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Modern business is obsessed with leaders. We talk about leadership all the time, but its real meaning is becoming more and more obscure. Recent corporate.
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We perform in business of course as well, not just in the sense of delivering on tasks and accomplishing goals set by others or ourselves, but also in the sense of developing our own narrative, choreographing our interactions, and playing a role, in fact, many different roles. As Matthew B. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business, however, his decisions can be reversed at any time by someone higher up the food chain and there is always someone higher up the food chain.
We are how much liked or feared we are. We are what we are not told. This has far-reaching implications. The same is true for us as consumers. We put on masks and try on different identities as we enter the showrooms, as we buy and buy into the products, services, cultures, and values of the brands we revere. Masks represent the allure of another life, with all its promises and risks.
We spend most of our professional lives rehearsing for our one big moment of fame and fail to realize that our rehearsals are indeed the show. In the name of authenticity, we are growing increasingly skeptical of organizations and leaders wearing a mask.
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Who would not embrace it? So it may seem counter-intuitive, yes, almost illegitimate, to hold up the merits of disguise, of quite literally wearing a mask. To be somebody else is the first step to becoming somebody else. Only by pretending to be somebody else or something else can we transform ourselves. Whether it is noble and good, hedonist and frivolous, or dangerous and even criminal, masks hide the dark side, or at least a side that does not conform to our social norms or protocols. They indicate that what we see is not what we get, and that things are not what they seem to be.
Putting on masks allows us to reveal and speak the truth, as the fools did at medieval courts. Masks do not show what is right, but they make us believe in the existence of something that is true—they literally mean more, and suggest we look and think twice, because there is always another reality, another life that is possible.
We habitually doubt the feelings of others, and our own. Is it a mask or is it real? In most instances, groups are collectively smarter than their individual members and often make more sensible decisions. The fact that typically the only group in a corporation that gets to vote is the board of directors is not an accident; decision-making is usually more an exercise of power than an act of wisdom.
Yet for all this richness, in business we default to autocratic rulings. It seems a shame. So, two outcomes are likely as the work of business increasingly moves online. Second, an important part of every project will be how you are going to decide. But it will also open up for explicit discussion the nature of the social interaction in any particular project: is this a group effort, a team with leaders, a mob action, a ventriloquist act, or some other type of human association?
Even raising this for conversation in a group changes the dynamics, for it acknowledges the fact that there are lots of ways humans can work together -- and every type of association is a matter of choice. All this open information. Sounds like a nightmare to most of us. The term information, as we commonly use it today, is a product of the computer age.
Before then, information meant something like news. The term took on special meaning first in information theory, where it received a mathematical definition to the yawning indifference of the awaiting public and then in the computer world when data was invented. And we all understand that to get the relevant facts about the world into our databases, we have to strip out a lot of the subtleties. We strip out the context because that enables us to manage information: we select rows based on the content of the columns, we sort and arrange the rows, we look for interesting correlations of rows and columns.
In short, information is stuff we generate precisely to be managed with computers. While it takes a database administrator or data entry specialist to enter data into a database, it takes any idiot with a computer to post something -- from naked pictures of your cat to an overheated manifesto -- on an intranet or on the Web. Information is built to be managed; the stuff on the Web is the product of the lack of management. Information is stripped down; the content of the Web is rich in its contextuality.
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These two sets of contrasts go together. The stuff on the Web tends to be rich, not dry disquisitions loaded with charts and tables. The Web is a document world. Unix is the Klingon of cyberspace -- an argot only the true fanatics learn. Along came the Web with two simple additions to the Internet.
First, the Web replaced screens and terminal emulations with a much more familiar and useful way of presenting stuff to be read: documents. This made it possible to navigate the Web by clicking on content rather than by typing in path names. The Web succeeded where the Internet failed, in other words, simply by adding a document front-end, and hyperlinking those documents together.
The document user interface made it simple for people to get started with the Web. This is important because documents are our most richly evolved type of data. Our culture has spent a couple of thousand years figuring out how to express virtually any type of thought on pages. Because we are so close to documents in all their forms, it can be hard to realize just how good we are at reading them and just how much contextual information they convey. We parse the structures of a page instantly and thus can tell the footer from the footnotes, the header from the headlines, the byline from the lines of bile.
The Web is a document-based medium. It is built to handle the richness of documents. And, interestingly, the very first improvements of HTML the language in which Web pages are written mainly concerned themselves with simply enabling Web pages to look more like spiffy printed pages. The world of information on the Web is, therefore, a whole lot richer than the domain of database information in both content and structure.
