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Harvey, Jerry B. : George Washington University
Jerry B. Harvery, well-known author of The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management, is a professor of management science at The George Washington University. He has consulted with business, government, various healthcare services, and the nonprofit sector and has published many articles in the fields of organizational behavior and education.
It's Not My Dog
A number of years ago, our family -- which consisted of me, my wife, and two preschoolers -- rented a condominium adjacent to a pristine, crescent-shaped, sandy beach near Ocean City, Maryland. Because our lease commenced several weeks after the official tourist season had concluded, few outsiders were to be found. In comparison to the hurly-burly one finds during the middle of the summer, the resort area was deserted.
A Walk, a Man, and a Dog
At approximately 6:30 a.m. on the first morning of our foray into the world of surf and sand, I awoke before the remainder of the troops had sprung into action and decided to take a solitary stroll along the beach in preparation for the chaos that inevitably attends having two small children gamboling amidst an onslaught of waves and sharks. I don't know whether you have visited that particular area of Maryland's Eastern Shore during the off-season. If you have, you know that at daybreak, when you step onto the beach from an oceanside condominium and look toward the ocean, about all you are likely to see is the rising sun, a few clouds, several fishing vessels, and an uncluttered horizon. There is a tranquil ambiance born of quietness, vastness, and solitude. It was in that peaceful context that I began my journey.
As I meandered along the beach, I suddenly became aware of two unidentifiable, animate objects several hundred yards ahead. I continued toward them until I was approximately twenty feet away and then stopped. Before me was a short, bald-headed man, whose weight I would conservatively estimate at 320 pounds. He was wearing a green checkered bathing suit that looked as if it had been fashioned from an old tablecloth a frugal owner might have discarded from a neighborhood pub. He sported a magnificent handlebar mustache. And he was engaged in the unlikely task of digging an enormous hole in the sand with a small purple plastic bucket. Adjacent to him was an equally obese male Labrador retriever, which was engaged in digging a proportionally large hole with his massive front paws.
Observing that kind of activity is not how I usually start my mornings, so I stood transfixed and quietly watched. The man clearly was an Olympic-caliber digger, because he had created a hole large enough that someone with the proper inclination could deposit a thirty-gallon garbage can into it with room to spare. The dog was equally competent, at least as far as dogs go. Indeed, he had burrowed so deeply into the sand that only his flanks and tail were visible when he was engaged fully in his endeavor, the purpose of which was not even remotely apparent to me.
The dog and man worked in tandem. One would dig while the other rested, and vice versa. They never dug at the same time. Periodically, either the man or the dog would emerge from the cavern he was constructing and rest. Simultaneously, the other, as if activated by an unseen timing mechanism, would commence to mine great volumes of sand. In many ways, they reminded me of the ditch-digging machines one observes at construction sites.
As I observed this unusual phenomenon, I began to have the uneasy feeling that I was an uncompensated extra in an Andy Warhol movie or, more likely, the subject of a Candid Camera episode. However, after I had watched the man and the dog for ten minutes without being accosted by Allen Funt (the host of the Candid Camera television show), curiosity overcame me. So I approached the man and said, rather tentatively, ''I beg your pardon, Sir. As you may have noticed, I've been observing for quite a while and I'm very curious. Are you and your dog digging for anything in particular?''
He looked up and replied, rather curtly I thought, ''It's not my dog.''
I waited, perhaps a full minute, for some sort of elucidation; but none came. Instead, the man and the dog resumed their tandem efforts.
As they alternately appeared and disappeared into their respective burrows, I said with a sense of increasing desperation, ''Oh, so it's not your dog?''
''Right,'' he replied. ''It's not my dog.'' And he continued to dig.
After five more minutes of silence, I realized that our conversation was over. I had said my piece, he had said his, and the dog could only bark.
I felt that I was an unwitting party to some sort of existential absurdity, the exact nature of which eluded me. So, feeling the primal anxiety that existential crises generate, I literally ran home, burst noisily into our beach-level apartment, woke my wife, and in an excited, somewhat agitated voice said, ''Beth, I have participated in an absurdity. You've got to hear about it.'' She sat up in bed, half-asleep, and Scott and Suzanne ran into the room shouting, ''What's wrong with Daddy this time?''
