On committing to mediocrity

“I believe,” Peter Senge wrote, “that the prevailing system of management is, at its core, dedicated to mediocrity.”

Dedicated is a strong word.

dedicated |ˈdediˌkātidadjective

(of a person) devoted to a task or purpose; having single-minded loyalty or integrity:a team of dedicated doctors. 

(of a thing) exclusively allocated to or intended for a particular service or purpose: investing in dedicated bike lanes will encourage more bicycle commuters.

In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge (sen-gay) explains that the practices that produce mediocrity in business are taught to people while they are in school. People got good grades and a diploma for mastering the art of mediocrity. They get on the job and continue behavior that is intended to provide safety and security—for them, not for the organization.

The managers who supervise these employees have their hands full trying to solve the problems that surfaced yesterday. They don’t want more trouble from outspoken subordinates with controversial, thought-provoking ideas. Thus mediocrity is perpetuated.

The managers’ behavior holds the arrangement in place, so it is not possible to change how people interact until managers see the merits of change and also look into their own motivations for preserving the status quo.

I interviewed Stormy Leigh for this blog, and here iPhone case caught my attention. She decorated it herself.

I interviewed Stormy Leigh for this blog, and her iPhone case caught my attention. She decorated it herself. Stormy inspires originality and courage.

Senge’s remarkable book, revised for the 2006 reprinting, runs more than 400 pages with the back material. It is a valuable read even for people who are retired because the principles that enhance a work environment also enhance a private life. An example is his use of mental models. He defines them for the reader: “Mental models are deeply engrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”

Most of the stories in the news are about people acting on a flawed mental model, a model that seems valid to them, and which they have not questioned. People have mental models of what a flag means. They have mental models that assign worth to people, or take it away. Most of the communication about mental models is shouted, often defiantly. Mediocre management tolerates these methods. A more productive path would be to master David Bohm’s principles of dialogue. Dialogue is considered a waste of time by managers who are dedicated to mediocre results.

Maysa Peterson and I offer our professional services to organizations that want to escape the gravitational pull of mediocrity. We have read the books that tell us how to do it. Maysa has three degrees, and I have an MA from Chapman University, a place where I encountered no mediocrity.

Addendum: As a bonus I found today on Forbes online an article about 15 cars to avoid, all from name brand manufacturers. They need Maysa and me, but they have not called. Not yet, anyway. 520-408-7507.

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