The Gardening Metaphor for your Corporate Culture

Explaining why a certain corporate environment is better than others can be tricky. A good metaphor can help with that. The Gardening Metaphor fits perfect.

Despite all the tools, processes, good ideas and well intended initiatives, there is one thing humans need to flourish at work.., and that’s the right environment.

Next to the fact that many forget that it is humans who do the actual work and who are responsible for the actual change, many forget that creating the right environment is the one decisive element for any success.
Continue reading “The Gardening Metaphor for your Corporate Culture”

The Sound of Silence

The more information we have, the less we know. The more people talk, the less we hear. The more TV we watch, the less we see. Silence like a cancer grows.

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Image by Katie Tegtmeyer (CC)

Note; I do hold the readers of this blog and the people in my network in high regard. Insult is not intended. Yet, if you do feel offended, don’t start yelling at me, but try and figure out why you are offended. And, if you wish, we can always have a civil conversation about it.

The past year or so has provided us with a whirlwind of disturbing information. Information which is widely available and has a profound impact on our society and mental well being.

My opinion? We are controlled.

We don’t like to be, we pretend not to be. We pretend to be the deciders of our fates. But we willingly accept our inability to control what we see, what we read, what we write… even what we think.

Everything is fed to us by news outlets, cable companies.., and the government. The illusion of choice is everywhere, and we all believe we have that choice. While in reality, science (i.e. clever people in marketing) has found a way to convince you to buy something you don’t want, or need. We are confused.., despite of all the available information we no longer know who to believe, so we choose what is most convenient for us, what has the least impact on our time and/or wallet.

This perpetual state of confusion is the perfect control mechanism. At one hand we are told not to text while driving, on the other hand we put up billboard video screens distracting us from the traffic in front of us.

Propaganda might have been popularised by Goebbels, but it certainly did not die with him. Quite the opposite. US cinema is a convincing tool for the armed forces to fill the public with a sense of invincibility, patriotism and justification for the ridiculous amounts of money spend on US’ defence budget. And they are extremely skilled at it.

The notion of an opinion is concealed by a false sense of patriotism and a skewed sense of morality.
The notion of an original thought is drenched in a deluge of information and regurgitated nothingness.

The anonymous postings on various “social” channels drag mediocrity to an all time low. Having people focus on senseless and mundane topics, and feeding young girls a “belieber” state of mind which is outright worrisome.

The relentless sexism, racism, and narcissism has been given an uncontrolled worldwide and lightning fast outlet. No need to confront, to apologise or take any responsibility.

The complete inability to see beyond the high definition screens in front of us is as worrisome as dehumanising a specific demographic.

Darker Thoughts of Late

I talk about stuff like Prism, the NSA, the environment, and decisions made solely for the sake of profit, in the attempt to explain certain concepts and consequences.

And lately my writing about social business and its sociological impact has become somewhat polluted by these big real world problems. Problems seemingly far removed from the office.

More and more I tend to believe that the wishes we have for our workplace, the improvements we seek, the happiness we seek are not just related to our jobs. I more and more tend to believe it is merely a subconscious expression of the gargantuan problems our society faces, now and in the near future.

The current technological developments and philosophies might just be the enablers for the change we seek so dearly. Just maybe we can have that little bit of control we desire so much. Just maybe this gives us a fighting chance of regaining the individualism and personal freedom we need as humans. We sure as hell can’t expect this from our governments.

Bears vs. Eagles

I am a realist, have an open mind and a vivid imagination, I consider myself a eagle, rather than a bear.

The one being able to see the bigger picture, to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated events. I’m wide awake (at least I’d like to think so).

On the other hand, a bear has tunnel vision, limiting what it sees. Unable, and sometimes unwilling to see there’s more to the world than meets the eye. Hibernating for a good part of its life.
And yes.., unfortunately there are far more bears than eagles.

However, whatever narrow-mindedness you have bestowed upon yourself (if any of course), there is no way you can deny that developments of late do not have an effect on the individual.., this does include you!

I certainly believe it does, and whether you like it or not is totally irrelevant. How can you not be affected by it?

