ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

September 1999


Not So Common Sense

Establishing Teams: The Agony And Ecstasy

CEOs Have Little Control Over Bottom Line

Older Vs. Younger


A Conference For, By And At The People
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



A Conference for the People, by the People, and At the People
by Peter Block

Large conferences where hundreds of people come together for a few days are important. They are a public way of affirming a set of beliefs. They give us the experience of being part of a larger community and they remind us that we are not alone in the work that we do. When the large conference begins to disappear, it is worth worrying about.

If you have recently attended a professional conference on management, quality improvement or one dealing with the well being of employees, you will have noticed it is getting to be a rather lonely experience. Attendance at people centered conferences is on the decline, while attendance at conferences on speed, technology, money and entrepreneurship are humming along.

Does this say something about modern times? Some say people are too busy or the cost of attending is too much for austere times, and that is why they are shrinking. I don't believe this. More likely we have begun to feel there is nothing new to learn. Or the hope these conferences once offered is fading. We have already heard most of the keynote speakers; Tom, Colin, Scott, Robert, Rosabeth, me and the like. We have tried most of the new ideas; Teams, Alternative Pay, Re and De Engineering, Empowerment, Learning Organizations and the like.

Perhaps we need a new approach to revitalize the experience of large numbers of people coming together to affirm the importance of people. So, before we surrender to the fact that speed, technology, wealth and be-your-own-boss own the conference marketplace, I would like to make one more stab at a people-centered meeting.

Returning Cynicism to its Rightful Dignity
I suggest we offer a conference for people who have tried everything and are disappointed. Instead of trying to overcome disappointment, let's embrace it. Let's listen to the music of the night.

Repeated disappointment breeds cynicism and why fight it. Let's bring cynicism out of the hallways, bars and cafeterias and into the open. When did cynicism get such a bad rap. It remains widespread, it is fun, and needs little explanation. Here are some thoughts on the purpose and design of what could be a truly innovative conference.

A National Conference on Disappointment and the Impossibility of Change
Title. We need to start with a catchy title. Something that grabs our attention and promises what we can deliver. Some possibilities:

"What's the Point?"

"Nothing Lasts"

"People: High Cost/High Maintenance Resource of Last Resort."

"Cynicism: A Viable Philosophical Stance for the New Millenium

Keynote Speakers: Plenary sessions could include: Woody Allen, George Carlin, Chainsaw Al Bradshaw, and William Bennett. Each thinks there is something seriously wrong with our culture and institutions and offer no solutions other than trying harder, which in itself is an action plan with little hope for success.

Case Study: Dilbert: Tomorrow's Role Model Executive

Come and hear the story of Dilbert's rise to corporate giant. He now runs a $300,000,000 corporation. Learn of the crisis this must this present now that Dilbert has become top management. Learn about how he holds meetings, appraises performance, requires duplicate signatures for purchases over a certain amount. How he communicates with employees, and most of all, who he blames now.

Some of the early proposals for presentations include:
Why employees are sick of taking responsibility. Let's stop treating people as if they are the problem, need the training and have to be enrolled, induced and led into a new tomorrow. Enough already. Employees don't need to change, management doesn't need to change. Why aren't they good enough the way they are.

Executive Education: High Cost Training with No Accountability. High potential managers spend weeks at expensive university education programs. Companies are spending millions of dollars to train the top 5 percent of their executives. No one asks to measure the bottom-line effect of these investments. What is going on here? America wants to know.

What You Can Not Measure Does Not Exist. It is time to finish this subject once and for all. Measurement is the basis of science and is essential for most of the advances of modern society. Let's declare it King and stop harboring soft-minded hopes for a peaceable kingdom. The lion is not going to lie down with the lamb.

Job Elimination as the Key to Successful Mergers. Mergers and acquisitions
are financed through job consolidation. This workshop details the process and gives hints on how to best position your self to be the diner instead of the meal.

Using Technology to Maximize Personal Wealth and Minimize Personal Responsibility. This is one of our most popular workshops. Tips on low cost, fast growth, internet businesses. Ways of using e-mail to avoid unpleasant conversations, techniques on how to avoid wasted face time.

Golf: The Relationship Landscape of the New Millenium. Learn how to relate on the golf course. The game separates the haves and the have nots. It has infinite rules and is impossible to learn quickly. It takes a lot of time, can be played alone or happily with strangers and encourages rule bending. Plus it has a wonderful social invention called a mulligan. This means if you do not like your shot, you try it again. Also, in what other sport does someone follow you around in a little wagon filled with beer, bourbon and cigarettes to be enjoyed during play. Heaven.

Who Should Attend and Cost
This conference is for disappointed people. For those of us who are weary of sustaining optimism in the face of harsh reality. Discussions of soul, spirit, meaning or purpose will be discouraged.

This experience is primarily aimed at individuals who agree to take nothing useful back to the job. In fact there will be two prices: a $300 fee for those who expect to develop no new skills and are willing to keep thinking inside the box. The fee is $1500 if you insist on new skills, insights and immediately applicable tools. Plus, if you come as a team, there is an additional 15 percent charge.

This will be the first conference in history that does not lie to you about transformational benefits in order to get you to attend.

Conference Design
One of the most attractive features of the conference design is that there will be few chances for interaction with other attendees. The presentations will be quick, to the point, wasting little time on small group discussion. The conference presenters have agreed to do no role playing, no simulations, no vague open ended small group discussions. You will not be asked to list the characteristics of a good leader, team member, nor will you be asked to recall any peak experiences you might have had or to articulate a vision.

All lectures will be accompanied by handouts covering all points. Tapes will be prerecorded for all sessions and are included in the cost of attending. All presenters have been selected for their seriousness, and will been screened to eliminate any undue idealism, hope or shallow greeting card optimism.

Setting and Location
The physical setting will be dark with classroom-style seating. The rooms will be designed for easy in and out movement. All seats will be near the door. No seats will be in the front of the room. Each session will begin a little late and end a little early to eliminate obsessive timeliness that can easily interfere with learning.

Get Involved
These ideas may seem slightly cynical and a little beyond the edge, but don't be quick to judge. Cynicism is an expression of our lost idealism. It confronts our beliefs and questions whether the conventional wisdom about organizational change of the last fifteen years still serves us. Our beliefs in vision, skills, enrollment, teams, rewards, tools have served us well, but in today's world seem to be wearing out. We need something bolder to bring care for relationships and the person back into the forefront of our consciousness.

Perhaps if we came together, looked hard at the limitations of our current wisdom, it would be worth the trip. Would you come to a conference like this? Which price plan would you prefer? Please send me your thoughts. We can do this whole thing electronically. I remain your loyal, visionary, results-oriented, role-modeling servant columnist.

September '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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