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February 26, 2009

The Tragedy of the Commons

I didn’t know this dilemma until I read ‘Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations’ by Clay Shirky. (I’ll probably do other posts inspired by this book.)

The tragedy described in Wikipedia
"The Tragedy of the Commons" is an influential article written by Garrett Hardin and first published in the journal Science in 1968. The article describes a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone's long term interest for this to happen.

Central to Hardin's article is a metaphor of herders sharing a common parcel of land (the commons), on which they are all entitled to let their cows graze. In Hardin's view, it is in each herder's interest to put as many cows as possible onto the land, even if the commons is damaged as a result. The herder receives all of the benefits from the additional cows, while the damage to the commons is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational decision, however, the commons is destroyed and all herders suffer.

This is greed: the self-serving desire for the pursuit of money, wealth, power, food, or other possessions, especially when this denies the same goods to others. (definition from Wikipedia)

Parallel situations……….everywhere
1. The most vivid to me is the current actions of employees who fear they may lose their jobs. Suddenly some civility erupts as we contemplate and even say we will accept no pay raise, perhaps even some lowering of our pay, and take unpaid furloughs to preserve our collective jobs.

We recognize we have a limited shared resource, the money available from our employer. We’re seeing some lessening of the ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘How much can I get in pay and expenses?’ mentality. I think that’s a very good thing.

(It reminds me of the post title I used last May about a natural disaster, Is a disaster required to produce civility? Perhaps an economic disaster can also produce civility.)

2. And I thought of The Tragedy of the Commons when I read a news article from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension about research on conservation practices by farmers in one watershed. The agricultural economics department report concluded that the role of empathy (walking in the shoes of others) could be helpful in solving environmental quality problems. The earth’s natural resources are often equated to the commons in Hardin’s metaphor. The report is at http://www.agecon.unl.edu/Cornhuskereconomics/2009cornhusker/1-14-09.pdf

I encourage you to contemplate The Tragedy of the Commons. What situations come to mind for you?

February 19, 2009

Giving is one of the secrets of success

Source: Alan Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip

I'm convinced that the most successful people in business ... and the happiest people in life ... are givers. Instead of focusing on what's in it for them, they focus on how they can make a difference in the lives of their coworkers, customers, friends and family members.

1. Givers give attention.
It's the first thing they give. And it may be the most important. They notice others. They acknowledge them. And they listen to them.

If you're ever confronted by an upset customer, the very first thing you've got to do is pay close attention to what the customer is saying and not saying. It's the best chance you'll ever have of turning an upset customer into a loyal customer ... because you're saying ... loud and clear ... that you are important to me.

2. Givers give a chance.
Ernest Hemingway talked about that in his short story, "The Capital of the World." In the story, a father and son relationship had gone awry, and the son left home. But after some time of grief and remorse, the father decided he wanted to heal the relationship. He went searching for his son Paco, looking everywhere in the city of Madrid, but couldn't find him. He put an ad in the newspaper, "Dear Paco, I love you. All is forgiven. Let's start over. Meet in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon. Signed, Your father."

As Hemingway writes, the next day more than 800 Paco's showed up ... all of them wanting a second chance, a new start, forgiveness and acceptance. You may have some Paco's in your life. Are you known as someone who gives people a second chance? Or are you known as someone who holds a grudge?

3. Givers give lasting care.
There's a bottom-line benefit to this "caring" stuff. Research has shown that when you care ... you truly care about your customers ... two things happen: they buy more and they tell more people about you. The reverse is also true. The number one reason a customer stops doing business with an organization is a perceived lack of caring. In fact, this perceived lack of caring accounts for 68 percent of lost business.

Caring can't be temporary and intermittent. It's got to be continual and lasting. Martin Broken Leg, a professor at Augustana College, has found that a kid will stay in school if there is at least one adult in that school who shows a lasting sense of care ... and that adult could be a teacher, cook or bus driver.

4. Givers give help.
It's the ultimate win-win. You can't help somebody else without also helping yourself. As an old Chinese proverb states, "When I dig another out of trouble, the hole from which I lift him is the place where I bury my own." Or as I have often counseled others, the best way to get your mind off your loneliness is to reach out to others.

Givers give help, but you've got to make sure it's help that's really wanted. And if it is, the benefits go both ways.

If you asked the 10 people who know you best,
would they say you're more of a giver or more of a taker?

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to http://www.DrZimmerman.com. Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

February 18, 2009

Givers and takers

Source: Alan Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip

I've noticed that people fall into two categories: givers and takers.

I've also noticed that the takers are the unhappiest people on earth. And it's no wonder. When their entire focus is on "What's In It For Me," they're bound to offend their coworkers, customers, friends and family members and have problems with them.

By contrast, those who experience the most success in their businesses, their teams and their families are givers.

Takers seldom think about others.
They're self-absorbed ... with their interests, their desires, their wants and their needs.

A man would get so busy with his work that he would forget everything else. So his wife got in the habit of writing him notes. One morning she wrote, "We're moving today." When the man returned home from work, no one was there. He looked in the windows. Everything was gone, and then he remembered ... oh yeah, we've moved. But he had no idea where. He sat on the curb and wondered what he should do. It was then that he saw a little girl passing by, and he called out, "Little girl, do you know the people who used to live here? Do you know where they moved?" The little girl said, "Come on, Daddy. Mamma said you wouldn't remember."

We can laugh at that story. But the sad truth is you may know people like that.

You may have a manager who seldom thinks about how the changes will affect the staff or seldom asks for staff input. You may have coworkers who act like customers are an interruption of their work instead of being the main reason they do work. And you may have a family member who is so preoccupied with his TV programs that he fails to connect with the other family members. They're all takers.

