Dear Ceo: You’re the Problem

January 23, 2017 | ,

Dear CEO

I have a few questions for you.

Indulge me, please.

I know you get a lot of them from everyone all day long. They come with the pay grade.

I know you all have your one killer interview question for new hires.

So do I for you. But, I got more than one for you.

They too come with the pay grade, you’ll see.

I’ll give you one lifeline for help or support.

Mindshare matters more often than market share.

Let’s start with the questions.

  • Are you in the cave? If you say no, how do you know you aren’t?
  • Dealing with Here Be Dragons in dangerous or unexplored territories on your maps, or in unchartered areas coming upon you in your roadmaps?
  • The emperor has no clothes — but neither the climate or culture, you or your stakeholders have the courage to say so?

Tired of having to lead, or manage, or work in an organization whose center of gravity is “Trust your Neighbors, but Brand your Stock”?

Hey, CEO, like your new hires, how does it feel to be on the other side of killer interview questions like this?

Sorta like getting throat-punched, isn’t it? While trying to keep your composure (comes with the pay grade) doing seal talk, isn’t it?

Just can’t suck in enough air while trying to answer the questions, like nothing’s wrong, huh?

Get Out of the Cave

Success and failure is linked to human behavior in business.

What people do, how they do it, and especially why they do it.

CEOs, through muscle memory, focus on consequences of successful and failed organizational actions.

Ask Marissa Mayer, how’s this working out for you?

She led the fight to keep Yahoo on its current path, didn’t she?

She butted heads with Starboard and other investers pushing for a sale, didn’t she?

She’ll almost certainly be ousted, regardless of the outcome, won’t she?

How, you may be asking yourself, did Yahoo get here?

Well, let’s see.

Back in its peak in early 2000, Yahoo as they say, was worth $255 billion.

As all the pundits are saying, it never recovered from the dot-com bust.

After a series of missteps, bad bets, and now pay attention here (there’s a quiz after this), six CEOs over the past nine years, Yahoo is now as they are all saying out there, valued at $34 billion.

I’d say that was managing for economic decline, wouldn’t you?

Let me tell you something here real quick, ok?

Business is not about making as much money as possible; a preference for buying rather than developing talent (go ahead, ask Yahoo about this and those six CEOs they splashed out on over the past nine years); or ending up managing for economic decline.

And another thing too.

Modernization need not be, as Jonathon Rowe contends, by which the value of a tree is the timber it yields.

Climb high and fear builds, doesn’t it?

Organizations do not make people, people make organizations.

Neither do job titles make people, people make job titles, and they bestow them with power.

The higher you go, the more fear there is, and the need to face it, and work through it.

You see, this muscle memory of your’s dealing with the consequences of the +’s and -’s of organizational actions high up there in the status quo of Stratos, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it?

How’s this working out for you as “Cloud Minders,” with your architects and gatekeepers, who are the maestros of your corporate global visions and behavior?

You just don’t see it from way up there, do you?

The mosiac of underlying human-centric motivational influences that lead to these outcomes, do you?

These blind spots spoil or ruin your abilities to predict or influence the results of your strategic and operational plans and actions.

The sad part about of all of this is this constrains your deeper perception and insights on how to inspire authentically and impassion your stakeholders.

Yeah, I know.

You have your self-perpetuating old boys’ network and strategy consultants with branded MBAs; your organizational development and HRs; and yes, even your regimental montage of certified and boot camp change agent and change management practitoners.

Know all about this too well.

But here’s the deal.

They prefer not to tread in the dimensional spectra of conscious-and-unconscious emotional and psychology of human change, as it’s practically applied in environments and ecosystems of organizational life.

They fear this messy but real-world, real-life complexities and the relationships swimming around in there.

These blind spots result in too many half-seen organizational and stakeholder flickering images of the reality, like Kwan showing Hamilton his shadow puppets in The Year of Living Dangerosuly.

He explains to Hamilton if he wants authentically to understand Java, Hamilton has to understand how the sacred Indonesian shadow play evades any conclusive meanings:

You must watch the shadows, not the puppets. . . In the West we want answers for everything. Everything is right or wrong, good or bad. But in the puppet play, no such final conclusions exist.

But I disagree here.

These are blind spots, both the shadows and the puppets.

They both too are many half-seen images of the reality of the forms, and not necessarily of what is actually real (mokita).

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, as Carl Jung contends, but by making the darkness conscious.


The truths we all know about, but agree not to talk about.

The perception of “the elephant in the room.” “Polite fiction.”

Unfortunately, these flickering images on your cave wall, pose unforeseen difficulties, don’t they?

They’re presumed to be real.

The world stakeholders see, the mindshare they absorb, are merely reflections of shadowy representations from key influencers and decision-makers, the climate and culture of what is actually real (and listen carefully here, usually not even that accurately).

These blind spots break trust, brand C-suites like yours, including your stakeholders with enduring (learned helplessness) economic decline during your watch, or bestowing it on those to follow.

Strategy without tactics, as Sun Tzu contends in the Art of War, is the longest way to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Here Be Dragons

Unknowns have been, and they continue, to be frightening

for both individuals and organizations in their dangerous or unexplored terrorities on their maps; or unchartered areas ahead on their roadmaps.

Unknowns gave others in the past, as they still do today others like you, some comfort to at least identify and label these unknowns with either hypothesized or genuinely believed memes with narratives and even stories afixed to them.