Ignoring both her lethargy and their queries, I proceeded to recount the whole affair, describing the bald-headed obese man, the handlebar mustache, the green checkered bathing suit, the purple plastic bucket, the huge Labrador retriever, and the mysterious pattern of tandem digging. Eventually I reached the punch line: ''His answer was, 'It's not my dog.' Don't you think that's absurd?''
Beth's reply was trenchant and to the point. ''Absolutely,'' she replied. ''I think it's completely absurd that you would expect the poor man to know what motivates somebody else's dog.''
For the second time that morning, someone had splashed the metaphorical equivalent of cold water in my face. As a result, I spent the remainder of my vacation uneasily contemplating the two answers.
To my surprise, the more I meditated about them, the more I realized that the replies of both the mustachioed digger and my beloved spouse were much more stimulating than my question, because each forced me to explore a new and fundamentally different set of assumptions about the nature of the situation in which I found myself. Nevertheless, it took more than a little psychic energy to reach-and to accept-that conclusion.
Throughout my life I had been taught, and have accepted without question, that asking the ''right'' question is a fundamental requirement for developing creative, new, unexpected, fecund solutions to problems new or old. After my encounter on the beach, however, I realized for the first time that asking the ''wrong'' question can stimulate equally productive venues for exploration. It is the generic process of questioning itself, not whether the questions are ''right'' or ''wrong,'' that stimulates learning. For that reason, the process of questioning many of the basic assumptions that I have employed in an effort to understand the nature of organizational life is central to the content of this book. Asking myself and others, ''Are you and your dog digging for anything in particular?'' and then examining the unexpected reply, ''It's not my dog,'' is more than a trivial intellectual exercise. I believe it is integral to learning anything of importance, organizational dynamics included.
Meditations at the Beach
Therefore, in Chapter One I begin the process by asking myself the penetrating question, How come every time I get stabbed in the back, my fingerprints are on the knife? That cutting-edge query arose from discovering that no matter how often I have felt betrayed by others in an organizational setting, the truth is that I have always played an active role in my own downfall. In fact, I have reached the conclusion that neither I, nor anyone else I know, nor any organization to which I have belonged, has ever truly been stabbed in the back. We have been frontstabbed, sidestabbed, or even murdered. Believe me, though, each of those experiences is fundamentally different from being stabbed in the back. Furthermore, I am convinced that it is important to know the nature of the difference if we and the organizations we create are to function effectively.
Building on the train of thought established in Chapter One, I began to muse in Chapter Two about the biblical Judas, whose name is synonymous with betrayal, an act that is generally accepted as a form of backstabbing. If I am correct in my conclusion that backstabbing doesn't occur, Judas didn't stab Christ in the back; nor was he a traitor. All of those present, Jesus included, colluded in setting Judas up to do the dirty work that the organization needed to have done. Initially, I found that my conclusions regarding the role of Judas and his organizational colleagues, the ''spin doctors,'' were very disturbing. First, they required me to reevaluate cherished religious beliefs I long have taken for granted. Second, casting religious (but not spiritual) concerns aside, I didn't like the implications of the Last Supper's dynamics for our lives in contemporary organizations. If the historical Judas wasn't a traitor, then neither are the present-day Judases whom we scapegoat in our organizations. Rather, they are symptomatic of our efforts to divert attention from our complicity in contributing to major organizational problems. See what you think. I would be interested in learning about your reactions.
While writing Chapter Two, I realized that the ''spin doctors'' -- the disciples -- just sat on their duffs and did nothing when confronted with an organizational crisis of epic proportions. Consequently, in Chapter Three, I look at the dynamics of sitting on our duffs and compare them with the dynamics of standing for something in our day-to-day organizational lives. It is a very short chapter, but for me it stands on its own.
