“Ideological necrophilia – a love of ideas that have been tried and proved not to work.” Moises Naim (Venezuelan writer and journalist)
In the political world, we see ideological necrophilia in a continued love of Marxism and communism by the left and tax incentives and enterprise zones as a way to help the poor on the right. Both ideas have been tried repeatedly and, despite their continued popularity, have never worked.
In business, we see such necrophilia in ideas and concepts that are quite popular but have failed again and again and again. Below, I have put together a few strong candidates for ideological necrophilia in business:
- A good talker will make a good salesperson. Yes, salespeople need to be outgoing and unafraid of rejection. However, salespeople that are good talkers usually can never shut up and annoy and/or bore their customers. A better idea: a good listener will make a good salesperson.
- We need to grow now, and the profits will come later. This has been the cry of countless fast-growing companies. Still, this idea nearly always fails. Yes, Amazon is making profits after years of growth and losses. But, our owners, Boards of Directors, and bankers are unlikely to have the patience to wait the 6 years it took Amazon to make a yearly profit.
- More is better. More features, more choice, more complexity, more people. In nearly all cases, more makes things more difficult, more confusing, and harder to manage. The better adage is as my previous boss used to say, “it is not what you add to a situation that makes a difference; it is what you take away.” Less is more.
- We need to treat everyone equally. This seductive idea of equality sounds great. But it damages organizations. Top performers leave; poor performers stay – the opposite of what we want for our companies. We need to treat everyone fairly; not equally.
- My top performers don’t need to be managed. We all need to be managed and coached, top performer or not. Without management or oversight, top performers can often go outside their guardrails and inflict damages on companies. Without being mentored or coached, top performers will stagnate and will not develop and improve their skills and performance. While we may manage our top performers with a lighter touch, we still need to manage and coach them.
- It is not the situation; it is the person. Whether it is a performance issue or an ethical issue, we often attribute the thoughts and actions to the individual. Years of social psychology research prove that, while the person matters, the situation that person is put in matters equally. A top performer put into a no-win situation will under-perform; a highly ethical person put into an undefined and ethically vague situation may push the ethical boundaries. In short, we need to ensure that we create a culture and situations that allow average and excellent performers to succeed ethically.
The point of highlighting these candidates for ideological necrophilia is for us, as leaders, to recognize these seductive, yet mistaken ideas and realize that they will fail no matter what we do. So, let’s avoid them.