Thursday, November 08, 2007

Failure of Empathy

I'm not one of those simplists who think "big business" is a synonym for "evil" and gets all fuzzy looking if you as why they jump to the conclusion that the "little guy" is automatically the good guy. But here is an example of total lack of empathy in a corporation.

Only 60% of servers up after 110 hours

I'm up again, hopefully for good. (But I know that I have gotten nowhere near all my email, so I assume that most of it went to Never Never Land.) I think I was one of the last websites resurrected at the hosting service I use. It is but one of hundreds of hosting services affected. Each with hundreds or thousands of customers.

Those hosting services are hosed. Many, if not most, will loose most of their customers and go out business because of this. They were reporting up to 30% cancellations by Monday!

As for the 175,000 webmasters.... I know I lost a lot of money. Many will have lost too much money and too many visitors (who think the site went offline for good) to recover and they will go out of business too. Right before Christmas.

But what's it to the jerks who did this? Nothing but some chunks of hardware and digital 1's and 0's. Not people's lives.

Does their attitude ring a bell? It should ;-)

Jeez, how mean it would be to expect those poor little geniuses to bear the pain of admitting they were wrong! They were too proud to admit that everything doesn't go right for them just because they are geniuses, to admit that their cocky attempt was creating a rolling disaster and therefore STOP while they could rollback to the data center in Baltimore - AS THEY HAD PROMISED THEY WOULD IF ANYTHING WENT WRONG.

So, for the sake of these big babies' fragile, weak egos, hundreds and thousands must go out of business.

A little narcissistic? How about flamingly narcissistic?

Obviously, we need some laws. The hardware may have been theirs, but the websites and hosts on them are the property of other people. You negligently or recklessly damage other people's property and you should pay. Just as if you drove a bulldozer through their front door.

THAT penalty they will learn to care about. Time to educate them with the only substitute for empathy there is - fear of the law.

And no, not all big business is like that. Most mature big businesses know that it's bad for business in the long run and that egomaniac executives just destroy morale in the workforce and make decisions to enrich their egos, not your business.

For example, I once worked for a retired personnel executive for the Parker Pen company during its heyday. He was a masterful manager of personnel and absolutely fair and kind and generous. He taught me how to manage personnel, sometimes even advocating for those who worked under me. Why was he so honorable? Because it works! It makes everyone happy and business boom.

A few near-sighted climbers should pause and think about that.

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At 1:41 PM, Blogger Billy said...

I have never understood why so many businesses are run so poorly. They're rude to customers, don't reply to e-mails, and never call you back. These businesses are not only rude but also stupid. I just don't get it, and maybe that's a good thing.

What you said is so true--treating your customers right works! But so many businesses seem to follow a line from Milton's paradise lost: "Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Billy said...

E stands for ego

I meant to include this in my previous post. Basically, power goes to people's heads (and power is a huge part of business) and they become totally clueless about other people's needs and feelings.

Here's an excerpt from the link at the very bottom of this post:

"Galinsky's team wanted to see whether having power changed how well people understood the viewpoints of others. The researchers asked volunteers to recall personal incidents where either they had power over others or others had power over them.

"Past studies have revealed that such recollections had exactly the same effects as actually placing people in positions of power or powerlessness, Galinsky said. For instance, regardless of whether people were given power or simply remembered possessing it, they were more likely to assert themselves and take risks.

"Galinsky and his colleagues at New York University and Stanford then asked 57 student volunteers to draw the letter E on their own foreheads. More than a decade of experiments have shown that people who write the E in a way that is legible to themselves but backwards to others have not thought or cared about how others might perceive the letter. On the other hand, people who draw the E backward to them but legible to others have considered another's point of view.

"Galinsky’s study subjects who had recollected power were almost three times as likely to draw the E in a way that was backwards to others than those who recollected an experience of powerlessness

"'This corroborates other studies that show when people have power, they are more likely to egocentrically focus on themselves,' Galinsky told LiveScience."

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps one of Navisite's customers should troll for an attorney to start a little class action against them to regain lost funds.

Would teach them about HONESTY as well as EMPATHY!

