Sometimes I think the field of management/success/leadership is nothing more than a confusion of correlation for causation. For example, I blogged recently that "passion" isn't so much a cause of success as a result of success, and it grows as the success grows. Success can make anyone passionate about what they are doing. When the experts say we need passion to be successful, that's mostly bullshit. What you need is energy, talent, hard work, a reasonable plan, and lots of luck.

Company culture is another area that I think the experts get backwards. The common belief is that you need a good company culture to create success. But isn't it more likely that companies with awesome employees get both a good culture and success at the same time? A good corporate culture is a byproduct of doing everything right; it's not the cause of success as much as the outcome. Success improves culture more than a good culture can cause success.

And how about that charisma thing? That's important, right? Everyone says so. Look at Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Larry Ellison. Those guys have plenty of charisma so it must be important to success, we assume. But let me tell you what causes charisma: success.

I'm in a unique position to judge the success=charisma hypothesis because I slip in and out of famousness all day long. Cartoonists aren't normally recognized, and when I walk into a room as a "normal" I exhibit no charisma whatsoever. I might even be absorbing some charisma that is already in the atmosphere. But when I enter a room at an event where people are expecting me in my capacity as a semi-famous cartoonist, suddenly I appear to have some charisma. I feel like Moses in a room full of water. Trust me when I say that if Steve Jobs had not been successful so young, he'd be known as the lying asshole who needs a shower, not the guy with the reality distortion field. Charisma is bullshit.

Today I was reading an expert's opinion that companies get better results when managers learn to avoid micromanaging employees. But how do we know those non-micromanaging managers get better results? Wouldn't it also be true that wherever you have the most highly capable employees - the ones most likely to create success - you have a boss who knows he can back off the micromanaging? One would expect more micromanaging in companies with untalented employees. So how do you know what causes what?

Consider the thousands of different books on management/success/leadership. If any of this were real science, all managers would learn the same half-dozen secrets to success and go on to great things. The reality of the business world is more like infinite monkeys with typewriters. Sooner or later a monkey with an ass pimple will type something that makes sense and every management expert in the world will attribute the success to the ass pimple.

How about the idea that every hourly wage slave should "act like an entrepreneur"?  How do you think that would play out with Apple's 50,000 employees? The unsexy reality is that everyone in the company can't be creative risk-takers. Someone has to actually work. My guess is that Apple would fall apart if more than 5% of its employees acted like entrepreneurs. And maybe the tipping point is only 2%. Entrepreneurs are disruptive, rule-breaking risk-takers. A little bit of that goes a long way.

I first noticed the questionable claims of management experts back in the nineties, when it was fashionable to explain a company's success by its generous employee benefits. The quaint idea of the time was that treating employees like kings and queens would free their creative energies to create massive profits. The boring reality is that companies that are successful have the resources to be generous to employees and so they do. The best way a CEO can justify an obscene pay package is by treating employees generously. To put this in another way, have you ever seen a corporate turnaround that was caused primarily by improving employee benefits?

The fields of management/success/leadership are a lot like the finance industry in the sense that much of it is based on confusing correlation and chance with causation. We humans like to feel as if we understand and control our environments. We don't like to think of ourselves as helpless leaves blowing in the wind of chance. So we clutch at any ridiculous explanation of how things work.

My view is that success happens when you have a coincidence of talent, resources, and timing. One can explain the existence of successful serial entrepreneurs by the fact that once successful they gain resources, credibility, extra talent, contacts, and the opportunity to live someplace such as Silicon Valley where opportunities fall out of trees.  You would expect that group of people to get lucky more often than someone just starting out.

Dilbert came to fame in the nineties when the working world was experiencing an unprecedented "bubble" of management bullshit. Every time a new business book became a best seller, middle managers across the globe scurried to buy a copy and started spewing its jargon. Eventually the sale of business books dropped off when, I assume, people realized there couldn't really be 10,000 different sure-fire formulas for success.

