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Copyright 2001 Ed Konczal
Leaders And Luddites
By: Ed Konczal
|Ed Konczal's career started with an MBA and a course with Professor Peter Drucker. It continued with work primarily at a large Fortune 100 company. Ed's career has provided him with the opportunity to work with people up and down the corporate organizational chart. He has tried to eliminate bureaucracy whenever he could and has helped executives recognize that people are their greatest assets. Currently, he is co-founder of Generation 2000 InSite Management Consultants (www.g2insite.com).
This article is one of many other stories that he has written with his partner, Jeannette Galvanek, as part of their book "Simple Stories For Leadership Insights."
In the early 1800s England, a group of people called the Luddites fought
the introduction of new technology in the woolen industry. You would think
that we’ve learned something over two centuries. Wrong – I recall an incident
when computers started to appear on our desks.
I was in management research group within a Fortune 50 company. We always
thought of ourselves as the avante garde group. Most of us had or were
working on getting advanced degrees. We were young in our careers.
Our new boss came from “the outside”, coming up through the ranks didn’t
taint him. He even wore shirts with bold stripes when the dress code called
for white or if you dared solid colors. Nothing could stop us. Nothing
except the Director Bob.
Bob also came from “the outside”. He developed econometric models to predict
what would happen if prices changed. I figured it would be easy to get
his approval to use the new technology.
One of our jobs involved using government economic statistics. We had to
refer to printed publications and, would you believe it, manually perform
calculations and draw charts. There had to be a better way.
I discovered a group that was using computerized databases that were updated
once the Feds released the data. They were looking for new members – what
We had to get Bob’s approval. A slam-dunk I thought. Little did I realize
that Bob had been converted to the cautious, "let's not go too fast”
corporate mentality. Bob didn’t see the need for computerized capability.
He thought the print sources were just fine.
I didn’t give up, I countered with a proposal that we trial the new approach
and go back to the old way if it didn’t work. Well you know the answer,
the bookcases gathered dust.
More recently when I was in the same company’s Strategic Planning group,
we laughed about an Executive Internet briefing session. The CEO came to
the meeting with his secretary -- he didn’t know how to use his PC.
Lessons For Leaders
- One of the key drivers of the New Economy is technology. You don’t have
to become a techie geek, but at least keep up with major developments and
keep an open mind when one of your Gen X or Y people come to you with their
enthusiasm about new ideas
- Some forward thinking companies use “Reverse Mentoring”. It is called reverse
because younger people, lower in the ranks meet with the Execs and keep
them current on new technological developments.
- Jack Welch, Chairman of GE, has ordered his top 600 or so managers to reach
down into their ranks for Internet junkies and become their students...Through
the program, which he dubbed reverse mentoring, Mr. Welch hopes mentors
will help his managers "know what competitors' sites look like, experience
the difficulties of ordering their own appliances online...become more
savvy and get a real feel for what the best sites are doing."...He
also aims to inject more youth across his organization..."E-business
knowledge is generally inversely proportional to both age and height in
the organization," he says." Matt Murray "General Electric Mentoring Program Turns Underlings Into
Web Teachers" Wall Street Journal (Interactive), February 15, 2000.
- Leaders love technology. I mean love! L-O-V-E. Here's the equation for
the next five years: Technology = architect of change. If you don't love
(and I don't mean like or tolerate) the technology, it will change you
and your company, but you will be the unwitting victim, not the partner
of change. Look, you don't have to be a technologist. But you must embrace
technology, care for it. It is your friend, your lover. It will be unfaithful
at times. It will lead you down dark and dangerous alleys. No matter. It
is remaking the world. And you must joyously leap aboard (that’s the way
love is). Tom Peters Fast Company issue 44, page 124
- New ideas ... are not born in a conforming environment.
— Roger von Oech
- The value of an idea lies in using it.
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