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

I think it's jumping to a conclusion to view power as the cause, as though it would affect everyone. People are not machines. I know for a fact that some people handle power and authority much differently than most. They don't vew them as all they're cracked up to be. They see in them a burden of responsibility. They never exert any more control than is their right AND is absolutely necessary. They delight in giving others freedom. They AVOID making others' choices for them. They are eminently empathic. The kind of people who can be trusted with power.

They are altruists. The bad - well you know what they will do with power. Then there's the ugly, and you know what they will do with power too. But the problem is in them. They choose to do what they do with it.

That said, knowing what we know about what moves people, if you run a business or a country, like our forefathers, you dare not be naive about what most people will do when tempted with power. The high gets addictive.

But like I said, it's both wrong and simplistic to view big business, or business in general as evil. It's wrong and simplistic to assume that the little guy is automatically the good guy. An example: big business was in the lead on fighting sex discrimination and working to clean sexist language out of documents. Why? Because they wanted better executives. That required more competition for those executive offices. That required making sure women could rise through the ranks. Similarly, a company like General Motors never allows a bully boss to abuse employees. It has highly trained personnel managers to see to it that realtions with the work force are as good as possible. Why? Because it's good for business.

Ralph taught me this. I saw how it worked, to my own astonishment. Such POWER there was in being forthright and fair, fair, fair with people! Just being honest and doing the right thing, letting people be themselves, made a paradise. I almost never had to correct anyone or do anything to get them to work harder! Of course one day someone came in saying, "I don't know if you know what some people around here are doing, but--"

His rear never hit the chair. I told him to get out and never try to do that again, because I used my own eyes and ears.

Like I said, paradise.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Erin said...

Here's a selection from a 7/22/2002 Malcom Gladwell piece entitled "The Talent Myth."

A dozen years ago, the psychologists Robert Hogan, Robert Raskin, and Dan Fazzini wrote a brilliant essay called "The Dark Side of Charisma." It argued that flawed managers fall into three types. One is the High Likability Floater, who rises effortlessly in an organization because he never takes any difficult decisions or makes any enemies. Another is the Homme de Ressentiment, who seethes below the surface and plots against his enemies. The most interesting of the three is the Narcissist, whose energy and self-confidence and charm lead him inexorably up the corporate ladder. Narcissists are terrible managers. They resist accepting suggestions, thinking it will make them appear weak, and they don't believe that others have anything useful to tell them. "Narcissists are biased to take more credit for success than is legitimate," Hogan and his co-authors write, and "biased to avoid acknowledging responsibility for their failures and shortcomings for the same reasons that they claim more success than is their due." Moreover:

Narcissists typically make judgments with greater confidence than other people . . . and, because their judgments are rendered with such conviction, other people tend to believe them and the narcissists become disproportionately more influential in group situations. Finally, because of their self-confidence and strong need for recognition, narcissists tend to "self-nominate"; consequently, when a leadership gap appears in a group or organization, the narcissists rush to fill it.

Tyco Corporation and WorldCom were the Greedy Corporations: they were purely interested in short-term financial gain. Enron was the Narcissistic Corporation--a company that took more credit for success than was legitimate, that did not acknowledge responsibility for its failures, that shrewdly sold the rest of us on its genius, and that substituted self-nomination for disciplined management. At one point in "Leading the Revolution," Hamel tracks down a senior Enron executive, and what he breathlessly recounts--the braggadocio, the self-satisfaction--could be an epitaph for the talent mind-set:

"You cannot control the atoms within a nuclear fusion reaction," said Ken Rice when he was head of Enron Capital and Trade Resources (ECT), America's largest marketer of natural gas and largest buyer and seller of electricity. Adorned in a black T-shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots, Rice drew a box on an office whiteboard that pictured his business unit as a nuclear reactor. Little circles in the box represented its "contract originators," the gunslingers charged with doing deals and creating new businesses. Attached to each circle was an arrow. In Rice's diagram the arrows were pointing in all different directions. "We allow people to go in whichever direction that they want to go."

