Monday, September 10, 2012

Ig-Nobel Leadership

Thanks to the Ig-Nobel Awards, given out by Improbable Research, we can laugh and learn a few things about leadership attributes. Here's a short list from the 2011 winners:

  • Structured procrastination: John Perry of Stanford discovered that high achievers procrastinate in a certain way. To avoid doing the really important thing, do a moderately important thing. You'll still achieve a lot and procrastinate at the same time. Example: write a blog instead of marketing your business.
  • Amount of coffee at a meeting: the longer the meeting goes without a break, and the more coffee or water or any beverage is consumed, two outcomes in decision-making are more probable. According to two studies, 1) the management team will more likely vote for the greater but longer term reward, rather than the immediate, smaller reward; 2) attention and memory will shorten. So maybe that explains why board meetings might vote for stock options, but not remember how outrageous they were.
  • You're in trouble if the boss sighs: I had a boss who sighed a lot in meetings. This was his way of not trying to influence the conversation of the meeting by withholding statements. However, as one study shows sighs are very telling. As an observer of a sigh, we might think the person is sad, whereas the person sighing is more likely to be surrendering something or somebody. In my case, I often think the boss was surrendering any hope that we might agree with him or find our way to his solution on our own. He might have been surrendering his perception that he had a qualified and talented staff.
In earlier years, it was shown that organizational effectiveness increases if you promote people at random. Throw out the performance appraisal system as a means to determining who the next manager should be. Just create a random number generator to pick a person from the employee list and be done with it.

If you're in leadership, here's your plan for the next meeting: put the most important topic as the last agenda item; serve lots of beverages and don't have any breaks; sigh a lot and then announce that you've promoted the janitor to be the new head of R&D because you want to see organizational productivity go up. Boy, will it ever!

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