Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review - Fingerprints on the Knife

How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints Are on the Knife? : And Other Meditations on Management by Jerry B. Harvey

Dad lent me this last week. It reads like a blog - each chapter it's own series of thoughts, with threads of insight that flow from one to another. I loved his stories, and thought at times he could have used another great story to make a point rather than a sometimes cumbersome explanation. I'm glad I started reading in the middle because I might not have gotten far. Not because the material isn't worthwhile, but just because the beginning covers something I seldom think about.

The first chapters deal with backstabbing and scapegoating, and why the author believes the backstabbee is responsible for allowing herself to be stabbed. The overall idea is one I agree with heartily. We victimize ourselves.

I want to re-read this chapter with an eye at backstabbing and scapegoating within families. He touches on the family angle in a later chapter about how high performance organizations needing a low performing player to maintain their edge. The Japanese call these people "window people," because they tend to sit at the perimeter of the building as more or less window dressing. Within a family, this person might also be known as the black sheep.

I dove deeper into the following chapters.

First, a quick look at why people sit rather than stand, and makes a call for "liberating progress" through choosing to act.

The chapters that really grabbed me, as I'm now preparing for next semester's classes, were the ones on learning and cheating (please note Harvey does NOT use the word "teaching" to describe his work as a college professor). He defines cheating as, "failure to assist others on the exams if they request it." He has a bit in this chapter about a tense meeting with his dean, who roars at him,
"Are you aware of the absolute chaos that would be generated at George Washington University if everyone began to help one another?!"

The basis for these ideas is the concept that if we can help eliminate anaclitic depression, we create an environment for people to act at their highest potential. Anaclitic depression is a concept I've seen close up with my adopted kids. Basically, it's the idea that we give up various degrees of hope and trust when we are abandoned. As a result, we give less of ourselves following the abandonment. Businesses or classrooms which communicate that only a few can succeed (like grading on the curve), or allow layoffs and mergers (out of the control of the employees or students), spark anaclitic depression blues.

I found this interesting because it is a frustrating characteristic of one of my children. Page 116, "If you have family members, friends or coworkers who consistently fly off the handle because of imagined slights (such as not being invited to business meetings or social events they they have no legitimate reson to attend), they may have been injured by the anaclitic depression blues early in life."

Harvey challenges us to create environments where attachment to others can occur, with a culture that values helping others - thus cheating is defined as NOT helping others.

I'm re-thinking this next semester in these terms.

He spends an insightful chapter discussing prayer, which, at it's deepest level is walls-down communication. I amen'd all the way through that one.

Since I've been an Elliott Jaques groupie for years, I enjoyed his overview of Jaques' Stratified Systems Theory, and agreed with Harvey's assessment that people are hyper afraid that they will become depressed if they give up their current thoughts about how things work. Therefore, they can't allow themselves to admit Jaques' science is truth.

The next two chapters deal with farting in church - the value of interventionists - and how the cult in Waco and the federal agents trying to remove the cult were followers of basically identical faiths.

Lastly, Harvey discusses the merits of managerial humor, as wonderfully illustrated by as story following his open heart surgery. This chapter encouraged me in my New Years Resolution to parent from a place other than anger.

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