A Utopian Ideal?


A Utopian Ideal?

Russell Howcroft of ABC2 & Gruen Transfer fame spoke recently at a VECCI lunch for business leaders on nurturing creativity.

Russell suggested business leaders need to get away from cynical and adversarial thinking. He recommended writing ‘assume good intent’ on a whiteboard in your office.

I have often wished to do the same, especially when coaching teams. Sometimes it feels like everyone is waiting for someone else to go first, a bit like an episode of Utopia or worse, a Mexican standoff from a bad Western. Defined as “a confrontation in which neither party can proceed nor retreat without being exposed to danger”, I would argue that most of the time the danger is perceived rather than real.

other disciplines already do this

Other disciplines know how to ”assume good intent” better than business. The obvious one being sport, the less obvious, the arts. If I am an aerial artist, I must not only assume good intent, I need to act on it too. I must boldly throw myself in and know that you will catch me. Likewise, as a musician, I must assume my fellow musos will also come in confidently on that bar (awkward if you play brass), or, as well illustrated in the tv show “Thank God You’re Here”, an improviser must put themselves out there with a “strong offer”. There is no room for hesitation or half-heartedness.

and the cost of not doing this…

Unfortunately for organisations the results of having a mindset of mistrust are more subtle and less immediate than flailing aerial artists, unfunny improvisers or dropped balls of different varieties but the results are no less corrosive. What you will generally see are passive, boring and unproductive meetings and too much time spent on office politics, gossip and “off line” conversations. Of course this is at the expense of actually getting things done and achieving results. And forget innovation – it will be out the window.

Some wisdom from the past

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great, though they make an exception in your favour to all their rules of trade”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this about the courage it takes to develop business relationships in his 1944 essay: “Prudence”.

If you feel there is deep-seated mistrust in your organisation, have a look at Stephen Covey’s work on trust to diagnose where things are derailing – I’ll explore this topic further another time.

In the meantime assume good intent.

One comment

  1. Very perceptive little article, George. Not many micro-managers get good results in the long run, but the pity of it is that often higher-ups frighten inexperienced untutored junior managers into adopting non-trusting and bullying attitudes which are corrosive and counter-productive. The net result is usually loss of morale, staff and production (and ultimately, the manager).


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