No literary abandon yet…

I haven’t found a whole weekend with this blog and a friend’s bookshelf, but in the mean time, here’s a short book review of the book “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box. For short, I’ll just call it G’ootBox.

G’ootBox is by The Arbinger Institute, and has “Profound… engaging… packed with insight. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.” as it’s front-cover quote, by Stephen R. Covey. If you are familiar with the work of Stephen R. Covey, then you know what you are in for, somewhat–it’s very much of a feather with the kind of values-centered self-help he is famous for. Instead of wrapping that approach in grandfatherly/religious wisdom, it’s instead wrapped in “science” per “leading researchers over decades” although of course these researchers are not named, because naming them or sharing their methods would subject them to being debunked or discredited.

The central concept/conceit of the book is around “the box” but the book introduces the idea by analogy. The book opens with a visual of an infant who, not yet knowing how to crawl, but starting to learn by crawling backwards, gets herself stuck under/between furniture and get’s increasingly frustrated and angry at the furniture, as though it is the furniture’s faults that have caused her to be stuck, frustrated, and angry. In turn, the infant’s frustration and anger causes her to struggle, flail, and even lash out at the furniture–turning an unpleasant situation into an actively painful one.

So that’s “the box”; it’s a self-caused problem which is mistakenly blamed on the situation, which in turn causes further problems, and rising feelings of disorientation, anger, powerlessness, frustration, etc., which are directed outward.

The first full chapter is about a new employee at “Zagrum” which is literally the company your company wants to be. That’s not only how Zagrum is introduced, it’s really the only detail you learn about Zagrum, besides that it has a large management team and a sprawling, attractive corporate campus. Zagrum is the company the new employee applied to work at because although his previous company was hungry, disciplined, and filled with talent, they were consistently taking second to Zagrum.

The chapter after that is a re-telling of the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the doctor whose team of doctors, because they were also experimenting with cadavers and not washing their hands thoroughly, killed thousands unnecessarily before discovering the germ theory of disease. My first instinct here is that this is not my favorite story to explain self-caused problems, because it’s really about the nature of ignorance–that we mostly don’t know when we don’t know a thing. On first blush it still seemed like a very smart story to use if you want to make a very simple-seeming point whose importance is often overlooked seem like a revelation. Later in the book I found more reasons the story was appropriate; like Semmelweis and the other doctors, Zagrum’s philosophy is that people who’ve boxed themselves in by justifying ways they didn’t live up to their better natures tend to develop toxic attitudes.

The book takes a good bit of space to disambiguate the “hard” versus “soft” concept, which is about being tough or conciliatory, from treating other people “as human beings” rather than as “means to an end” or “objects.” (1st Corinthians 16:14, “Do everything in love” is perhaps a shorter way to make the same point.)

I’m short of time, but three really good things to watch for, if I find time to re-read it, are the list of things that change in one’s attitude when one doesn’t take action on the recognition of the humanity in others, the ways to get out of a box once boxed in, and the way to avoid getting boxed in going forward.

Another good point to make is that, if you are a leader who is looking for a good trick to convince your employees that the company’s problems are their problems, not yours, you can hire the Arbinger Institute to come teach them to see themselves as “in the box” which will make them, in the end, much easier to get to negotiate with to your advantage, if it tends to ensure they negotiate in cooperative ways while you are negotiating in a more competitive, individualistic way. I’d like to explore that idea further.