented story as follows: “When the European ships first approached the early Native Americans, it was such an ‘impossible’ vision in their reality that their filtered perceptions couldn’t register what was happening, and they literally failed to ‘see’ the ships.” – A form of perceptional blindness epidemic, if you will.

 

Willful blindness comes back to a single human impulse: the unconscious urge to surround ourselves with people who think the same way that we do. After all, challenging our views is uncomfortable. It’s much easier to reduce our exposure to people with different ideas and values. – Margaret Heffernan

As unbelievable as it may sound, please don’t rush into dismissing this story, based solely on its questionable historical origin or accuracy. Dr. Richards J. Heueri a pioneer in Epistemology studies believes that as a part of natural functioning to human cognitive process, the human brain builds its own often biased models in order to process and interpret fresh, complex and ambiguous information.

Influenced strongly by past experiences, education, cultural values and role requirements, an observer tends to perceive what he or she expects to perceive rather than what is there to be seen. Simply put, we need more information and a stronger stimulus in order to notice and register an unexpected event, in comparison to an expected one. Further proof of such perceptional conditioning could be traced to Placebo Effect when the patient’s expectation of the treatment alone produces some measurable improvement in his or her health condition.

Dr. Heuer further argues that these so-called mindsets tend to form quickly, but are resistant to change especially when developed over a long period of time. As a general rule, the longer a person is exposed to some inaccurate information, the harder it becomes to convince him or her to believe otherwise!

In addition to cultural, educational or organizational biases, cognitive psychologists have also identified some predictable patterns of faulty judgment caused as a result of one’s subconscious tendency to simplify information processing, when faced with uncertainty or difficulty. Very much like the optical illusion, these so-called “Cognitive Biases”, are predictable and consistent and that the error in judgment remains convincing even when one is aware of its presence and nature.

A simple example of cognitive bias is explained when estimating the distance based on clarity level of the viewed object. As a common rule, we see nearby objects more clearly than the distant ones, so when the overall visibility conditions change, we tend to overestimate the same distance as it becomes more blur and vice versa. Now isn’t that interesting? It turns out that it wasn’t the operator’s fault after all; the measurement tool was flawed all along!

Current as of June 2010, the Encyclopedia of Wikipedia lists cognitive biases in 3 major subcategories; Decision-making/ belief/ behavioral biases, Social biases, and Memory biases. Each subcategory, in turn, consists of at least a dozen items! Dr. Heuer studies conclude that these are not some absolute facts; however, it would be most useful to become aware of such phenomenon beforehand and reconsider the decision in light of one’s cognitive tendency to make biased judgments. To give you an example of how interesting this subject could get, let’s consider one of the best-known cognitive biases most of us have heard of

The Just World Hypothesis; – people get what they deserve because the world is just and fair!

Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer’s has been teaching the “Paths to Power” class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business since 1979; the core structure of the course and his latest book “Power-Why some people have it and others don’t”-ISBN: 0061789089 is built around recognizing “The Just World Hypothesis”.

Mr. Pfeffer argues that contrary to common belief, winning power in the workplace and holding on to your job doesn’t have much to do with the quality of your performance concluding that the relationship between rewards and competence is weak at its best. His extensive studies indicate that only %50 of those CEOs who led their firms into bankruptcy lost their jobs but perfectly successful senior managers are routinely fired when new CEOs take over! So here you are; 30 years of research is put into recognizing and dealing with a single cognitive bias that most of us still refuse to believe halfway through our career.

Next time, when the reality of life gets you cornered and you find yourself screaming your lungs out preaching some facts about how life should be and why it isn’t that way, check the list of cognitive biases and do a careful soul searching before blaming the operator; it could be the equipment that was at fault after all !!!

But why are we still struggling with such a nonsensical order you may ask.


Why there is something amiss in the world today?

Have you ever felt that something is not quite right in most societies these days and not much makes sense anymore? Nonsense began conquering the world 3 decades after the end of WWII when Neoliberal’s growing influence in US and UK set the stage ready for their global domination, while post-structuralism school of philosophy became fashionable taking over the academia at the same time.

Neoliberalism is a belief that free markets rather than government intervention are the path to economic prosperity; therefore, by successfully lobbying western governments since the 80s, huge tax exemptions have been allocated to the %1 rich in false hopes that rich getting richer would allow wealth to run downhill to lower and middle-class people, but it didn’t.

The rich got richer, multinational corporations grew larger and stronger than their governments while the poor fell even deeper into poverty as national debts around the world skyrocketed. Banks and government officials resorted to the exploitation of public wealth in an unprecedented level never seen before, jobs were off-shored to cheaper labor in the name of free trade promising cheaper consumer goods while decimating the working middle class. As a result of these devastating changes, there is a widespread belief nowadays that Capitalism as a dominant economic theory of Neoliberalism has failed, proving to be ineffective for most societies at large.

Not quite coincidentally, as Neoliberal economic policies begun destroying the economies around the world, self-help books became evermore popular growing into an $11 billion industry as millions of unemployed or underpaid labor were desperate to find new paths to financial success. Without laying out a single original thought, while covering common sense principals in metaphors, self-help authors have managed to amass unbelievable wealth by presenting what seems most appealing to their audience.

