The Music In The Global Marketplace
Military Intelligence - Not An
Starting A Revolution Where Everyone
The New Leadership Class
Them Something To Talk About
by Peter Block
Closed: Diary of A Shutdown
Views for a Change
The Quality Tool I Never Use
Facing The Music In The Global
What is your current thinking on the state of
Koestenbaum: I am attempting to find a diagnosis
of the real problems that businesses and organizations
face today. Not the superficial versions, the cliché
versions, that everybody understands but that don’t
really work. In my opinion, we absolutely need to deepen
our understanding, in a truly philosophical sense, of the
issues that leaders face today, in order to come up with
some effective responses, if not answers. We need
reactions and responses that feel like genuine help.
There’s a lot of stuff on the market that’s
very superficial. Regrettably, it is salable. It’s
salable only because it plays into peoples’ denial
of the real issues. People are being deceived and
cheated, being told that something works when it in fact
do peopledeny the real issues?
Koestenbaum: Because authenticity is intimately
connected with anxiety. Growth, which is what is
required, is connected with anxiety. And people will
avoid anxiety and look for a formula to avoid the anxiety
of growing up. That’s sort of the heart of the
you give me an example of some of the things that you
have seen that are superficial solutions that don’t
get at the heart of the matter of our anxiety around
Koestenbaum: I like to put it, if I may, as
follows: I think that the most important task of any kind
of leadership education or coaching today is to help
people understand the New Economy. It’s not being
done enough. And that’s superficial.
do you understand what this New Economy is?
Koestenbaum: The characteristics of the New
Economy, which you must feel in your bones, are that
it’s global and multi-cultural. It’s hightech
and high-tech is over-priced. We buy a lot more high-tech
than we need, and we don’t use the high-tech that
we have. The New Economy is knowledge-oriented and
skill-oriented, which means you have to have more and
more training to really compete. It is impersonal. It is
indifferent to human feelings. It’s a free market
and as a result it creates brutal competition. It is
inevitable. It is there like a natural force. Nobody put
it there and no one can take it away. It is too big to be
responsive to people trying to change it.
am starting to get very depressed.
Koestenbaum: Well, it’s time for depression.
The positive aspect of the New Economy is that it gives
opportunities to entrepreneurs. It improves quality and
it lowers price. Those are the positive impacts. The
negative impacts are that it produces intra-psychic
stress, creating conflicts beyond the capability of most
people to manage. In addition, the consequences of the
global economy are mergers and other strategic responses.
But there is not adequate understanding of their nature
and implications. Mergers lead to immediate downsizing,
culture clashes, and create environments that are unknown
to the people who now work there. It creates new
hierarchies. It creates tyrannies, anti-democratic
governance, which produce intense anxiety and alienation.
Loyalty disappears. That’s a diagnosis of where we
even before the global economy, we had hierarchical
organizations. So while the global economy has changed,
who we are in terms of living out our lives at work, the
issue is still about how can I be fulfilled in what I do
in ways that also fulfill the organization.
Koestenbaum: Right, you hit on a paradox that
people are confronted with as a result of the New
Economy. Because the demand is to win in the New Economy.
And the other factor, that you have just pointed out, is
that we also have to win in the area of personal
fulfillment, personal values, personal meanings, in the
area of knowledge, freedom, love/intimacy, loyalty,
community. We have to win in all of those personal areas
as well. I think that we see more and more
incompatibility of those two — and that’s the
friction. That’s where the conflict comes in.
That’s the source of the stress. And yet, those are
the realities that we have to confront people with before
we can talk about any of the solutions: the owners want
profits and the employees want job security.
you think that organizations, in terms of taking care of
the self part of it, feel that if they offer child care
on site, get rid of the corporate dining rooms, and
mechanistically change the organization so that it
appears to be flat, that they have done their part to
Koestenbaum: I like to put it in non-business
terms. The agendas of the owners and the agendas of the
workers, and that includes anyone down from the CEO, are
different. The owners, understandably and legitimately,
want profits. That means increasing shareholder value.
The employees’ basic agenda is security and quality
of life. Those two are not commensurate with each other.
They are not easy to integrate. The first step of dealing
with today’s leadership issues is to be sharply
conscious of the harshness of the situation. We need to
understand that there is a fundamental discrepancy in the
intrinsic agendas of the owners, which is the
shareholders, and the workers, who have to then make
money for the shareholders. The shareholders in turn have
to create an environment in which the employees want to
work. I do not think that we are conscious enough of the
severity of this difference. Any attempt to gloss over
that is counterproductive.
what can one do?
Koestenbaum: You start this kind of thinking by
understanding and facing in depth the seriousness of the
breach. If your child was killed in war, you used to
receive a telegram. That’s almost an impossible
thing to adapt yourself to. Thus, the first step is to
face the facts. The reality is that you can’t live
with that thought. The other reality is you’ve got
to live. You have other people to take care of and you
have yourself to take care of, so you have to deal with
that conflict. You start out by seeing it in its naked,
stark, harsh reality.
Many of our readers are asking us to give us the five or
ten steps to solve this problem. Yet, there are not
always going to be five steps or ten steps or even one
step. How would you respond to this request?
Koestenbaum: You respect people’s wishes. It
is important to have two lists, the real books and the
“cooked” books. The latter will give the 10
points because that’s what their asking for, and
you can’t ignore the fact that their asking for it.