The Web is a voiced world. The Web is the realm of the human voice. The Web liberates voice by making it so damn easy to communicate and publish. We have been trained throughout our business careers to suppress our individual voice and to sound like a "professional," that is, to sound like everyone else. This professional voice is distinctive. And weird. Taken out of context, it is as mannered as the ritualistic dialogue of the seventeenth-century French court. A professional memo obeys implicit rules such as one page is best, no jokes, admit no weakness, spellcheck it carefully, and send it to as few people as possible.
Now, we write e-mails. E-mail enables us to construct our voices at our leisure, resulting in some odd artifices. A voice is, after all, a complex "thing. Because most of our communications over the Web are "asynchronous" -- i. Meeting go boom. For example, at Optika, a small software company in Colorado Springs, Sean Spradling, a twenty-six-year-old member of the Marketing department just up and began publishing Forecast This!
If "uplifting" characterizes most corporate newsletters, "skewering" characterizes Forecast This! What a concept. In a hyperlinked organization, voice plays the old role of the org chart, telling you whom you should work with. That Mary is wicked smart, totally frank, and a trip to work with tells you everything.
The world is more like a huge set of messy hyperlinks than like a really big table of data. On the one hand, it continues much as it is. We still need databases that reduce people to numbers. But we also should recognize that the increase in available information has made us feel stupider than ever. All the printouts, all the database dumps, and all the nicely formatted reports and spreadsheets with embedded charts are not describing our world to us. We have statistics but no understanding.
And adding more and more information is only increasing the noise level. We need understanding. And understanding is not more or higher information. If you want understanding, you have to reenter the human world of stories. For example, my young son in some sense understands World War II. His story is this: the Nazis attacked other countries and were winning until the U.
I worked at a company that tanked for lots of good reasons. When a bunch of us ex-employees get together, some of us say that it was because the product got too inbred and complex; others say that Marketing failed to predict the platforms the software would have to run on; others say that the management team was too focused on new products and ignored the bread and butter.
None of us tell the same story. That identity gets expressed in stories that sound something like these:. When you get past the mission statement and the slide showing why your current market share and revenues are making Croesus envious, and you start to tell your story, only then do people begin to understand your company.
Every sale worth knowing about has one "It looked like the bad guys were going to win this one, so I wrote this e-mail, see, and sent it to this guy I know Every repair job has one "I tried everything in the book to get the X to work, including repacking the bearings, which is a total pain. And then while I was tightening the booster ring, I noticed the damndest thing So we decreased it from 36 to 12 cylinders and scored a hit with the scaredy-cat driver market We live in stories. We breathe stories. Most of our best conversations are about stories. Stories are a big step sidewise and up from information:.
How to apply this to your workaday world? You already have. Stories are how we make sense of things. Stories are a way to understand a world that can surprise us. But in Fort Business, surprises are a sign of the failure of management. Management aims at predictability and it tries to get there via control. The urge to manage is deep in our culture. It ultimately is defeated by the fact of human fallibility. In fact, all big systems are broken. For example, on the phone system sometimes we get busy signals, and sometimes the phone rings and rings and no one answers, but we choose not to count those as signs of brokenness.
If the telephone system chose to treat busy and unanswered phones as broken, it could make answering machines a standard telephone service. We could even complain that we have to memorize long strings of numbers, instead of having cute phone "numbers" like david. We choose to see the phone system as basically not broken, and choose to see the Web as inevitably broken.
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Because fallibility is an endearing trait that seems to be a requirement for community. We are intensely uncomfortable with people who have no weaknesses. For example: Michael Jordan, Jesus, and my older cousin Don. It also lets us move faster. In the old cycle, you could Our staff has to be able to work with incredible ambiguity, be self-confident, simplify and trust others Most of all we have to embrace "good enough" reengineering, good enough that we can progress More important, so are we humans.
Say it with me: humans are imperfect. I am imperfect. We often use the phrase "knowledge is power" to make it seem that hierarchically granted power is justifiable. Being right advances you and being wrong is a defeat. That sucks. You can see the politics of "being right" throughout most organizations.
People win arguments -- and thus secure their position in the hierarchy -- through the cutting remark, through megatonnage of evidence, through agreeing with industry consultants, and through the smug refusal to ever admit being wrong. But wrongness has a lot going for it beyond the fact that some things can only be learned through trial and error. Does your company have "zero tolerance" for error? Can you change your mind without losing status? If so, consider engaging in the radical politics of wrongness. Go out and commit a whopper.
