"I favor general use of the psychic-prison metaphor to free people from the traps of favored ways of thinking and to unleash their power and creativity."
--Gareth Morgan
"We cannot just remodel the prison. No, we've got to get out of it."
--W. Edwards Deming

Monday, February 25, 2008

Scared Happy

From a comment posted to an online article:
"People in Singapore do not have a right to be unhappy, technically speaking we do not have civil liberties, namely we do not have the right to free speech, nor the right to assemble, nor the right to protest, etc. The Singapore people are afraid of the government, we cannot speak up and voice our unhappiness since it would clearly breach an OB marker. Being 'unhappy' is a serious matter in Singapore since it implies the authorities are not doing something right and they do not take such matters lightly. Growing up in Singapore, we are conditioned to accept the Singapore way of life as is, unquestioning and unopposing. Essentially we are technically 'happy' because we are afraid. In the end, happiness is subjective and for me, 'I am a happy Singaporean'. Trust me, you would be too if you grew up here; and no I'm not kidding."

This reminded me of one definition for totalitarianism: it is the process of defining other people's happiness for them. I came across this definition in Howard Schwartz's writings on organizational psychodynamics. Schwartz gives the original credit for this definition to Earl Shorris, who wrote about totalitarianism so defined as a central theme in his book, Scenes from Corporate Life. Here is one critical review of Shorris' book.
A striking fictional representation of being "scared happy" that I remember seeing long ago is a scene from an old science fiction movie where, as I recall, weary wayfarers ala Grapes of Wrath are led into to a new camp. In stark contrast to the memorable scene in the film Grapes of Wrath in which Jane Darwell's character reacts to the unexpected generosity of the camp leader, the sci fi movie's leader offers this chilling remark: "People are happy here. And if they're not happy, then we kill them."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Letting go

Venture Chronicles: Manage your team: "Most -- if not all -- companies lose momentum and efficiencies when they let employees go. Any employee. Even if those employees challenge the corporate culture status quo. There is artful resonance in the reevaluation, continuous development, redeployment, and ongoing incentive motivation of your existing employee base. Even for those employees that are the most challenging."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Panopticism revisited

Microsoft seeks patent for office 'spy' software - Times Online: "Microsoft submitted a patent application in the US for a “unique monitoring system” that could link workers to their computers. Wireless sensors could read “heart rate, galvanic skin response, EMG, brain signals, respiration rate, body temperature, movement facial movements, facial expressions and blood pressure”, the application states.

The system could also “automatically detect frustration or stress in the user” and “offer and provide assistance accordingly”. Physical changes to an employee would be matched to an individual psychological profile based on a worker’s weight, age and health. If the system picked up an increase in heart rate or facial expressions suggestive of stress or frustration, it would tell management that he needed help."

Marching good people out the door

CIO - Firing Line: "For an example of a common, yet inadvisable procedure, McCausland says look no further than the practice of ushering departing employees off the premises. Far from preventing people from stealing data or lashing out in some other manner at their former employers, this process might actually be encouraging them. 'Employers sometimes ask me: 'Should we escort people out?' And I say to them: 'Why? Are they going to damage something on the way out? Or steal something? No. Treating people like a suspect is more likely to cause them to retaliate.'
'Treating a terminated employee as a serious security risk - by escorting them out of the building under guard, for example - increases the likelihood that they will be a danger,' agrees David Creelman, chief of content and research at human resources management portal HR.com. 'Terminated employees don't have guns to pull at the termination interview. But if they feel betrayed and humiliated then they may go home, get a gun and come back. Most companies overreact on security. They march good people out the door under security escort, which simply damages morale in the company and greatly enhances the likelihood of a wrongful termination suit or other retaliatory action.'
Top security executives chime in as well on this point. 'You probably are asking people to retaliate,' says Grant Crabtree, vice president of corporate security at Alltel, an $US8 billion telecom service company. 'Under some circumstances it might be warranted, but it would have to be exceptional for us to do that. I think many of my colleagues would agree.'"