In Chapter Four, I explore the ways in which I believe that educators in general, and management educators in particular, can engage in the process described by the chapter's title, namely, not*teaching. Ultimately, the chapter deals with my conviction that teaching, as we usually practice it, gets in the way of learning and that ''good teaching'' is an oxymoron. Assuming that you take the content seriously, as I do, the skills for managing competently can't be taught but can be learned. All in all, the chapter adumbrates the lessons I have learned from years of not teaching management and organizational behavior, both as a university professor and as a consultant to organizations.
In Chapter Five, ''Prayers of Communication and Organizational Learning,'' I explore the role that prayer frequently plays in organizational behavior. I doubt that I define prayer as you do, but I'm uncomfortable enough with my definition to consider the issue of organizational prayer as worthy of exploration. From my thirty years of experience as a consultant to organizations, I know that many major decisions in ostensibly secular organizations are actually made on the basis of prayers to the deity. I also know that a large number of ultimately destructive organizational decisions are made because organization members avoid prayerful consideration of issues that confront them. Based on my observations of the subtle communication that occurred between the Labrador retriever and his mustachioed colleague on the beach, I often wonder whether dogs also pray. I suspect that they very well might.
Chapter Six, ''This Is a Football: Leadership and the Anaclitic Depression Blues,'' deals with the way in which our inborn need to be emotionally connected with others and our reciprocal need not to be abandoned or ostracized by others are integral to the exercise of effective organizational leadership. From my point of view, the chapter may be one of the more important pieces that I have written, because the role of anaclitic depression is central to virtually everything I have produced, starting with The Abilene Paradox (1988c) and working up to the present. Lord knows, I have experienced the kind of anaclitic depression that is characteristic of individuals who are dying, not living, in organizations that are incompetently led.
In Chapter Seven, ''What If I Really Believe This Stuff?'' I explore the relationship of the anaclitic depression blues to a variety of commonplace organizational processes. For instance, I discuss why so-called normal, bell-shaped distributions of human performance actually reflect abnormal, anaclitically depressed behavior on the part of organizational members. I also discuss why real distributions of performance in high-performing organizations are always bimodal rather than symmetrical and why it is necessary for high-performing organizations to maintain a cadre of low performers in order to facilitate overall organizational excellence. Finally, I explore why objectivity on the part of a leader creates an anaclitically depressed workforce that ensures organizational mediocrity.
In Chapter Eight, I build on the work of the preceding two chapters and engage in musing about ''the elephant in the parlor.'' In this chapter, I discuss the seminal work of Elliott Jaques, a metaphorical elephant whose presence most of us who are engaged in the theory and practice of organizational behavior desperately try to deny. I am convinced that his work is the most creative, intellectually demanding, and organizationally significant of any in the field of organizational dynamics. Yet relatively few managers, academicians, consultants, students, or bartenders know of, or are aware of, what he has produced. For approximately thirty-five years, the elephant has been trumpeting, ''It's not my dog'' and ''How can you expect anyone to know the motivation of someone else's dog?'' Despite the elephant's roars, most of us have avoided the questions he has asked and, even more, the replies he has generated. I hope to do my part in rectifying what I believe to be our near-phobic fear of both dogs and elephants.
''Social Intervention as the Process of Releasing Flatus in the Confines of Religious Institutions,'' Chapter Nine, was written in collaboration with Dr. Bobby Lee Bemus, a longtime Texas colleague who doesn't exist. More accurately, he doesn't exist physically, although Carl Jung might contend that he lives and works in my shadow (Campbell, 1971). Leaving the details of his exact status aside, I wrote the chapter with ol' Bobby Lee because I sure as hell am not going to be the primary author of the kinds of ethereal arguments he makes. Many people who have had access to drafts of our work don't like it. Ronald Markillie, for instance, one of my closest friends and an esteemed colleague, said simply, ''It stinks.'' Other friends, colleagues, and a few enemies have sent us copious suggestions for additions to it, some of which have been so obscene that I was offended by them. Although Bobby Lee and I have incorporated several of their ideas into the manuscript, I think you might be interested in knowing that none of them wanted us to give them any formal recognition for their contributions. Bobby Lee and I share the ambivalence of both our critics and our collaborators. Consequently, we hope you like it but would not be at all surprised if you don't.
