Monday, November 10, 2014

Dov Seidman (CEO of LRN): "How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything", review


Author: Dov Seidman, with Foreword by Bill Clinton

Title: “How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything
  
Publication: 2011 (Expanded edition, originally published in 2007), Wiley: ISNB 978-1-118-10627-2,  344 pages, hardcover (also e-book), 4 Parts, 12 Chapters, with a Foreword, Preface (38 roman pages), Prologue, and two Afterword’s (“How’s Matter”).
  
Amazon link
  
Before I move on, let me note something about the format of the book.  There are multiple introductions and epilogues, which I know a NYC literary agent with whom I worked in the 1990s would have seen as unnecessary.  Also, I get annoyed when books have small roman page numbering for introductory material.  I say, make the title page as “1” and number on, so we can tell how long the book is.  With my own DADT III book, the half-title page is page 1.  The actual text starts on p. 9.  I call my opening a “Foreword”, but literary agents prefer the term “Introduction”. 
  
The author is CEO of LRN, which helps companies with regulatory and compliance issues.
  
  
Seidman also has filed trademark litigation against yogurt manufacturer Chobani, which I discuss on my Trademark Issues blog Oct, 6, 2014, over the use of a common English adverb “How” as a wordmark. 
  
This leads me next into noting that Seidman’s thinking and ideas are a lot like mine, in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books (three of them), but he has made it less personal, more generic, and more suitable for commercial use in a consulting business or as a motivational speaker.  For example, he avoids all discussion of sexuality, although he does recognize there is tension between the goals of the individual (as Ayn Rand would see them) and the needs of the group.

I'll also add here that in 2003 I developed a certification exam for Brainbench on "business ethics", dealing with some of the issues in the book.  One of the most controversial ideas them that I promoted was avoiding "conflict of interest", which is definitely a "How".  
   
The difference between “What” and “How” comes up in systems development.  Back in 1979, a consortium of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans tries to set up a combines Medicare system project (“CABCO”), which I moved to Dallas to work for.  The group used a project management system called “Pride Logik” (rather like SDM70) with different phases.  Phase 2 was the “What” (the input and output specification for each subsystem), and Phase 3 was the “How” (Structured English, which would lead to pseudocode).  The project stumbled and failed in 1982 over the inability of the sponsoring Plans to agree on “the Whats”, not realizing that modern computing could allow users to specify not only “the How” but even “the What”. 
  
Seidman’s book is divided into parts related to change, thought, behavior, and governance.  Along the way, he gives a lot of interesting anecdotes, starting out with explanations of how “The Wave” self-generates at large sports events.  He has some stories from his own business, and some troubling examples of where entrepreneurs went wrong, as when a new restaurant in Los Angeles was socked with frivolous litigation from a competitor over how it had violated a local license. 
  
The most serious point, in my experience, comes out of transparency.  In the past, gatekeepers monitored information, which allowed individuals to lead double lives and keep past indiscretions secret, often from future employers.  Since the early-to-mid 2000’s (about the time of Myspace, which preceded Facebook – and at one point Seidman makes the point with the older Myspace, like he was Dr. Phil) employers have realized they can check up on prospective and current employees online with search engines, often pulling up information for the wrong person or getting misleading impressions.  In fact, reputation management has become a whole industry, most visibly started my Michael Fertik with his “Reputation Defender” (my own “BillBoushka” blog, Nov. 30, 2006). Reputation goes global, but it used to be more dependent on family and social station and connections in a community, the loss of which some commentators like Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”) lament (March 14, 2012).  Daniel Solove of George Washington University has also written about reputation (Jan. 12, 2008).  
  
In his last section, Seidman categorizes different cultures of management, starting out (after “anarchy”) with the purely authoritarian – like the military.  That culture dominated early years of my own life, when we had a male-only draft.  Most companies in my career followed “informed acquiescence” but the most progressive – and I believe this includes companies like Apple, Facebook and Google – use more self-governance.  Actually, the idea of self-managed teams was developing in the 1990s and was promoted at my own employer (USLICO-ReliaStar-ING-Voya) as Team Handbook and then TQM (Total Quality Management, which he mentions by name at least once).  I’d say an earlier stint in the credit industry (Chilton-TRW-Experian) as more like his “acquiescence”. 
  