Takers are seldom satisfied with others.
They always want more ... even though they give very little in return. I see it in organizations all the time. I see it when a manager gives a performance review and says, "Overall, you've done a good job, BUT ..." I see it when a manager tells her organization, "We accomplished our goals this year, and that's great. But that's nothing compared to what you'll have to do next year." I see it when a father reviews his child's report card showing 4 A's and 1 B ... and then asks, "How come you got a B?"

All this taking behavior is demoralizing and demotivating. And if it goes on long enough, the recipient thinks, "What's the use of ever trying?"

If you're going to have a team that works, it's got to be filled with givers, not takers. If you're going to have loyal customers, you've got to have employees who care more about giving the customer what he needs than taking his money. And if you're going to have a personal relationship that works, both parties need to be givers. The great actress Katherine Hepburn talked about that. She said, "Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get -- only what you are expecting to give -- which is everything."

I challenge you to be a giver ... to avoid the all too easy trap of being a taker.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to http://www.DrZimmerman.com. Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

February 13, 2009

What’s there to love in the workplace?

I’ll start and then you chime in. That is something I would love.

1. Collaboration, involvement, engagement.
2. Equipment and processes to work with efficiency.
3. Stimulation in the form of new challenges, new ideas.
4. Meaningful and civil discussions whether in person or via phone, email.
5. A learning environment in which people are eager to learn.
6. Humble people who ask, What do you think?
7. Communication.
8. Humor.
9. Respect for one another.
10. ________________
11. ________________
12. ________________
13. ________________
14. ________________

Humor me. Add some comments. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and this is my love angle.

February 12, 2009

Change: a salute to Darwin and Lincoln

Today is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. It is also Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
--Charles Darwin, English naturalist and author of the theory of evolution by natural selection (1809 – 1882)

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States (1809 – 1865)

Change: attitude and behavior
A post from last January

February 10, 2009

Grass roots excitement, energy and commitment

At the end of an hour and a half workshop Sunday, these were the one-word reactions from the participants:

We are in a transition time, a time of change in this organization
We’re not doing a top-down transition but a bottom up one. Why? So anyone who wants to participate has a voice. We offered this workshop three times to accommodate people’s schedules; 68 people have participated. They’ve ranged in age from 8th grade to 80+ years old. In two weeks, they will go on to a visioning in another workshop. It won’t be any one person’s perfect vision but it will be a collaborative vision that we’ll use to define goals and action steps.

In this workshop, people were challenged to open their minds, to listen to the concerns of their fellows, to think about what they value. And most important---there was buy-in. Just look at the comments. The people leaving the workshop were genuinely excited.

We could have used the top echelon of this organization to work on values, visions, goals and action steps. But I know how I react to those. I have no buy-in. I’m not excited. I don’t even care because I had no input.

The grass roots effort is collaboration. It is actually a short cut in time because people are informed and committed to something they helped create. It is civility, engaging and respecting all people.

I believe those who truly care about their workplace or organization go to the grass roots in times of change and times of economic upheaval because that’s where the energy lies.

February 04, 2009

Civility is boring

…from the press’ perspective. That’s what Barack Obama says in his book, The Audacity of Hope:Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006), talking about politics today.

Rather than write several blog posts inspired by the book, I’m giving you eight excerpts I highlighted. I encourage you to think about how they apply not just to this country but to your workplace.

We are distracted by the petty and trivial.

We chronically avoid the tough decisions because of our inability to work collaboratively.

Behaviors that express our mutual regard for one another: honesty, fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy and compassion.

Twin strands in tension in every society and in every individual:
the individualistic and the communal
autonomy and solidarity

…the quality of authenticity, of being who you say you are, of possessing a truthfulness that goes beyond words.

In sum, the Constitution envisions a road map by which we marry passion to reason, the ideal of individual freedom to the demands of community.

Frustration boils over and leads people to turn on each other.

Just as too many corporate managers, shielded from competition, had stopped delivering value, too many government bureaucracies had stopped asking whether their shareholders (the American taxpayer) and their consumers (the users of government services) were getting their money’s worth.

I recommend the book. It’s an interesting insight of the thinking of the man who is now president. Where he got the title for the book is interesting but I’ll leave that for you to find.

February 03, 2009

Too Much Information (TMI) - way more than you need/want to know about someone

I know more about some coworkers’ personal lives than I know about what they are doing at work -- and should be sharing. It’s a curious phenomenon.

I want great communications about work—transparency. Give me background so I understand why we’re doing something, help me understand. Let me see the work in progress.

Instead I know what the children are doing or not doing, what happened at another workplace, stories of the good ole days.

Discretion is missing
1: having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech: prudent; especially: capable of preserving prudent silence
2: unpretentious, modest
--"discreet" Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2009

How have we come to this, to TMI?
Technology and cubicle dwelling
People seem to not care who hears phone conversations. Are people oblivious or think it’s somehow a sign of status? I forget I’m in a cubicle when I get caught up in a phone conversation. People with offices leave their doors open and seem to face the open door when talking. If it’s a cell phone call, you can walk to a private room to talk.
Television shows show rudeness as accepted behavior.
Social media puts many thoughts and feelings out on the Web.

In love with oneself
This willingness to tell unsolicited tales about our pets, our families, our past adventures makes me wonder if the teller is insecure, lonely, immature and/or egotistical.

Solicited vs. unsolicited information
Relationships are important. It helps us understand coworkers if we know some education, experience and personal background. But there is a boundary line of civility about how much and what kind of information we share, when and where we share it. I found it impressive when a coworker asked if I wanted to see some vacation photos. He didn’t thrust them in from of me and launch into a commentary.

Being more civil, respectful, unpretentious, unobtrusive
I find those who don’t give too much personal information more professional and actually intriguing.

I’m still interested in why people will share personal information but not work information. If you have an opinion, post a comment please.