Then embrace it publicly. Webs have blurry boundaries. Fort Business, on the other hand, makes an enormous investment in maintaining the integrity of the walls. To join, you have to commit to sitting in a room at a particular time. In the open, hyperlinked world, it requires nothing but a few clicks to check out what a particular group is doing. You join their e-mail discussion group or visit their group intranet site.
Zero commitment. You can browse with all the lack of commitment the word implies. When the hurdles to membership lower, the boundaries blur. Businesses are building extranets to enable their strategic partners to access information. There are hundreds of examples of this, in industries that range from retailing to drilling for oil to distributing T-shirts to the people who print slogans on them.
In many cases, extranets are used to get the paper out of the system. This enables process automation and cost savings, which are good things. But some companies -- and someday, all companies -- are going farther than that, giving their partners and customers access to their own intranet, so they can see the sausage being made. You can let customers see product-design discussions but keep them from seeing what its competitors are saying to you; you can let a supplier check the processing of a payment but keep it out of the pages where your accountants are evaluating bids.
You have all the flexibility you need. Why not let your customers see your product-design process? Every business is dysfunctional because everything human is at least a little bit broken. So what are you protecting your customers from? The obvious truth they know and live with every day? Companies that let their customers and suppliers into the process early on deliver better products.
And they forge the bonds of trust and delight that are the only ones that work in the "frictionless" Web. But maybe you need more than the promise of riches. Perhaps you need the fear of failure to motivate you. So, here it comes: suppose you use your extranet solely as a secure publishing site or for automating transactions that otherwise require paper, rubber stamps, and file folders. This will decrease your expenses and your time to market. Imagine the Foobar Company, the leading supplier of pen chains to the banking industry. Its development process calls on it to come up with a marketing requirements document that results in a product spec that in turn results in a new product.
So, Foobar decides to open the floodgates. Customers and suppliers are poking all around the innards of Foobar Company. These "outside" companies are seeing the actual workings of the company, and that means they are getting to know the individuals in the organization.
As this sort of knowledge gets absorbed, the "outsiders" start dealing directly with the individuals and hyperlinked groups in the organization. And when you pop into this group, are you going to know or care that in fact some of the members are in fact other partners of Foobar? To the outside, the company begins to look like a set of hyperlinked clusters who select themselves based on trust and respect and even their sense of fun. The trust is built through the quality of voice of the participants: that is all that counts in a hyperlinked team.
The business now consists of a shifting set of hyperlinked groups, self-organizing, inviting in participants based on the quality of their voice, regardless of where -- and whether -- they are on the org chart. Management is simply an impediment to these groups. In fact, rather than employees feeling that they must constantly justify themselves to management, management now needs to give workers a single reason why it should be involved in the life of the business it used to believe it ran.
The Internet has already set expectations for how connections ought to work. The gulf is there; a gulf caused, ironically, by the abundance of connection. The Web is the sum of these connections. It is a broad, open place that lets everyone touch everyone else and touch every digit of information by twitching a wrist and tapping a single finger. What connects you to me to everyone else are Web pages and e-mail and chat and discussions. These are all artifacts of human voice. Each is deliberately created and put forward as our public self, the self that is closest to us and, paradoxically, least knowable to us.
An economy of voice. Has there been such a thing since the Athenians talked democracy into existence? The voices are heard in conversations. Had those conversations across the generations been different, we would not have the world we do. These particular conversations have given rise to a deterministic, causal world in which outputs result from inputs according to natural principles and self-evident rules. Socrates never said, "Hey, Alcibiades, what do you say we meet at the corner of Hesiod and Pericles at three-fifteen?
Later, babe. Physical laws, rules of behavior, contracts, schedules, deadlines, professionalism, org charts, and management practices are all types of connections. They all are attempts to control not only the object of the connection but also the nature of the connection itself. Because they promise control over the two things we fear most: the vicissitudes of our world and the passion of our selves.
As a manager armed with a theory and the latest business book, I not only know what to do, I know who to be. Then the Web crept into our offices under false pretenses. We thought first it was a library of information. Then we thought it was a publishing medium. Then we thought it was a toy or a dangerous distraction.
But in fact it is a conversation of a new type, free of the need to get permission from Dad and his army buddies. New types of connections. The heart flowing to other hearts. A new rhythm. A new causality. A new understanding of power. The Web is hitting business with the force of a whirlwind because it is a whirlwind.
The closely held, tightly packed, beautifully tooled pieces are being pulled apart. They are rebinding themselves in patterns determined by the conversations that are occurring in every conceivable tone of voice. The character of business is becoming the same as the character of the Web -- an explosion reconfigured by the intersection of hearts.