Given the brevity of Chapter Ten, ''Ode to Waco,'' you might reach the conclusion that I consider it to be trivial. I hope not, because I don't. I wrote it while listening to the spokespersons for two warring religious institutions, the FBI and the Branch Davidians, comment on their respective strategies for coping with the situation in which they found themselves. The more I listened, the more I realized that the two organizations shared value systems that were virtually identical. Yet, despite the enormous similarities of their core beliefs, they were prepared to annihilate one another. As you probably know, one eventually did destroy the other, in part, I think, because the two principals had so much in common. As good old Willie Shakespeare barked many years ago, ''Lord, what fools these mortals be!'' (A Midsummer Night's Dream 3.2). Since ''these mortals'' are ultimately ''we,'' I wonder if Willie, in his wisdom, could have helped the principals avoid the debacle in Waco had he taken on the project as a consultant.
I conclude the book with Chapter Eleven, ''When We Buy a Pig,'' which explores the tragedy that frequently occurs when organizations hire and worship no-nonsense managers. I take this chapter very much to heart. Maybe you will, too. The book has an Afterword, ''In Memory of Suzanne.'' I wrote it during a peri
od of great personal sadness and overwhelming despair. I debated with myself as to whether it should be included, but I have no ambivalence now. Sometimes parts of books, even books dealing with organizational behavior, are written as much for the author as for anyone else. This chapter is for me and-God bless her-for Suzanne.
Other Elements of the Landscape
While revolving around life in organizations, the material in this book tends to be very moralistic in places. Being a confessed preacher at heart, I don't apologize for that. I want you to know, though, that I am aware of it and am acutely sensitive to the potential dangers it poses to my efforts to communicate with you. My fondest hope is that whatever moralism I exhibit is a gentle reflection of my lifelong concern with organizational issues that are ethical, moral, and spiritual in nature and is not a misguided expression of narrow-mindedness that is characteristic of a religious zealot. To state this differently, I hope that my moralistic themes are not oppressive or relevant only to individuals from a single religious or spiritual tradition or relevant only to those who have a religious or spiritual tradition.
I can't avoid, nor do I want to deny, the fact that my religious background combined with my penchant for spiritual inquiry has had an enduring impact on the way in which I view all aspects of organizational life. I hope that, at best, you will experience the moralism, with all of its limitations and its universality (if any), as a spiritual expression of the type that Joseph Campbell described when he explored The Masks of God (Campbell, 1970). And, if my hope is not fulfilled, I ask both your forbearance and, ultimately, your forgiveness.
In a related vein, similar to my previous book (The Abilene Paradox, 1988c), this is primarily a compilation of meditations, some of which are disguised as essays. When I speak of meditations, I mean that I have tried to share some concerns, ideas, and issues related to organizational behavior that I believe may be worthy of mulling over and thinking about. Alternatively, I have not tried to provide ironclad or even tentative solutions for much of anything. I think that my hesitancy to do so stems from two sources. First, the more experience I have gained from the study of organizational behavior, the less sure I have become about what I know. Second, Jack Gibb (1964) has pointed out in his work on trust theory that giving advice to others, as opposed to sharing ideas and information with them, is an expression of distrust. Therefore, when I see authors offer advice-laden versions of ''Ten Sure-Fire Techniques for Achieving Organizational Success and Solving All Your Problems Without Risk, Stress, or Strain,'' I know that they have little trust and respect for the readers and even less for themselves. Although I may sympathize with authors who do that, I don't care to join them.
