Icarus or the Orgnaization Man?

The blogoshpere is chock full of gurus urging us to throw off the chains of industrialization, and put on our God given wings and fly. I’ll be honest. I am a fan, and Seth Godin’s latest book, The Icarus Deception is a worthy criticism of our cultural fear of flying too high. Godin points out, rightly, that the fable also cautions against flying too low. But of course Icarus didn’t do that, and we take our lesson from his hubris.

The rub comes when we realize that not all of us, for whatever reason, even has the chance to fly. Chalk it up to cultural limitations, racism, economic disparity or even, fear. The reality is that like it or not, all of us are not going to get to the top of the mountain, much less stay there.

Dan Pink has brought my attention to a new book by Ray Fishman and Tim Sullivan: The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office which may be offering the much needed balance to this new gospel of business success. I will be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it, but until then, I encourage you to look into the work of Elliott Jaques. While most of the business literature is opinion, and much of it ill-informed, Jaques spent a lifetime studying bureaucracies scientifically and trying to figure out what is good, and not so good about them. Bottom line, if you need to build a Dreamliner or fight a war, much less two wars at the same time, a well organized and properly led, stratified system is required. And since we must have them, we damn well better understand how they work and why they fail when they do.

While, like Godin, I believe in my heart of hearts that we must all unleash the artist buried so deeply within ourselves for the good and future of the planet, we must also attend to the complex and frequently mind numbing work of getting things done (more on this later). For a sole proprietor it’s as simple as setting aside one day a week for taking care of the finances, another for focusing on new business and the remainder on actually doing the work. For large organizations, according to Jaques, age and experience doesn’t translate directly to the ability to lead and manage, and we misalign otherwise  gifted people to our own peril, and their own.

It is especially common in creative enterprises to devalue the work of those whose work does not lead directly to new business or new accolades. And the siren call of the possibility bloggers adds additional energy to this already malignant cancer. If you are a company of one, take time to appreciate the part of you that bothers to keep the books and pay the bills. And if you are a CEO, remember that if someone else wasn’t doing all those things you did when you were just getting started with your career…and didn’t always enjoy, you would be doing them yourself.

Fly we must. And at an altitude neither too close to the sun, nor too close to the water. While we are airborne, let us always remember there is someone on the ground picking up the trash on the runway so we can return when the time comes to refuel and rest. Be thankful that the organization exists to find, train, and support those people, and that one of your most important jobs is to make sure that organization exists and functions well.