Seduction of Chocolate, and Tools

27 09 2008

In the new book, High Altitude Leadership, that I wrote with Chris Warner, we discuss the danger of tool-seduction. Chris is one of the top climbers in the world and, as founder of Earth Treks, quite a successful businessman. He’s clear about what happens when climbers get too seduced by their tools. In their overconfidence they end up stranded at altitude. But as I read about what’s happening with Hershey, I wonder why it’s so hard to see the same effect in companies. The BBC said that “Swiss-based Nestle has escalated its assault on the US market by offering $11.5bn (£7.5bn) for chocolate giant Hershey Foods”. What happened?

There’s chat from the autopsy of Hershey’s failed ERM program. Did it have something to do with the urgency of the sale? I’m always struck about how invisible tool-seduction is in organizations. Some people can’t make the link, but tools run rampant in companies: TQM, team trainings, reengineering, six-sigma, talent management, organizational change programs, etc.

I see this a lot. Once, I visited a high-ranking government official to alert him about an impending failure from the millions they were investing in a major consulting firm to implement matrix-management. I had just finished a Keynote speech for his staff conference, and having sat in on an earlier workshop by the offending consulting group,it was clear this project was doomed. But this guy starts the meeting with me by bringing in a copy of my book, The Code of the Executive. He says he was having a hard time fitting my concepts into 3 other books he used as his bibles. The other 3 books were best sellers, and I knew had high failure rates in implementation studies. But somehow everything had to fit into his “tools”. It never hit him that my book, a translation of an ancient samurai training, wasn’t supposed to “fit”. I was flabbergasted. And this explained why his organization had no respect for him. Nauseous I left the meeting never getting to the point that he was wasting millions of taxpayer’s money. My money.

Tool seduction costs the country a lot.




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