Why try to mitigate pain instead of rolling with the punches?

Recently I have been reading yet again about an esoteric subject-this time about how boxers deal with pain.

I was driven to this subject by my grandson who is very, very good at judo. Recently, he had to get his mouth stitched. Faced with my questioning and worry, he told me that his training includes coping with pain, and to an extent, even enjoying it because “judo is also about enduring pain, and even reaching a stage where it does not bother you all that much”.

I went on to read quite a bit about the brutal Thrilla in Manilla, as well as as what it feels like taking punches from the hardest of hitters (Tyson, Foreman, Marciano). I also read what it feels like during the month after you have been knocked out.

These were great reads, because of both the pride and “working through” that boxers experience as they absorb the punishment that they take with such grace and acceptance.

Of course, enduring pain should not become an ideology. I suffer from chronic back pain (my height and genetics) and I do not like it when told that I need to embrace pain instead of taking a Aleve.

While enduring pain is not an ideology, it sure is a necessity especially in organizations; unfortunately, OD does not give pain appropriate focus.

There are imho several reasons for our professions’ misguided attempts to mitigate pain:

  • There are built in conflicts between individual and the organizational needs that cannot be resolved. We are often hired to make that inevitable pain disappear.
  • Mutual dependencies in organizations are often unfulfilled, and are unfulfilled by design. (build fast and build cheap). We are often hired to pretend that teamwork is a cure for unfullfilled dependencies.
  • Technology enables people to communicate far faster than they can act, causing massive overload and burn out. OD has a whole tool kit to “apparently” improve communication, which often does not address the source of the pain-we cannot deal with so much information coming our way so fast.

And that is just the beginning of the list.

Attempts to mitigate the pain, also called wellness, engagement or some other fancy fad, try to plaster over the pain, deny it, and can worsen it. As a result, some OD interventions (stress management) are seen as bullshit, or a derivative thereof.

Pain has a function. Feel it, roll with the punches, and don’t make it go away.

It’s there for a reason. Look the reason with honesty and see what can be done. Don’t try to fool people with snake oil.

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Hybrid Teams-some ugly truths

Before I get beaten up, I’d better clarify that I have worked with hybrid teams since they existed. Multi-time zone teams, in situ and at home, Japanese and Israeli; Australians and Singaporeans; Chinese and a CBC (Canadian born Chinese)  founded companies in Vancouver-I’ve been everywhere.

Different people have different genetic weaknesses; so do different breeds of dogs. My senior dog George, for example, suffers from epilepsy. Most poodles do. His hind legs ain’t so good. That is common for a 14 year old dog. It is built into his genetic code. Various types of teams also have certain special types of weaknesses.

In this brief post, I want to share the unique types of troubles facing hybrid teams, with a special emphasis on teams where some people are in an office and others are working from home.

  1. The people in the actual meeting room will generally  be more involved than those at home.
  2. Those at home will be more distracted and tend to play around with their mobile and and lose track of what is going on.
  3. There may be less active discussion about contentious  issues in hybrid teams, but there may be less committment to decisons made. Often feigned commitment initially goes unnoticed in hybrid teams.
  4. Trust building capabilties is THE critical skill set for members of a hybrid teams. Some people just do not have that skill, and they should be shut off from participating unless they can adapt or be trained. Some people cannot adapt well; examples includes people who cut other people off, never shut up and who have very poor listening skills.
  5. Hidden agendas in multi-national teams abound. They are the cancer of this form of organizing. The most common hidden agenda is a desire to control your own destiny. The ‘other’ team causes anxiety because of the built in dependence.
  6. The rarest commodity in a multinational team is trust. It is rarer than a face mask in a Texas mall. As the link illustrates, trust even means different things to different cultures.
  7. People who have never met can work very well together. Yet when they meet, their interaction will change, probably for the better. So whatever the cost or circumstance, organizations should always, always, encourage f2f meetings. It is not old-fashioned. It is effective.
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How to go about thinking differently about things you feel sure about

Could it be my age that makes me less convinced about things that I took once for granted? Perhaps.

Could it be that having watched certain events unravel unexpectedly push me along the road of seeing things differently?

That’s for sure. The downfall of the USSR, the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, my success as a parent, the peacemaking visit to Israel of Sadat, the election of Trump, the collapse of reliable information on most topics-certainly all of these have shaken previous beliefs that I have held.

However, and it is a big however, I have always made an effort to try to think differently about people, events, and ideas. I do so very systematically as well. I read differing opinions and seek out people who disagree. I acutually get bored speaking with people who agree with me. I love probing the motives and cognitive structure of opposing views.

