Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson

  1. Human relations are often paradoxical and not logical and this book explains why many assumptions about people, relationships and “managing” we make are in fact false. “Paradoxes are seeming absurdities and people logically try to rationalize them but here we are going to try to suppress that in order to better understand real life situations.”
Key Takeaways
  1. How we think shapes what we see and paradox and absurdity are part of nearly every interaction
  2. It is important to dispel these logical yet false assumptions because when they inevitably fail, managers get frustrated and aren’t well prepared to handle these situations
  3. Managers do things right, leaders do the right things
  4. Absurdity and paradox will be with us as long as humans are around as they arise due to human nature and its flaws
  5. People must know you are a genuine person and not just a “manager.” Vulnerability is sometimes the best way to act
  6. It can be a relief to many to realize you cannot perfectly learn how to deal with others. There is no perfect way. Any technique loses its power once others realize it is a technique. The best people in any field or endeavor leave technique behind and are simply genuine and authentic
  7. Understanding how something works doesn’t mean you can make it work
  8. Praise may not be as effective of a motivator as people think. It may be a status play that managers need to be sensitive to. Better for a manager to be involved and care about the employees’ work. Praise from a third party is often the most effective
  9. The best resource to resolve a problem is sometimes the group who is experiencing or brings up the problem. Deeper fluency with their own problem and can of course see through their own eyes better than others can
  10. The people with the problems often have the best insights into how to fix the problem and if you involve them there will be much greater buy in and adherence
  11. It is amazing how resilient the individual is yet how fragile the organization made up of these individuals can be
  12. Participative approaches are often more effective in getting people involved and generating ideas but this isn’t often employed. Managers may not truly trust their people and the employees may not have the confidence at first to express their opinions
  13. The best way to improve work and output may not be through management but simply by improving relations
  14. Organizations that need the most help often can benefit the least. The mentally healthiest people can often change the most and gain from it. Often the people who need to change least are forced to in order to accommodate others – may not be fair but it sure is effective
  15. People and companies suffer most often because of fraying or lack of relations
  16. Often, the better things are the worse people feel. Revolutions begin not at the trough but only when things slightly improve. The theory of rising expectations. They are discontented because of higher level concerns. This is actually progress though it may not seem like it at first. The highest performing organizations have the highest order grumbles – self actualization. People will never be totally content. The best campuses and countries often have the most restless populace. The most effective reformers are often thrown out by the very people they have been helping – rising expectations take over
  17. Although creativity seems encouraged it really isn’t because truly creative ideas would require tremendous change. Breakthrough changes always breaks the rules. What people seem to really want is manageable creativity. Long term, respected institutions cannot be as creative as newer ones can and that is why true breakthroughs tend to come from individuals, smaller groups or others who are “outside”. Scale is the enemy of creativity
  18. Leadership is less the property of an individual and should be distributed among its members
  19. Often easier to make big changes rather than small ones as the benefits are so much more drastic. In a group that’s working well without titles or other forms of physical status it would be hard to tell apart the leader from the other members
  20. Often people learn better from others’ mistakes than successes as we can better empathize with them
  21. Failure could be one’s best teacher but it really isn’t as people don’t take the time or make the effort to truly analyze them. It is hard to look yourself in the mirror after a failure
  22. Everything works yet nothing works. Almost all management techniques work somewhat but lasting change is almost impossible to implement. Lasting changes only occur when sound practices are implemented on a continual and sustainable basis
  23. Planning is a poor way to asses the future but it can be helpful for assessing the present. The process and not the product is the important part to help with anticipative behavior
  24. The most impactful leaders do not dominate a group but serve it. Humility comes naturally to the best leaders
  25. The best leaders seem to have the confidence to trust their intuition- the accumulation of experience and learnings that they can draw and act upon. These visceral reactions are often ignored but should be paid attention to while looking for objective information
  26. Efforts to fix people usually don’t work and can be counterproductive. The best managers try to fix the situation or environment rather than the person. Circumstances are powerful influences on behavior
  27. The best managers create an ecosystem where their passion is the organizing and motivating force. This makes the tough pursuit worthwhile and draws others into the mission
  28. Love is fundamental to good leadership as leadership is all about caring
  29. Community is one of the most powerful yet fragile parts of an organization. It takes a lot of time and trust to build and can be ruined quite quickly. An insidious part of the erosion of communities is that it is often made in the name of progress and scale
  30. Amateur comes from the Greek word amator which means “love.” An amateur does what he does out of love. A manager needs to work from a place of love
What I got out of it
  1. Often opportunity lies in paradox, misunderstandings or things which seem counterintuitive. This book is filled with those situations and keeping them in mind when dealing with people will be helpful. The rule of reciprocity is always in play. Treat others as you want to be treated. Embody those things which you yourself are looking for. Genuinely having respect will be invisibly and silently communicated to others. Verbal communication is only a small fraction of all communication. The silent, meta message tends to be more powerful than the message itself