But lately I've been feeling another bullshit bubble forming in the world. And I don't mean only the financial markets, which are sketchy for lots of reasons. It's just a feeling, but it seems to me that the management/success/leadership bullshit bubble is once again reaching full inflation.

Are you feeling the bubble too, or is it just me?

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+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 13, 2013
I've been subjected to Six Sigma, had Breakthrough training, and my cheese has been moved. The worst managers are the ones that embrace this crap rather than rolling their eyes when it is inflicted on the productive classes. Regarding Six-Sigma, I worked for Ford in the early and mid '00s when the company was bouncing from crisis to crisis. Being distracted by Six-Sigma did not help. It's worth suggesting that Six-Sigma caused all of Ford's woes. It didn't, of course, but if Six-Sigma gets the credit for GE's good times, then let's blame Six-Sigma for causing Ford's bad times.
Mar 13, 2013
I agree that 99 % of leadership/management/ success ideologies are full of S?@T.
It's nothing but manipulation and psychological reality distortion. But people fall for it, and pay a buttload of money to be manipulated and lied to.

But Phantom has brought up a good point in regards to Dr Deming's statistic process control.

It is the process of the system that needs to change if things are going wrong. And punishing the worker is counter intuitive if the process itself is broken. Punishing people for things they can not control only hinders moral of the employees.

Deming was adamant that if the processes were changeable for improvement, that it was the manager who was the idiot if things where not working right.

Changing the process can improve your odds of success.

Hence what the financial system has been doing the past 20 years. Changing the process to manipulate the odds in their favor with a mix of reality distortion.

Unlike most western management types. Deming understood quantified analysis, and people's finite ability to control, and comprehend the massive random variability in our world.

Deming was a realist.

Steve Jobs on the other hand, was a manipulator.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 13, 2013
Fledder: I don't disagree with your point, but the examples you give don't count.

When I went looking for a job last year after a decade out of the workforce, I had a doozy of a reintroduction to the world of corporate marketing. Those articles are exactly what they appear to be: formulaic trash. There is almost no attempt at original thought. Basically, they don't rise to the level of bullish*t because no bull would even bother trying to digest them. They are mere cud.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 12, 2013
Yes, there is indeed a new b-shid bubble appearing right now. All you need to do is to glance at the LinkedIn news section. It is full with articles like this:

- 7 things successful people do
- 43 reasons why great leaders get up early
- 5 signs of a great recruiter

All of these articles do exactly what you say: provide a weak correlation between A and B with zero foundational evidence in proving it to be a causation.

Furthermore, I'd like to add that I do not believe there to be a formula for success. There are ways to change the odds and that is it. For this simple reason: success can only exist with failure. And there needs to be more failure than success, otherwise success would not be success, it would be average. So even with the closest formula at hand, and everyone following that formula, most should result in failure. All of this is logic based on the fact that success is relative.
Mar 12, 2013
Oh, fie on thee, doomsayer! How can you say that all management books apply vacuum to the nether regions?

Let me quote you something from what is arguably (but not much argument there) the greatest book on management and corporate culture EVER, IN ALL OF TIME AND ETERNITY!!! ARE YOU READY?? HERE IT COMES!!!! (I hope, since I will give attribution, the author will not get upset over any copyright violation):

"The key to good management is knowing what's fundamental to success and what's not. Here's my grand insight about company fundamentals:

Companies with effective employees and good products usually do well.


Who IS this guru of insufficient light? Who IS this prescient genius of the obvious??

Why, none other than our own Scott Adams! The above quote is from Scott's 1996 book, "The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle's-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions."

Now, some of you may think that Scott's views are static and intractable. Nothing could be further from the truth! Look at how Scott has evolved in the last seventeen years. You just read what he said then; now take a look at what he says now:

"My view is that success happens when you have a coincidence of talent, resources, and timing."

Notice how far Scott has come? In the 90's, he posited that it was good employees and good products that allowed a company to do well. Now, he has come to realize that it takes so much more than that! It takes, in a word, COINCIDENCE!!! My God, what a breakthrough!

Scott has warned us not to take financial advice from a cartoonist. Thank God, again, that he has never warned us not to take management advice from a cartoonist, because we'd have to turn him down cold on that one, you betcha!

While I'm not up to Scott's level at explaining corporate follies, I do have some ideas. My impression of most corporations' management is that they have one goal: to keep their job. To do this, they attempt to set up potential scapegoats on whom they can blame their failure if success doesn't happen. Managers are forced to do this, because if they try to protect their people and take responsibility, then they are the ones who get hammered, because CYA flows downhill until it finally hits the unprotected employee.

The man who probably did more to help the Japanese kick our butts in manufacturing was named Dr. W. Edwards Deming. He's the guy who started the whole quality cycle thing. He had a unique perspective that is still anathema to today's US managers: if you're not getting good results, don't blame the people; blame the process. In other words, if people are failing or are making mistakes, improve the process, don't punish the people.

He used to give lectures where he'd give real-life examples of this. One of the ones I most remember was when he demonstrated why American managers think punishment works better than reward in motivating employees.

He'd set up a scenario where chance dictated outcome. He'd choose two volunteers from the audience, and have them select marbles from a sealed container, which contained 50 white and 50 black marbles. He'd tell them that their goal was to pick white marbles, and that the standard they were expected to achieve was 50% (chance).

So these two folks would pick ten marbles, sight unseen, out of the bowl. The first person would pick, say, seven white marbles, while the second would only get four. Dr. Deming would go to the person who got the seven and give him ten dollars, saying, "You have exceeded performance expectations, so I am rewarding you." To the other, he would say, "Your performance is sub-standard, so I am putting you on notice that if your performance does not improve, you will be let go."

Then he'd have them draw again. As averages would have it, the first guy (who got seven white marbles the first time and was rewarded) only got five this time, while the second guy (who had been punished) got five this time.

Dr. Deming would then say, "See? the employee I rewarded has had his performance decline, while the employee I punished has had his performance improve. That's why American managers think punishment works better than reward, when the real problem is the process, not the people!"

Dr. Deming was truly a genius. Manufacturers in the US have, albeit kicking and screaming, adopted many of his ideas. But general managers haven't. They're mostly in CYA mode, and you can't CYA when you have no other A's to uncover to protect your own.

You want to see a company improve? Simple. Have managers work to improve the processes when their people are not performing. Give new ideas and processes time to mature, rather than demand immediate results or heads will roll (specifically, the heads of the pre-determined scapegoats).

They say you can't herd cats. That's BS. You sure can. Just dangle some cat yummies in front of them, and they'll follow you anywhere. As General (and President) Eisenhower once said when talking of leadership, "You can't push a string." In other words, leadership requires leading, not pushing.

You want to build a good corporate culture? Then get all your managers agree to pull in the same direction, not push.

See, Scott? It's not really that hard to explain. What is hard to do is to get people to stop making their top priority CYA, and to convince them that management's goal is to help them achieve, rather than waiting to punish them when they don't.

If I were ever to write a management book, that would be the theme. But I won't, because the best one ever written is still out there: "The Dilbert Principle." How could I ever top that?

If you want to know why, just remember this phrase: "Now find the umbrella!" That says it all. Those who have read the book will know what I mean. For the rest of you, try the library.
Mar 12, 2013
Scott, You're too awesome! I had a senior leader who "only wanted A-type personalities". (excusing the fact that A-Type is an overly simplified idea to begin with). He basically only hired sociopaths that were looking to pawn off their work on someone else. It was a bloodbath. We had like 200% turnover per year. For the two years I could stand that place.
Mar 12, 2013
Management fad books about as effective cargo cults: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 12, 2013
I thought I felt the bubble, but it turned out it was just an ass pimple.
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 12, 2013
You are right that charisma != success. I'm hugely charismatic. I tell people this all the time. Even repeating it doesn't seem to be helping.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 12, 2013
The harder I work, the luckier I get.
+16 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 12, 2013
I'm half with you. I think managers, and particularly the wildly overpaid corporate execs end up taking credit for stuff that had very little to do with them other than the fact that they managed not to get in the way of other people's hard work and creativity.