Here are a few challenges I have posed to myself and sought out, systematically, to understand all points of view. 1) Why do so many Americans oppose abortion? 2) Why was/is Trump appealing? 3) Why does the Israeli right oppose all compromise on the Palestinian issue? 4) Why are so many very smart people so faithful whilst I have no religious faith whatsoever? 5) Why does OD (my profession) not acknowledge that so many of its values are now irrelevant? 6) Why doesn’t political correctness not collapse in face of the facts? 7) Was all colonialism bad? 8) Are some cultures inferior on all counts? 9) Why did so many British spies really identify with ideology the USSR? 

And I can go on and on.

In my profession as well, I try to see why certain axioms may not be so axiomatic. If, for example, everyone is so sure that the Sales force is demotivated, I will generally start by ignoring this and looking at product quality. I never buy the company line until I have crawled into every nook and cranny to disprove it.

I actually love learning all sides of issues. I read a lot of things I do not agree with; I meet with people (and actually like them) who disagree with what I believe in. When someone disagrees with me, I engage more and more.

Have my academic endeavours and personal interactions changed my opinions? Absolutely. The more I studied Middle East history, the more pessimistic I became about any long term settlement. The damages and disadvantages of the global economy are clearer to me than ever. Democracy is so deeply flawed that it may not be sustainable with widespread ignorance-and perhaps better that it should not be under certain circumstances.

And more. Most of my opinions are “for the time being”.

Maybe even once I utter something, it is already outdated.

I consider this mindset, or skill, as one of my better assets, which I hope compensates for my chronic lack of patience, my outspoken manner and infrequent lack of decorum.

And finally, books that have impacted my opinions recently.

Adults in the Room        Yanis Vardufakis (Greek debt crisis and role of Germany)

Stalin’s Englishman       Andrew Lownie   (motivations to support USSR in Cambridge 5)

The Righteous Mind      Jonathan Haidt    (Conservative thinking explained)

The Matrix of Race        Rodney Coates et al  (systemic view of racism)

Motherland                    Paul Therroux (American south as a 3rd world state)

Little Man, what next     Hans Fallada (the impact of WW1 on Germany)

Islam                               Bernard Lewis (basic religious beliefs)

How to be a Conservative     Roger Scruton (core beliefs of conservatives)

Crazy like Us                             Eithan Watters (on exporting mental illness)

Strangers in ther own land        Arlie Hoschchild (on Trumpism)












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Why are we returning to the work place

Working from home is waning quickly  & the “future of work” prognosis about the office-less organization are dissipating.

Attesting to this, grotesque traffic jams have returned. One of my commutes takes me 2-3 hours each direction for a 70 km commute twice a week! And that is the easier commute.

Why have people returned to work? I will attempt to provide my understanding of this nasty development in this short post.

Every organization has what I call a “purely political dimension”, that is a limited domain in which power is unequally distributed. Some people have positions of power and tell others what do. Other people do what they are told. Power has visible manifestations and symbols. These symbols of power and position create a clear pecking order, even if subtle. For example office size, parking slots, who has a conference room, brand of laptop. These symbols of power are emphasized by various titles, charts, work flow and ceremonies.

The Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman discusses the term “status degradation ceremony” in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The status degradation ceremony  transforms  the identity or status of an individual into an identity/status lower down an organization’s hierarchy. In other words, it is a political (power related) tool that stratifies an organization. The status degredation ceremony is best played out “in situ”, on site, and not on Zoom or Teams because the degredation ceremony has many visual components.

Let me digress a moment and discuss the almost religious hype created around remote work-which made it into an ideology instead of a tragedy.

Media and especially social media create illusions that sometimes exist in parallel to reality (every country needs to do its part in climate control*; soon we will all be driving electric cars) and sometimes create a false reality (Zalensky is a hero, and not an idiot**).

Working for home became a serious topic of academic research on one hand. Unfortunately, it also became a hot topic on social media, which created the illusion that working from home is the future of work-peace in our time. Social media tends to ignore unpleasant truths. We all have bad breath in the morning;we all fart from time to time and politics is far more dominant in determining the future of work than Rob or Rachel from Twitter think.

So yes, social media created a positive hype about working from home, making it into the “new tomorrow”. Nonsense.  A false prophet. A Zalensky, if you were, hailed by social media as his country goes to shit.

Management may not have  lost control during the pandemic, but they certainly did lose the feeling of control, and lost some of the little “status degredation ceremonies” at their disposal. This loss of power was unbearable, as most people do not give away power easily.

And thus, as the pandemic crawls to an end for the time being, people are forced back to work where they will sit opposite their computers, attend a few meetings, and be at the beck and call of management who will assert their superiority from time to time via various degredation ceremonies. 


*Some countries need to do a lot about climate control; others’ contributions are meaningless.

**If you live next to a bear, don’t poke him in the ribs.




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