I can remember, as a boy, being very concerned about my father’s ideas over authority, and the idea of doings something “just for authority”.  My father had a little “proverb” or inevitable aphorism, that is, “to obey is better than to sacrifice”.  That’s because, in his world, and really for a lot of people today in a universe of gross inequality, if you don’t step up to what you have to do, “sacrifice” can really happen and it can get ugly.  I talk about that in the “Epilogue” of the “non-fiction” part of my DADT III book.
  
I can provide a particular perspective on when “How” matters.  Think about the way we got grades, and in my era, avoiding the draft, or at least getting used as cannon fodder in Vietnam, depended on academic records – that’s the whole moral debate over student deferments.  But if you cheated on a test, that was no good.  I remember that, in my senior year of high school, a girl thought I had cheated on a government test because I had predicted that the teacher would ask about “institutionalism” on  a test.  Well, he did, but I had simply put 2+2 together and predicted it.  She was wrong, but the unfounded accusation did hurt my reputation a bit.
  
Fast forward a few decades, to the time my mother passed away at the end of 2010.  I’ve written in my DADT III book about the seven years living with her, in her (not my) home after I returned from Minnesota in 2003, when I was already 60 myself.  People put a lot of pressure on me to become more “emotionally” involved and more assertive with health care providers than I was.  This was disturbing.  I felt a bit like a parasite, the way the Left Wing sees it.  I did land rather well.  I am financially stable enough now NOT to have to look at hucksterism to  stay afoat in my own retirement, but I didn’t exactly “earn it”.  (That’s a line from “The Proles”, my underground novel some people know.)  But I get threatening proposals from people to give up my own ends and join them, or else, because inheriting wealth is not quite morally legitimate as a “How”.   But is telemarketing more legitimate?
  
Or back up to 2005, when I was substitute teaching.  Again, I would sometimes be confronted with disciplinary situations that required more intimacy than I was prepared to offer (as a never married, childless, older homosexual man, used to double lives).  But my undoing was my own transparency, the way one particular web posting of mine had been (mis)interpreted, as connected to other events (when it wasn’t). 

And I can back up to the mid 1990s, to another HOW.  I was working for a life insurance company (USLICO) that specialized in selling to military officers.  I had started working on my first DADT book, which would deal, in large part, with the moral controversy associated with the debate over gays in the military, following Bill Clinton's proposal.  I felt that publication would constitute a conflict of interest, because it was no longer a legitimate "HOW" for me to earn a living from a source connected to the military if I wrote about it.  So I arranged a transfer to Minneapolis in 1997. 
   
There is something to say about work habits – HOW you do the job is important so that you know that you did it right and that the customer can depend on what you did to work after you’re gone.  In information technology, following security procedures to the letter is part of the expected “How” now, but this has evolved over decades.  (In fact, some hierarchal separation of functions, which Dov sees as divisive, is necessary for security in some workplaces.)  My father’s prescription for “how” was “formation of proper habits” and even “learning to work”.
  
There’s another reason, however, that “WHAT” matters.  In these days of equality and individual rights, the purposes that one has in mind for one’s own freedom do eventually matter to others.  This was an important idea in that troubling early period of my college days, including the “hospitalization” at NIH in 1962.  But one’s desires and fantasies, if they surface, can indeed create contradictions. 
   
So while others would barge in on my life and concern themselves with “what” I wanted, I could rightfully ask, “WHAT do you want from me?”  Sometimes it seemed like it was surrender of the self and submission to their purposes, their authoritarian structure.  That sort of thinking is what ISIS uses to recruit teens now.  (“Why are you sitting around when we are attacked?”)  Shame itself comes full circle.
 
 This book should be compared to David Callahan's "The Cheating Culture" (2004), reviewed here March 28, 2006. 

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