Tuesday, May 10, 2011

E-Luminations: Farewell from 'The Corporate Curmudgeon'

It's been a while. If you didn't hear, I decided to end my "The Corporate Curmudgeon" column. 20 years. Never missed a week. Yeah, I miss it. I wrote a pair of farewell columns, reprinted here, that will explain my decision. Now, unfettered, I can offer up some original material. The first piece is a definition.

It's below, along with a PDF version, in case you'd like to post it in your workspace or conference room. (Or, if you're feeling mischievous, you might post it on an executive's door.)

dictionary page

©2011 by Dale Dauten.

That definition is the start of a series on innovation. I'm pleased to have started major Culture of Innovation projects for Honeywell and STC, where we are creating places where ideas flow and experiments are a routine part of the workplace. More at www.dauten.com under The Innovators' Lab, or click here.


OK, now for those farewell columns...



By Dale Dauten

"Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way."

–E.L. Doctorow

I've written over a thousand of these columns and I'm sorry to tell you that this is the next-to-last one. It's been over twenty years; it's time. This column, "The Corporate Curmudgeon," once appeared in several dozen papers with a combined circulation of tens of millions; now, it's just you and me and my mother... and I've caught Mom skipping. So, time for something new.

Even after twenty years, I don't think I could walk away from The Corporate Curmudgeon if I didn't have another weekly column to write; it's a career advice column, "JT & Dale Talk Jobs," co-authored with J.T. O'Donnell, the brightest and most innovative career coach I could find (and, trust me, I searched). It's fast-paced and practical but still has time for the occasional curmudgeonly aside. I hope it will appear here, in the place of my old column.

Next week I'll say farewell, but for now, as we approach the end of the year, it's a good time to sum up some of what I've learned...

  • Most jobs are boring because they are designed that way. If you're building an organization, you want to create jobs that qualified people can do readily. Then, when you go to hire people, you look for employees who have successfully done that exact job. In other words, you minimize uncertainty, which is same thing as structural boredom.

  • In EVERY company people are going to make fun of the boss; it's just that in the good companies, it happens when the boss is around.

  • The worse the job, the harder it is to leave. A bad job is like a leech on the brain, numbing the soul and sapping self-esteem. A bad job makes you less qualified for a good job and less able to find one.

  • What another way of saying "workaholic"? Employee of the Year.

  • The more time and people devoted to a decision, the more likely it is to be wrong. The more people involved in a decision, the more likely it is to prudent. Prudence kills.

  • Bad jobs carry the seeds of good jobs. It may seem wise to send lousy jobs overseas, but along with those jobs go the knowledge, experience and money which will soon enable foreign companies to offer their own brands. And when they do, the good jobs will grow there.

  • On the high road, too, there are potholes.

  • We don't want to admit to its grim efficiency, but there's a reason why hierarchical, bureaucratic management systems are the basis of virtually all armies, governments, corporations, churches and schools: BUREAUCRACY WORKS! In fact, one reason it works so well is that an elaborate bureaucracy eliminates the need for charisma, reduces the demands upon competence, and replaces individual integrity with systematic regulation. Said another way, bureaucracy is leadership that doesn't reply upon an actual leader; the system is the Churchill.

  • Watching television these days feels like going to a low-rent carnival. Everyone is shouting to you, grabbing at you, grease-smiling and cheese-baiting... and that's just the talk shows. Is there any guest on any late night show who isn't selling something? Anyone who isn't telling stories written by an image team? Now, the people who brought you TV are taking over the Internet. No wonder newspapers, both online and in print, are about to make a comeback.

  • It's easy to believe that we live in a visual world and that words, especially written ones, don't matter. Don't be taken it by that false logic. The truth is that words are picture-making devices, the visual before the visual, and words remain THE important business tool, and THE important career skill.

  • And I have to end with one last insight from Gerald "Genghis" Cone, CEO of Mundane Industries: "The fact is that employees work harder the closer they get to their annual reviews. Why do you think I postpone them at the last minute every year?"

©2011 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.



By Dale Dauten

"If there are twelve clowns in a ring, you can jump in the middle and start reciting Shakespeare, but to the audience, you'll just be the thirteenth clown."

–Adam Walinsky

For the past dozen years or more, I've put a quote at the top of this column and, thinking back, I decided the Walinsky one above was my all-time favorite. Clowns AND Shakespeare; that's my kind of writing.

The reason I was thinking about my all-time favorite was that my time's up, at least for this column. As I mentioned last week, I'm going to be putting more time into "JT & Dale Talk Jobs," a zippy and useful career-advice column that I hope will appear here in place of The Corporate Curmudgeon. (My partner in that column is the charming and wise career coach, J.T. O'Donnell, who you'll love.) If you'll miss the old column - and, boy, I will - there's a collection of some favorites at dauten.com, where you also can sign up for updates about new material I'll be doing, including a pair of books coming up.

Over the years I've written as the ghost of Vince Lombardi, done Dr. Suess take-offs, including one called "The Clerk With The Smirk," had Siskel & Ebert review your career as a bad movie, and of course offered the opinions of CEO Gerald "Genghis" Cone and HR VP Winslow "Win-Win" Cheeseley, both of whom are colleagues at my mythical employer, Mundane Industries. It's a miracle that any editor of the Business section let me get away with it, so if you're reading this, you know your editors have open minds and don't take themselves too seriously, which means that they deserve your support, by which I mean your subscription.

As I looked back, feeing sentimental, it seemed right to end with an update of my most sentimental column...

I wish for you that you go to work at a place where they're glad to have you, a place where they wonder how to keep up with business, not where to stalk it.

And I wish for you that before too long you get chosen for a big assignment and that you have the privilege of being scared. Someone gives you a promotion or new job and you say to your spouse - the terrifically supportive one that I wish for you - "I don't think I'm ready" and your spouse says, "Well, they picked you, so they think you're ready. And me too, because you're the best."

But I also wish for you that somewhere along the way you get fired. You push an idea too hard, and a VP from L.A. who's jealous of your popularity gets you axed. Then someone you used to work with calls you and offers you an even better job and a year later you run into that VP at a conference and sincerely say, "Thank you."

I wish for you that you get to hire extraordinary people, some of whom are ones that don't look or act the part and your coworkers wonder if you know what you're doing. And those oddball employees understand that you gave them a break and they wonder how they can ever pay you back even as they are doing so. And you hire friends' kids for summer jobs and they when they're asked how you were to work with, they smile and say, "Cool."

I wish for you that when business goes down and the slope slips, you don't. An employee comes to you and says, "These numbers look awful, but we could fudge a little right here on this line and forget to report this account and then they'd look okay." And you give them the tight smile and the hard eye and say, "No, we'll either figure it out or tough it out," and your employee looks at you with relief and admiration and says, "I was hoping that was what you'd say."

I wish that when you start to think about retiring that your coworkers are horrified. And I wish for you that when you're old you have a mild heart attack, where everyone prays for you and comes to visit and they all realize how much they love you. And when, after a long healthy life, you die, I wish that everyone says, "THAT was a life well lived" and then, every so often, when things are tough, they think of you and smile, and try one more thing, and that's the one that works.

©2011 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.