Here Be Dragons or How to Face Your Demons or Embrace Your Demons are just such memes often as good-enough-explanations for what has been, and what remains today, fears with what is ungraspable or blind spots for individuals, and embodied in artifacts in organizational climate and culture.

Initially stated problems are most often not the real problems. I hope you have learned that by now.

If you haven’t, you’re in for a world of hurt.

Just ask Marissa Mayer, and the six CEOs over the past nine years, at Yahoo about this.

Most CEOs, who in roughly the first 2 weeks of the year with their pay grade, make their employees (stakeholders) pay grade, which takes them the entire remaining year to make.

These intially stated problems are signifiers of other deeper unconscious complicated problems (blind spots), which the initial problems are repressing.

Or the initally reported problems — typically targeted by your innovative weavers, influence peddlers, and strategy consultancies with their branded MBAs in the herd mentality within the crowded consulting space.

Like I said earlier to you — your architects and gatekeepers, who are your maestros, your Kwan’s of your corporate global visions and behavior.

These resources, “rearranging deck chairs” for a big price tag, assure you this’ll bring different innovative results and end states, while unknowingly or knowingly, they watch the iceberg get closer and closer.

Business strategy, is like fashion, isn’t it? It has its hot trends, and then it has its basics, doesn’t it?

Here’s the mokita in all of this for you:

Business strategy is about dealing with Here Be Dragons in your dangerous or unexplored territories on your roadmaps, or uncharted areas ahead on your roadmaps.

What worked yesterday is no longer guaranteed to work today, or tomorrow.

You get this, right?

Our entrenched bureaucratic worldviews or mindsets (or creative and innovative spinoffs), or equally related mental models and Mindscapes, or business models and frameworks

are not going to no matter how much we, or importantly you want them to or need them to  —  chart different courses through open imagined vistas.

You see, prosperous and productive organizations like yours here faced with such challenges, like muscle memory, repeat tried-and-true tactics, techniques and processes (TTPs) that made them successful.

Normalizing the abnormal becomes an art form for them because they frame organizational climate and culture, mindshare and their success, within their environments and ecosystems unkowingly or knowingly in embedded static mental models and Mindscapes (If it isn’t breaking don’t fix it), rather than complex adaptive systems.

These half-seen flickering images, like Kwan’s shadow puppets on your cave walls in your organizational climate and culture, pose unforseen problems.

They’re presumed to be real.

But what if they are keeping your C-suite, including your climate and culture, as well as your stakeholders from discovering that not only the math you are using for the problem sets are wrong?

What if, also, in similar fashion are your definitions, mental models and Mindscapes, and the framing of these problem sets?

Left undone, you say?

I say to you.

Or grimmer yet, not considering this problematic (state of denial), or your preference not to tread in these dimensional spectra?

Or marginalize it away, as mokita?

Dominant narratives about business, such as they see what they want to believe, must be rewritten: If you don’t like something, change it.

Mindshare matters more often than market share.

Transform your business narratives, as CEO, from merely interesting to truly world-changing.

Creating value for yourself, your organization and your stakeholders — AND your customers as stakeholders in your business — first depends on helping everyone see the value in themselves:

Brilliance lies within all your stakeholders.

Here Be Dragons continue to become

immune to the spectra of business strategy prestigious experts and elite consultancies’ exceptional reports, steeped in deep understanding of the history and nuances of your different players and stakeholders’ interestsyet, regrettably with conclusions and recommendations that become outdated the moment they become published.

These Here Be Dragons are devious with not only you but also your C-suite and stakeholders, who must develop “insights without borders” to discover what will free you all, like Neo from the dream world.

Given this predisposition, how can you expect to chart a course authentically through open imagined vistas to set out in new directions when you all are so co-dependent on experts and elites for walking you all out of your cave?

Obsession with the wizardry of data and technique, as Edwin Friedman contends, often blinds not illuminates, and becomes a form of addiction, that turns professionals into data junkies and their information into data junk yards.

Has the emperor no clothes?

Neither does your climate or culture who operate like this?

Or your C-suite not having the courage to say so either, do they?

What a profitable co-dependent relationship is woven, and bestowed upon stakeholders.

What to do?

  1. Are your trusted truth tellers and mind shifters you are listening to and guiding you, habitual abusers of what I call, the endless reverence for normalizing the abnormal?
  2. Are they another innovative weaver in the herd mentality within the consulting space grazing on C-suites, their organizations and stakeholders innovatively deluding you like their other clients into basically doing innovatively the same thing over-and-over again (normalizing the abnormal), while assuring you like their other customers, different innovative results or end states?
  3. Do they drop thick well-paid-for reports and branded calls-to-actions on your tables, that never really get read?
  4. Are they resources, “rearranging the deck chairs” for a big price tag, assuring you this will bring on different innovative results and end states while watching the iceberg getting closer and closer?
  5. Are they your outsourced dragon slayers, whose solutions create additional problems (second- and third-order effects and beyond) — Here Be Dragons; or unknowingly or knowingly creating more new ones — Here Be Dragons, for you?

Co-dependency is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

Such great secondary gains it produces, doesn’t it?

For Authentic Truth Tellers and Mind Shifters there is no crisis, or “failure of nerve;” especially with Here Be Dragons.

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