Friday, October 13, 2006

The Seven Symptoms of Highly Dsyfunctional People

In a previous life, I was required to sit through of Stephen Covey’s magnum opus: “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” I actually think that many of them make a lot of sense, the powers that be decided that it would be a good idea if people spent three days going over the damn things, which is a bit much.

As is the case when you put a bunch of highly creative, cynical people into a room and bore them to death, we made fun of the subject matter. The idea was to turn each of the seven habits on its head – we called them the seven symptoms of highly dysfunctional people.

One of the things that the 7 habits videos depicted was what was referred to as “a paradigm shift.” This is basically a sudden realization like “oh my gawd! I’m fucked!” Or “doh!”

Then we had one of our own.

We realized that, rather than demonstrating the seven habits, the company seemed to operate on the seven symptoms. While this was a source of horror and despair for most of the others, I realized that I could make a bundle by going around and “teaching” these “virtues” and then showing how companies had “learned” them.

This didn’t go over quite as well as I might have hoped. While I may be a complete failure, it doesn’t mean that you can’t screw up as well…er…at any rate, here they are: The Seven Symptoms of Highly Dysfunctional People!

Symptom 1: Be Reactive

Or, wait until it’s too late, then panic.

You’d point out a serious issue. You would tell people about the ramifications. They ignored you. Time passed. You’d warn them again. They’d ignore you again. The event would come to pass. They’d go through a time honored process:

  1. Search for the guilty.
  2. Blame the innocent.
  3. Promote the uninvolved.
  4. Learn nothing.

Symptom 2: End with the Start in Mind

Or, whine pathetically about how rosy things looked when you started out.

This went hand-in-hand with the first symptom. Once the doom came about, the second most common activity (after witch hunts) was to talk about how easy things should have been or appeared to be. Not only was the grass greener on the other side of the fence, the grass was betterer in my day, youngin!

Symptom 3: There is no Symptom 3!!

Symptom 4: Think “Lose-lose” or “No Deal!”

Or, “I’m goin down…and I’m taking you with me!”

This was a bizarrely common occurrence, where different departments in the company would essentially screw each other up. The philosophy seemed to be that, “if we do our job, you can’t do yours!” Then the offending department would make sure that they screw theirs up too. I guess the idea was that, if everyone else around them was incompetent, then they didn’t stand out as much.

Symptom 5: Seek First to be Understood, then Forget the Other Person

Or sit down and shut up!

The idea seems to be that, if you keep babbling, no one else will talk. Eventually they will lose interest entirely and start drooling. After a time, they will agree to just about anything in order to get you to shut up.

Like many of the Symptoms, it appears absurd on the surface, but is oddly effective in practice.

Symptom 6: Desynergize

Or, if anyone dares disagree, kill them.

The espoused idea was that, different points of view are valuable. The reality was that when “the boss” or whatever came up with some whacky idea, you’d better get behind it in a hurry or you’d be street pizza.

Scott Adams, the guy who created the “Dilbert” comic strip, posted a story about how he pasted a mustache on his upper lip and fooled a room full of senior managers as a “consultant” with ideas like putting a mission statement to music in order to make it more effective. The reason why these people went along with it (they made a video and you can see the people getting visibly more and more incredulous) was that the CEO seemed to buy into it (he was in cahoots with Adams).

Symptom 7: Take Time Out to Dull the Saw

Or, “If it ain’t broke, fix it till it is!”

At one point, the manager of the department I was in made a fatal mistake: he demonstrated competence.

Faster than you could say “sensitivity training” our department was systematically “enhanced” so that, in any area where the merest possibility of competence had existed, now there was only a smoldering crater.

In retrospect, this was entirely consistent and predictable, it just wasn’t the sort of thing that you would expect. Talking with friends who’ve worked at large companies, this is actually pretty common.

Technorati: Seven, habits, symptoms, effective, dysfunctional, people.

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