Where once bombastic self-confidence got you taken seriously, now being funny does. People are beginning to sound like themselves again. Intranet Apocalypso You may not hear any of this at your place of work. And anger. And absurdity. For example: The company communicates with me through a newsletter and company meetings meant to lift up my morale.
The company org chart shows me who does what so I know how to get things done. In fact, the org chart is an expression of a power structure. It is red tape. It is a map of whom to avoid. The company manages my work to make sure that all tasks are coordinated and the company is operating efficiently. In fact, the inflexible goals imposed from on high keep me from following what my craft expertise tells me I really ought to be doing. The company provides me with all the information I need to make good decisions.
In fact, this information is selected to support a decision or worldview in which I have no investment. Statistics and industry surveys are lobbed like anti-aircraft fire to disguise the fact that while we have lots of data, we have no understanding. The company is goal-oriented so that the path from here to there is broken into small, well-marked steps that can be tracked and managed. I need to browse.
I even need to play. Without play, only Shit Happens. With play, Serendipity Happens. The company gives me deadlines so that we ship product on time, maintaining our integrity. In fact, working to arbitrary deadlines makes me ship poor-quality content. The company looks at customers as adversaries who must be won over. The company works in an office building in order to bring together all of the things I need to get my job done and to avoid distracting me. In fact, more and more of what I need is outside the corporate walls. And when I really want to get something done, I go home.
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The company rewards me for being a professional who acts and behaves in a, well, professional manner, following certain unwritten rules about the coefficient of permitted variation in dress, politics, shoe style, expression of religion, and the relating of humorous stories. In fact, I learn who to trust -- whom I can work with creatively and productively -- only by getting past the professional act. Or maybe something now is starting to go right. Inside Fort Business Somewhere along the line, we confused going to work with building a fort.
Inside is everything we need. We are under siege by our competitors, and even by our partners and customers. Thank God for the thick, high walls! The king rules.
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If we have a wise king, we prosper. The king has a court. The dukes, viscounts, and other subluminaries each receive their authority from the king. The king even countenances an official fool. Within limits. We each have our role, our place. Number one! A couple of other points about business hierarchies: First, they assume -- along with Ayn Rand and poorly socialized adolescents -- that the fundamental unit of life is the individual.
To be human is to be imperfect. We die. We make mistakes. Bottom-Up The Web is undoubtedly a part of your business plans. You can slice it into seven basic themes: Hyperlinked. Before the Web, computer networks were laid out in advance like well-planned cities. Who got connected to whom and how was all part of the master plan. And once you were connected, there was a recognizable central authority responsible for the whole shebang.
The Web literally consists of hundreds of millions of pages hyperlinked together by the author of each individual page. Anyone can plug in and any page can be linked to any other, without asking permission. The Web is constantly spinning itself -- many small pieces loosely joining themselves as they see fit. No one is in charge of the Net. There is no central clearing house that dispatches all requests and approves all submissions.
No one ordered the Web built. There is no CEO of the Web. There is no one to sue. Hyper time. Internet time is, famously, seven times the velocity of "normal" time. And yet we use the leisurely verb browse to describe our behavior on the Web because in the virtual world, I feel I can move about at my own pace, exploring when and where I want. I can take a quick look at a site and come back later without having to find another parking space, go to the end of the line, or pay a second entry fee.
The Web puts the control of my time into my hands. Open, direct access. The fact that this might have required, beneath the surface, thirty "hops" among servers in places you never heard of is completely irrelevant.
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Rich data. Humans have been creating pages since the invention of paper and dirty water. Pages -- or "documents" as we sometimes say -- are extraordinarily complex ways of presenting information. Typically, they tell you as much about the author as about their topic, a big change from the pre-Web information environment that aimed at generating faceless data. Because the Web is by far the largest, most complex network ever built, and because no one owns it or controls it, it is always going to be, in the words of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, "a little bit broken.
Thus, on the Web it is often hard to tell exactly where the boundaries are. The Hyperlinking of the Organization Your organization is becoming hyperlinked. Decentralizing the Fort Traditionally, business is an indoor sport. Metaphorical Togetherness We often assume that complex projects can only be accomplished through centralized planning and control. No, families and businesses are open-ended commitments. Self-reliance In a decentralized environment, people figure out that they have to do things themselves.
Hyper Time We all know that Internet time is seven times the speed of normal time. Deadlines But what happens to deadlines if time becomes decentralized? He looked at me in amazement. And gave up on me. Personal Work Time The decentralization of time creates other ripples.
One more thing: the Web changes time from sequential to random.