As some of you may know, I am a storyteller at heart, so much of this book is built around stories. Although my official job title is Professor of Management Science, I do not consider myself to be much of a scientist. I am convinced, though, that a good story is a scientifically valid way to explore many facets of human existence, including life in organizations-assuming, of course, that generic science ultimately is concerned with the search for reality and truth. Therefore, I focus much more on stories than on the results of double-blind experiments. Although I have enormous respect for those who work within the framework of rigorous scientific method, I personally have not found that life is a repeated measures design. Furthermore, I have found at times that a disproportionate number of double-blind experiments dealing with what I consider to be the important concerns of organizational life are just that: doubly blind.
As I have grown older (and have, I hope, grown in ways other than age and waist size), I have discovered to my delight that stories have several qualities of which I have only recently become aware.
To begin with, stories give me a lot of information about myself and my role in society. In many ways, I feel as if I am the sum and substance of my stories. I wonder if you feel that stories do the same for you?
In addition, stories tell me something about the nature of the world in which I live, even though I frequently don't know what the story is trying to tell me when I first hear or participate in it. Apparently, I am not the only one who has encountered that dilemma. In his wonderful novel The Living End, Stanley Elkin (1979) describes a discussion that some of heaven's inhabitants have with God. In effect they ask, Why did you create a world with so many puzzling, incomprehensible, and paradoxical features? ''Because it makes a better story,'' God replies (p. 144).
Like the characters in Elkin's novel, my memory and file cabinets are loaded with stories relating to events in which I have been a participant but of which I have yet to understand the point. Nevertheless, as both the stories and I marinate in the ebb and flow of life, I'm sure the point will come to me or, if not to me, to someone who, I hope, will elucidate its meaning to me and others.
As I have said before (1988c), I attribute much of my interest in storytelling to my maternal grandfather, with whom I had the good fortune to spend a lot of time. When as a child I visited him and my grandmother during summer vacations, the whole family gathered on the porch during Sunday afternoons. With him presiding from his rocking chair and all participants armed with flyswatters, we would, in his poetic words, ''Swat flies and swap lies.''
I want to be sure that the meaning he, and we, attached to the latter part of that Sunday afternoon activity is not misunderstood. Wilfred Bion, a great psychoanalytic storyteller, described lies as ''formulations known by the initiator to be false but maintained as a barrier against statements that lead to a psychological or emotional upheaval'' (1970, p. 97). That's certainly not what my grandfather and we had in mind. To us, a lie was, and is, not a violation of the truth. Rather, a lie is a slight expansion or elaboration of the truth for a couple of reasons: first, to provide a creative emphasis and elucidation of the truth and, second, to make more bearable the terrors that the truth often holds. That may be descriptive of some aspects of my stories, too, but I don't think you will have any difficulty in ascertaining when those slight expansions or creative elaborations occur.
Ultimately, I have attempted to produce a set of meditations about organizational issues that are worthy of contemplation, rather than a list of prescriptions for personal or organizational success. My expectations for the book are therefore very limited. At best, I would be honored if on occasion you might be moved to say to yourself or to someone you know, ''I'll be damned. I never thought of that before.''
With that in mind, I invite you to locate your flyswatter and join me on the front porch. If you don't want to come alone, you are welcome to bring a dog-even if it doesn't belong to you.
Acknowledgements / The Author
Introduction: It's Not My Dog
1. Some Thoughts About Organizational Back Stabbing or How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints are on the Knife?
2. The Spin Doctors: An Invitation to Meditate on the Organizational Dynamics of the Last Supper and Why Judas was not the Traitor
3. On the Ethics of Standing for Something or Sitting on Our Duffs
4. Learning to Not*Teach
5. Prayers of Communication and Organizational Learning
6. This Is a Football: Leadership and the Anaclitic Depression Blues
7. What If I Really Believe This Stuff?
8. Musing About the Elephant in the Parlor or "Who the Hell Is Elliot Jaques?"
9. On Tooting Your Own Horn or Social Intervention as the Process of Releasing Flatus in the Confines of Religious Institutions
10. Ode to Waco: When Bizarre Organizational Behavior Is Concerned, God Works in Strange and Mysterious Ways
11. When We Buy a Pig: The Tragedy of the No-Nonsesne Manager
Afterword: In Memory of Suzanne
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