If you start out by saying that your request for 10
points is illegitimate, then people will fight back,
unless you have full credibility. So, what are the ten
points. I think that we have to recognize that one of
those 10 points is that the question itself is
misleading. It’s the wrong question; however that
may be the last one of those ten points.
There are several “to
dos”. Number one is the power of dialogue. It
isn’t the dialogue of one person with another
person, but a dialogue of two sides within myself:
dialogue within the owner and dialogue within the
employee. We should have a structure to make the dialogue
easier. And the structure is that the employees are
encouraged to own stock, purchase into the company where
they work which makes them owners and which puts them by
design in both camps; worker and owner.
Secondly, it is very important to
challenge people to see the world from the other side.
That is to say, the owner sees the legitimacy of the
employee’s need for security, and the employee sees
the value and legitimacy of the harsh measures taken by
business to produce value: cut costs, cut the frills, be
focused, work people twice as hard as they can handle,
and to see the legitimacy of that.
From the employee’s point of
view, the big question is to align a vision of personal
greatness with a vision of organizational greatness. Once
you see the other side and see the legitimacy of it, then
the issue of integrating the two really means “how
can I find meaning in light of this job?” or
“How can I, when I have this job to offer, help my
employees find their meaning in it?” I think that
it is a cooperative venture that is very rarely addressed
with the kind of fierce commitment that is really
What is your meaning in life? Very few
people will give you a meaningful answer. What can this
Company do to foster that meaning? Conversely, what is
the company’s meaning, and what can the employee do
to in turn foster that? To integrate those two is the
biggest task of the business community.
how does one find personal meaning within the corporate
Koestenbaum: About finding personal meaning within
the corporate agenda: The company’s agenda is
determined by the market. And you need to find a way to
have your personal values satisfied in that corporate
context, and that can’t be done by disassociating
yourself from the market. That requires loyalty. You are
going to have to see those polarities as one, and if you
can’t, then you’re in the wrong job. That is
a very difficult point. If you adopt a cavalier
dilettantism, or detachment from your job, which is what
a lot of young people do. In the end, you will fail.
Because the global economy will not permit that. You must
make a commitment to your work in one way or the other,
or you will just plain fail — because the company
to which you are connected will also fail. First you have
to have meaning, many people don’t. Now you
coordinate your meaning in life with the organization.
For most people, that integration is the most important
job of their career. And very few businesses are equipped
to help them in that in any significant or profound
What is my meaning in life, or I could ask you, what is
your meaning in life? How will we know when it is the
Koestenbaum: Basically, a person has to have some
kind of passion. Persons need a sense of destiny:
something that I must do in this world before I die. Much
of that was lost in the post-atomic-bomb age, when
people’s future simply dropped out! Now the general
view is that it’s no longer politically correct to
have a higher goal, a higher ideal for which to live.
Even if your aspiration is to find a higher ideal, the
goal in life for too many people is entertainment.
Entertainment is fundamentally an escape from doing
something of significance in the world. It’s
relaxation, that’s fine. But as a way of life, it
becomes shallow and it dehumanizes people. People become
why is that?
Koestenbaum: Healthy people are engaged in the
world. To be engaged in the world means to have something
that is more important than we are, for which we are
willing to make a big sacrifice. People, in my opinion,
cannot live without that kind of striving.It is a
striving for greatness, a striving for significance,
which if it is absent, dehumanizes life. People think
they work so that they can have leisure. The leisure is
often empty, shallow, and leads to basically, an early
death. Work and love for Freud, were the two key
activities for a significant life, and I still feel it is
a correct insight. So that you have to have work that
gives you a sense of destiny, but you have to do that
within the confines of the market as you find it today,
or you can’t make it.
That’s what Peter Block and the
School for Managing call “creating an organization
of our own choosing.” It helps to start, in my
opinion, with the New Economy. You start with the New
Economy. It’s there to stay. It has definable
characteristics. And we’re going to teach you how
to win, based on your human traits. We’re going to
teach you how to win in the New Economy, by not selling
yourself as slave, but by honoring you human nature at
the same time which means you take responsibility for you
own life, you take responsibility for procreation, you
take responsibility for self-discovery, etc. etc. None of
that is new, but it has to be represented in a series of
what looks like “to do” steps. One of which,
is that the question itself disappears.
School for Managing talks about the connection before
content. In the New Economy that you described, in many
ways, we are more disconnected.
Koestenbaum: You are absolutely right! The New
Economy destroys connection. Connections are human
events, and the New Economy is not a human phenomenon.
But you are still expected to cope with it and succeed,
and win in it. Our job is not to be like a Greek chorus,
lamenting reality, but our task is to understand human
nature and to have a prescription for people on how to
do we win?
Koestenbaum: I taught philosophy for 34 years and
my commitment is to bring the philosophy with the
psychological bent into helping people with leadership
issues. The relationship the between deepening and
effectiveness is very close. Effectiveness is a function
of deepening, how well you deepen. This requires time,
and is foolish to avoid. It is not based on clichés
and simplistic things, but I call it Philosophy in
Business, because it is philosophy to help people win in
business, using the fullness of their humanity. Winning
in an ungrateful and brutal world. Using all of the
resources of your humanity and winning means winning in
the brutal world, but also winning in the area of your
values. That synthesis of those two opposites is not
going to be achieved by the panaceas and the anodynes
that people come up with today. I think that these
panaceas, these leadership programs rather foster the
dependency of employees, rather that giving them the
strength in order to deal with their values and the harsh