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Posts Tagged ‘Improvement’

Paragons and Renegades

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 13, 2011

Recently I’ve been playing Mass Effect, a role-playing game (RPG) set in outer space.  (Feel free to insert your favorite Star Trek related nerd joke here.)  As with many of the sophisticated RPG options in the market today, the game is designed around a series of tasks, or quests, which get more difficult as the game progresses.  For me though, the actual game play – star ships, swordplay or sorcery – is not as interesting as the character development, the role part of the game.  Some of the RPG games I’ve played let you choose the moral disposition of your character, whether you want to be a good guy or a bad guy.  So from the beginning of the game your choices are determined by your role as the hero or the villain.  Accordingly your actions and personality are based on your predetermined nature.  However, some of the more sophisticated games, including Mass Effect, make your character’s nature a matter of nurture – meaning you become either moral or immoral based on the choices you make during the game.  In Mass Effect you develop either as a paragon or as a renegade.  But here is where the game and I started to have problems.

From the beginning I assumed each quest could be solved either “positively” (helping me develop as a paragon) or “negatively” (earning me points as a renegade).  So as the options were presented I made what I believed to be the “right” choice.  In some cases the “positive” and “negative” choices were clear.  But for some of the tasks there was only one choice to make and in almost every instance that choice was “negative” and earned me renegade points.  This not only frustrated me, it also made me question whether there was any point in trying to do “the right thing.”  I also thought it was unfair because in real life we always have more than one choice.  But do we really?  Are there times when “breaking the rules” is the only option?  The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that the game was playing fair – that there are times when the only way forward is to become a renegade.

But here be dragons my friends.  This is a slippery slope that can lead to all kinds of problems, not the least of which being chaos, anarchy and unemployment!  So the question seems to be, when is breaking the rules acceptable, even necessary, and when should it be avoided?  In his book The Way We Are, Allen Wheelis wrestles with this problem and suggests a way forward of sorts.

Does not all creativity originate in boundary violations, in breaking through to realms outside the old limits?  The completely moral life – that is, the meticulous observance of all of the rules – leads, for both the individual and the group, to a rigidity that falls increasingly at odds with a changing world.  Yet boundary violations, if reckless – reckless measurable, usually, only after the act and its consequences – destroy the individual and destroy the social order.  The individual becomes an outlaw, the group becomes a mob.

Creative change in a society issues from violations great enough to alter the social structure, but not so great as to bring it down altogether.  One wants a society of law that allows some laws to be ignored.  It is those violations we let stand that organize the ongoing transformation of social structure.  The observance of rules, with a wise measure of slippage, coupled with the violation of rules, with an ironic measure of prudence, creates flexibility, strengthens the group, and thereby creates the possibility of nonviolent change in the social order.

So the questions we need to consider then are first, whether the breaking of a rule is reckless, that is, does the risk – the potential consequences of our choice – outweigh the hoped for reward; and second, whether our violation of the rules also serves the interest of progress, meaning the way forward can only be achieved if the rules are broken?  I understand this is perhaps an overly simplified way to think about this problem and I’m not suggesting that the ends justify the means. Yet I do think that there are times when progress is utterly blocked by “the rules” – the business processes we’ve had in place “since the company was founded”; our multi-layered bureaucracies with their endless forms and approval chains; the “blockers” in the organization whose raison d’être is to obstruct, obfuscate, and aggravate.  In these instances I believe the judicious breaking of the rules is most definitely in order.  Understanding that the point is not to bring down the system (or your career), but to move the business forward – the end result being a stronger, more flexible organization.

Acknowledging that we may need to play the renegade from time to time is not easy, especially for those of us who, by nature, are designed to play by the rules: We want to do the right thing for the right reasons.  We want to work for companies that value and respect their workers and treat them fairly.  And we want to believe that everyone else in the organization wants the same.  But if we are honest, we know things are not always this way; and if we can learn to make choices based on what we know, then we can also learn to accept that we may have to break the rules so that the world in which we live and work can evolve beyond what it is, to what we want it to be.  Building a bridge to span this gap is only possible when individuals, who are paragons by nature, can also learn to wisely nurture their inner renegade.

Posted in change, development, learning, risk, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The ultimate gift to an employee

Posted by Vivian Wong on September 3, 2008

We all have talents and our job as managers is to bring out individual’s strengths and help them develop additional skills to be more successful at their jobs. This has a direct impact on employee engagement, retention, job satisfaction and of course the bottom line of the business. In order to do this, we need to create a safe and collaborative environment for team members to ask for help, give them resources to help themselves, as well as looking out for opportunities to challenge them to perform to the next level.
 
Easy said than done.
 
As managers we need to understand what motivates our team members to begin with (beyond money and stock), define and enforce core values with them as a team, and provide both constructive and positive feedback REGULARLY. It’s easy to give positive feedback (although we probably should do it more often) but giving constructive feedback is often the hard part of management – but it really is also the most critical aspect in helping someone with his or her professional growth.
 
On the giving front, we need to have the “right” intent. We give constructive feedback because we want someone to be more successful, not because we have an ill intent of busting him or her for doing something wrong. We need to be sensitive to the recipients and how they would react to the feedback. On the receiving end, it is important to have an open mindset and understand that constructive feedback really is something coming from someone who wants you to do better– no matter what career level you are at. I think the biggest impediment to improvement in most people is that they tend to tie their egos to problems and therefore are reluctant to identify and talk openly about improvement areas without becoming defensive. Mistakes are good – if we learn from them! It’d be wonderful if we are perfect, but to err is human. Just last week I made the mistake of spelling “Principal Developer” as Principle Developer” in a chat room. Someone kindly pointed out in a fun way and asked if the “Principle Developer” would develop principles? Instead of becoming defensive (which would have been a natural instinct), his correction actually helped me made a mental note to be more careful with my spelling. I am grateful that he didn’t want me to look silly in the future. Having the right (open) mindset in receiving constructive feedback is key to self-improvement. While some of us take time to self-reflect, we all have blind spots and we should always be thankful to those for taking the time to point out things we can improve upon so we can continue to grow! (BTW – Ken has an interesting post called Mistakes are just the icing on the cake, check it out if you haven’t read it yet!)
 
Fortunately my manager, peers and directs are very good at both giving and receiving constructive feedback. We have really helped each other grow over time. I truly believe that the ultimate gift to an individual is giving him/her honest and sincere constructive feedback to help with each other’s continued growth – the sky is the limit!

Posted in engagement, leadership, management, teams | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »