business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Aside from being a fabulously enjoyable Broadway show, Wicked actually teaches an incredible business lesson that virtually all of us need to learn. The show, based on the Gregory Maguire book of the same name, poses a very challenging question: what if everything we knew about a specific event was simply wrong.

In the case of Wicked, the premise is simple. We all know the story of The Wizard of Oz. However, consider for a second that it was told incorrectly to protect a cruel and corrupt government and that the Wicked Witch was actually the hero. The genius of Maguire’s story is that he tells his tale without violating anything we know in the beloved movie. And by doing so he makes us think.

Perspective is stunningly important, but far too often we all hesitate to challenge the views we personally hold. We do it in politics (Bush bashers out there, consider your complaints about how Obama is treated…and vice versa), we do it with history and we do it in business. You’re on your own to consider opposing views in history or politics, but in business we have to start tackling some of this together.

The trigger for this discussion came during last week’s FMI Future Connect, which once again I must inform you I played a big role in planning and running. One of the most interesting discussions I heard there took place thanks to Peg Neuhauser, author of books on tribal warfare inside companies that I plan to start reading immediately. Neuhauser put the group through an interesting exercise in which audience members were asked what words or phrases colleagues use that make their skin crawl. The examples came quickly, including: “you people,” “my boss said it’s our call,” and the dreaded “that’s not how we do it.”

The answers flowed a little slower when Neuhauser asked the group to think of the phrases they personally use that probably have the same impact on others. But the point was made: tribal warfare and silo building isn’t something only the other guys do.

But there was one stunning moment that was not answered as well. Neuhauser asked the group to name the department that causes them the most problems or seems to have the most impenetrable silos. Incredibly, the same department kept coming up: IT or information technology. The message was clear: in a room of 1,000 people representing companies of all types and sizes, IT is THE problem.

Except that’s largely wrong, a point the small group of IT people in the room wisely avoided making that day given the overwhelming numbers against them.

Certainly, there are problems caused by IT. There are times an IT staffer answers questions in a less than helpful way. And it’s hard to imagine there is any department outside a hospital emergency room that has more confusing jargon than IT. But like the Wicked Witch, IT is getting a bum deal.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with many IT professionals over the years and they all share interesting stories about how operations, merchandising, marketing or management messes things up and then blames IT. The litany of problems is huge ranging from people who simply have no clue how to operate a computer to those who want various technological tools without any plan on how to use that tool to help the company operate better. And when questions are asked, IT is blamed for intransigence.

This is just an example, but an important one all the same. Trying to see problems or issues through another’s eyes can make us all stronger. The Neuhauser discussion reminds us that we all need an attitude adjustment time and again to make us consider whether the silo builder is the person staring back in the mirror or if the Wicked Witch really isn’t very wicked at all. Sometimes perspective needs a good shaking.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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