On the other hand, I've observed plenty of really stupid management decisions that kill off a lot of potential growth. A lot of it comes from short term thinking on the part of number-crunchers who never bother to ask people on the ground about the impact of their "big picture" decisions. For typical example: A big company that sells complex systems decided to reduce headcount by getting rid of estimators with years of experience - and instead rely on the sales team to quote as well as sell. That caused a big reduction in costs initially - but now, unsurprisingly, management is unhappy that the sales team is not bringing in new customers. Duh! They are spending all their time quoting jobs for existing customers. They don't have time to go after new business. They are also fleeing the company because they can't make enough money - so the company is paying a lot of money to train replacements. It’s a complicated product/installation process so losing expertise really costs.

In my experience, finance people have no idea where money comes from. All they know how to do is move it around. When you give them too much power, they tend to cut things that harm the company in the long run.

Good management listens to people who actually make the product, sell the product and install/support the product and allows them to participate in the design/marketing process.

You can have smart, creative people -but if you never let them out of their box, you don't benefit from their abilities. That said, you can have people who are really motivated - who get together and make things work in spite of management obstacles. They often change the culture after them to make it easier for others to do the same.

Culture does matter - but, I do agree that management isn't always responsible when things go well. They are responsible when things go poorly, though - unless it is a matter of outside factors they can't control. Often one or two poor performers can severely depress performance in a department - and managers that refuse to deal with them are responsible for the inevitable bad outcome.

If managers did nothing else than encourage cooperation and fire non-performers - they qualify as good managers. If execs actually listen to front line workers, they tend to make better decisions. It isn't all random - but most corporate execs are not the superstars they claim to be and do not deserve the wildly out-of-balance pay.
Mar 12, 2013
There is a reason for the building of this bubble.

The internet "upsets all conditions of location, all cost calculations, production functions within its radius of influence - hardly any ways of doing things which have been optimal before remain so afterward".

Managers know the old ways don't work any more, but their companies are built around metrics based on those old ways. Doing more of the old stuff doesn't help.

For example sales no longer works on a "hit on enough people and some will buy" methodology. "Marketing makes leads for sales" has upped the "enough people" number massively but still sales people aren't making the figures they put in their pipeline. And the company is in trouble because those are the figures they use to justify themselves to investors.

Managers are belatedly recognising they don't know what they are doing. So they are casting around for someone to follow to an easier life.

Hence the rising demand for books, videos and gurus. This is a charlatan's charter as it has never been easier to promote yourself as an expert, without any backing in reality.

By the way my quotation at the beginning wasn't actually about the internet - it was written in the 1900s about the railways.
Mar 12, 2013
I've been enjoying this guy's brand of b.s.: He's moving in the management book direction lately: http://www.tempobook.com/. http://www.ribbonfarm.com/
Mar 12, 2013
My view is that the real problem here is managers cant get what they really want, namely, a simple, one-size-fits-all approach to successfully managing a business/department/turnaround, so they do the next best thing; they grasp at whatever hot new book/fad/strategy promises to work miracles. Such a thing doesnt exist. The strategy that works depends on what your organization/department/etc. is trying to do, the people you have under you, the kind of person you are, etc. That last one may be a surprise, but lets face it; success or no not everyone can be Steve Jobs, Donald Trump or you, Scott. But such fads will keep cropping up anyway for the same reason we still have fortune tellers almost a century after Houdini debunked them all; people really want them and are willing to be fooled for the illusion of having them.

And to answer your question I have no idea if were approaching a new bubble. I didnt notice the last management bubble so I wouldnt notice this one.
Mar 12, 2013
So it's time for me to get my BS business book written. Thanks for the warning. "Hey, who moved my 7 habits of cheese in one minute?" in bookstores and for download next week
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