Similarly, flamboyant rhetoricians ministering the so-called “End of History & Clash of Civilization” theories are too a product of Neoliberalism, serving the doomsday wishers, when hope is no longer sought-after closely followed by right-wing politicians branded as socially liberal, should neither hope nor hate but change becomes marketable every 8 years or so!

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable. – George Orwell

With the widespread popularity of Post-Structuralism, academia as the last hope of humanity for logical reasoning has gone gobbledygook in the last three decades as well. Poststructuralism school of philosophy’s widespread supporters believe that stable meaning does not exist & it is constantly changing; therefore, every system of thought or social organization should be considered a text, subject to dangerously infinite vague interpretations and sometimes over-interpretations when concrete fields such as chemistry or history are supposed to be understood the same way as a work of fiction.

In short, not much makes sense anymore because the societies around the world are ruled not by the enlightening philosophy of reason, but by fear, fundamentalism, and irrational viewpoints. The Economic prosperity of nations is jeopardized in false hopes that “Money was all appropriated for the top, in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy – Will Rogers”, while academia as the last hope to avert the society from irrational thinking is instead full of dogmatic pseudo-intellectuals.

 

So how does one survives in this chaotic world after all?


Your Business Cries Out For a Purpose and So Do You

“Genesis 1:27 …And God Created Man in His Own Image”

We’ve heard so much about how your home decoration or your handwriting is the blueprint of your character. The same principle holds true when it comes to an organization or a business. The way a business is run explains so much about its manager’s personality, likes and dislikes. Not that there is anything wrong with that; not at all. We are all free to run our organizations the way we wish to do so and most likely in our own image after all!

Sounds like a harmless practice but what if that particular organization starts going downhill? Could an outsider let’s say a consultant help save a company from its owner and help it get back on its feet? I’d say there are no easy answers to this question. The triumphs and shortcomings of every organization are some outward manifestations of its founder’s “Will to Meaning”.

Pioneered in 19th century by Søren Kierkegaard – a Danish Philosopher, Existentialism is a specific school of Philosophy weaved around the notion that authentic experiences of individuals and not the moral or scientific thinking should be the initial point of philosophical thinking. Furthermore, living life passionately and sincerely and giving meaning to it is the sole responsibility of each individual. Based on the Existential doctrine, and developed by a Jewish Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist named Dr. Viktor Frankl (1905~1997), Logotherapy is the third Viennese school of psychotherapy focusing on Kierkegaard’s will to meaning as opposed to Adler’s Nietzschean doctrine of will to power or Freud’s will to pleasure. In simple plain English explained, Logotherapists believe that even the most miserable among us live life, not for the sake of getting power or pleasure but because they want to fulfill a purpose and find a meaning in what they do and experience, or even when taking a stand in the face of life’s suffering.

As an Existentialist by its true definition, Dr. Frankl’s methodology is validated through his four-year-long struggle as a concentration camp inmate during the period of World War II. Interestingly, ranked “the top ten” most influential books in the United States by the Library of Congress, “Man’s Search for Meaning” published in 1946 chronicles Dr. Frankl’s experiences and survival methodology during those horrific years.

According to Dr. Frankl’s survey conducted sometimes in the early 70s, over 60% of youngsters regarded their life goal to “make a lot of money”! Some nearly 80% also expressed deep concerns about finding a legitimate meaning and a purpose in life [perhaps other than making lots of money]! Dr. Frankl believes that if you don’t take a person’s will to meaning seriously, you run the risk of making him much worse for if we take a person as what he or she should be, we promote that person to being capable of what he can be. In simple words overrating a person’s capabilities will provide the grounds to make a much better person out of him or her.

If so, would it also be possible to apply the same principles to an organization or a business in hopes of betterment? As stated earlier the primary motivation in life is a person’s search for meaning; a meaning and purpose which can be revealed, satisfied and realized by that person alone. By the same token, the frustration of the will to a meaning or the “Existential Frustration” gives rise to an inner conflict between what one has achieved and what one needs to accomplish. This phenomenon is perhaps one of the most common inner tensions found amongst managers and business owners affecting both that person and his or her organization in a much unconstructive way! But there are no abstract and carved in the stone meanings of life. Easier said than done, there are three ways to discover and reveal a new purpose for a manager and his or her organization.

  • Initiating a work engenders some sense of direction and purpose in life. This concept is best known to managers as diversification, innovation and discovering new frontiers.
  • “The salvation of man is through love and in love” is not just some beautiful phrase quoted from Dr. Frankl. Love can produce tangible results even in the cruelest of places. Mental images of a loved one or even a loved occupation or a past loved venture can and will easily inspire a manager to get through the toughest times. Love also helps grasp the innermost core of almost anything or anyone allowing a decision-maker to extract the undeveloped potential in him or herself as well as his or her teammates.
  • Dr. Frankl believes that “the last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. By the attitude we take toward an unavoidable suffering, we are able to rise above the situation from an objective point of view; therefore, when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves instead; thus, engendering a purpose and meaning for the previously assumed pointless suffering.

Once an individual has discovered its purpose and meaning in life, the mental capacity to cope with suffering and a tranquil state of optimism is achieved. Therefore the individual in question is empowered to alter the suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment, turning guilt and sorrow into an opportunity for betterment.

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