The distinction between the Greedy Corporation and the Narcissistic Corporation matters, because the way we conceive our attainments helps determine how we behave. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Columbia University, has found that people generally hold one of two fairly firm beliefs about their intelligence: they consider it either a fixed trait or something that is malleable and can be developed over time. Five years ago, Dweck did a study at the University of Hong Kong, where all classes are conducted in English. She and her colleagues approached a large group of social-sciences students, told them their English-proficiency scores, and asked them if they wanted to take a course to improve their language skills. One would expect all those who scored poorly to sign up for the remedial course. The University of Hong Kong is a demanding institution, and it is hard to do well in the social sciences without strong English skills. Curiously, however, only the ones who believed in malleable intelligence expressed interest in the class. The students who believed that their intelligence was a fixed trait were so concerned about appearing to be deficient that they preferred to stay home. "Students who hold a fixed view of their intelligence care so much about looking smart that they act dumb," Dweck writes, "for what could be dumber than giving up a chance to learn something that is essential for your own success?"

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Those are some interesting observations. But I find a couple things wrong with it. First, it's the old superficial look at a narcissist. It doesn't hold water. Most of the narcissists I know avoided positions of power. Correction: they avoided high positions. They avoided positions of responsibility.

For example, two preferred to manipulate the head coach or the principal from behind the scenes. When the head coach retired and everyone looked to them, they immediately came down with heart disease or something. One tried head coaching for a year or two, but couldn't take it.

They never wanted to be in a position to be criticized by anyone. Instead, they played the role of mentor, remotely controlling the head coaches and trying their damndest to force the principal to obey them (through moral persecution and rumor).

That's why simplistic, superficial defitions of narcissists as climbers just doesn't work. These Enron executives went after high positions where no one could hold them accountable or dared to criticize them. That's why their behavior was different.

But at bottom, they are the same little piss ants as the two I was talking about. Same motivations, same disease. Different environment is what makes them choose differently.

I noticed something else odd. "The distinction between the Greedy Corporation and the Narcissistic Corporation matters...." That sounds like he means all corporations are one or the other. AHHHH! I really question the judgement of someone who doesn't know better. I have recently given examples of big corporations that that don't fit that derogatory bill. But it seems that many people have hand it stamped into their brains that business is evil.

I liked his observation that people think they're smart and act dumb. I think they think it's smart TO act dumb - too dumb to know what's wrong with what they're doing. It's what I call the Wholly Innocent of all Knowledge of What They're Doing act.

He fails to note the irony though. Think about it: can there be anything stupider than thinking it's smart to act dumb? Even the mentally retarded know better than that:)

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Billy said...

I found the following quote from that article interesting:

"Narcissists typically make judgments with greater confidence than other people."

That definitely describes some narcissists I've known. Too little self-doubt in them.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

I think so too. I think he nailed it on that point. If you think your intelligence is something innate, why not be intellectually lazy?

What he said squares with what I've seen. Narcs seem to view themselves as inherently superior, a higher level of being (in which the God-act figures prominently). They seem to think everything is owed them just by virtue of who they are.

They must have to think that nothing is earned, because they never earn anything. They would not want to think that intelligence is something that can change, that can increase, and that you can lose if you don't use. Every narc I have known or heard of thought he or she was some sort of noble creature, inherently superior to the rest of us mere mortals in every way. This is how they rationalize their demand for special treatment.

Moreover, they always do the bare minimum to get by, so why would these types want to learn English better? In fact, their difficulty with it might make it hard for them to maintain their delusions of of brilliance, so they would want to avoid anything they find difficult or might fail at.

Interestingly though, I know one who has told me several times that she feels like "an intellectual inferior" to highly educated people and very intimidated by their presence. She said this in connection with having to give a scientific presentation to a panel of PhDs.

Go figure. I could not understand this. When I said that having a PhD doesn't always mean a person is THAT intelligent (as intellectually superior as she was making a PhD out to be), let alone any more intelligent than herself or me or most other college graduates, it seemed as if that did not compute. She seemed to view the intelligence as the mere appearance - the trappings of intelligence, such as an MD or PhD. I later learned that narcs never distinguish between a thing and its mere appearance, no matter how deceiving. And I think she just feels uncomfortable in such company because she doesn't have a PhD too, not because she really feels intellectually inferior. I think it's just hard for her to pretend she's the smartest person in the room when PhDs around.


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