What’s the worst advice you ever got? Listen to what your boss tells you. My boss never liked the idea of Spider-Man. He didn’t want to do it. I had to sneak Spider-Man into another book, over my boss’s head. Experts really know nothing. Stan Lee , Bloomberg Businessweek August 8, 2016.
That was one of the hardest things I had to learn as a young person. Just because someone was an acknowledged expert or the boss, did not mean they knew everything nor were they the oracle of wisdom for the universe. It was just obvious, to the young me, that someone who had a title and a corner office or made a lot of money or who had industry accolades or who had stars on their collar were the best people. These were the people I wanted to learn from and I wanted to become like. After enough years I realized that there were a lot of great people out there, but they weren’t all identified by the traditional indicators of success. Worse yet, those that did have the traditional trappings of success were often very disappointing when I got to work with them directly. Many I had to ignore or do things contrary to what they were saying in order for the organization to finally become successful at what it was trying to do.
Of course, many people are horrified by the notion of ignoring or doing what is counter to the wishes of the boss or the expert. In a well functioning organization it makes sense to work with what is working well and those that are leading the things that are going well. But in organizations that are struggling, that have a consistent history of low performance and quality, then that may not be the best approach. If all we are doing is trying to survive in a challenged organization then that may be reasonable to attach oneself to someone who has the success trappings because they have figured out how to profit in an organization even as it fails.
However, when we want to improve an organization, help it to perform to its potential, then we have to be aware that an organization is not doing well for a reason. Too often this reason, once we’ve done the research, is because of the “successful” people in the organization. These same people who appear to be doing so well individually may well be the root cause of why the organization is not doing well.
This seemingly paradox of leaning against the powerful in an organization is often the fastest way to improving an organization. With reasonable luck these same powerful people, after being annoyed by our actions, will often come around and become our most powerful supporters and benefactors. It just takes courage and the understanding that just because someone has the trappings of success doesn’t mean they are not the reason for the organization’s lack of performance.
What powers have you had to lean against in order for your project to be successful?