How can you not worry about climate change?
How can you not worry about the relentless (and very illegal) information gathering by our governments?
How can you not worry about the continuous warmongering and the absurd glorification of dying for your country?
How can you not worry about the ongoing misuse and abuse of religion?

How can you not worry about that?


We’re taught to worry about Orwell’s dystopian view in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four‘, and this does seem far removed from our reality, at least for the western world. North Korea springs to mind as a nation which utilises this view through an extreme version of communism.

Meanwhile, in the west we think we are under no threat of such an extreme form of control. But there’s more than one way to skin a rabbit. Huxley wrote very prophetically about our Brave New World back in 1931. Foreseeing our current information overflow, perfected distractions, and love for things. (edit: Richard Martin reminded me of ‘The Circle‘ by Dave Eggers, a more modern take on the subject)

These distractions are perfect for those in control. News is old as soon as it leaves your screen. A Twitter stream goes so fast, only when something goes global does it stand a chance to be picked up long enough to mean something. The revelations Snowden and Greenwald brought us are of such significance that it should shake the very foundations of our democracies (the NSA did respond, take that as you will).

And yet, what has been done about it in the past two years.., nothing. No political outrage, no heads rolled, no policy changes, no impeachments, nothing. No (significant) government and ally of the United States dares to oppose them.., or wants to oppose them, as they benefit as much from all the surveillance as their big brother.

Too many people are more concerned with who wins The Voice than who collects your private data. And all are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new Apple Watch. Our priorities are skewed, unrealistic even.

Those things we so love and which we find so important really are not.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The greatest trick the Devil pulled was making people believe he didn’t exist.

Part of our current crisis is that most of us believe there is no problem, or at the very least the problems portrayed are not related to them. Most have their own cross to bare.

With the economic crisis, which is well into its 6th year, people are very anxious about their jobs and pay-checks. And I don’t blame them. Loosing your job leads you directly to the food bank and welfare. Or at least that’s the common perception., and again.., I don’t blame people for thinking this.

All this is coupled to a continuous news stream of terror, war and violence.

I don’t blame people for choosing the secure road of keeping ones head down, do your job, don’t ask to many questions and above all.., do not take any risk. Most people are left with little to no choice. Fear is a powerful means of suppression.

More and more we fear those in charge. And more and more those in charge fear us less and less. The trick is not just to have the right propaganda and legislation, the trick is putting your citizens in a position where they no longer dare to step out of line… not because of anything they’ve done wrong, but because of the consequences any observable action might have. Former East Germany had this system perfected.

Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.- John Basil

Sound of Silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

The Sound of Silence was recorded in 1964, 51 years ago, and I feel it was, at the time, prophetic. Its exact meaning isn’t entirely clear, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.

As with most songs, either there is a very clear message, or the writer is poetic and the message is left up to the interpretation of the listener. I had been listening The Sound of Silence for years now, but lately it fell more in place than usual.

To me, now, it resonates so well with the signs of our time.

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know –
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.

How To Fire Employees

When you worry about how you’re going to fire people, what you really should be worried about is why you need to fire people in the first place.

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There, that was an interesting post. Short, but interesting.

Maybe I should explain that most insightful conclusion a little bit.

Again.., a dear (anonymous) friend told me a great story about what happened at work. This time around it was a bit darker than usual. This time there were victims. This time people got sacked, fired, let go, made redundant. Come in to work in the morning, leave jobless before lunch.

And nobody saw it coming, no one knows why, and no one knows if these fired colleagues are the only ones.., or if there are more to follow.

Now, I can imagine that under extreme, and usually misguided reasons a company feels forced to lessen the number of employees, it’s money in the bank.

In that case the title could actually be “How to fire employees humanely”.

Necessary Evil

OK, let’s assume a company has no choice. It simply can’t hold on to the workforce as it stands, and it needs to let a number of people go.

(But, let’s face it, if you reach this point as a company you have made some pretty stupid decisions. And (top)management’s activities, reasoning and processes deserve a long hard and critical look.)

Having an employee come to the office in the morning only to tell them they’re being let go that same day, without any warning is simply cruel. And I do not mean that as a metaphor, I really do mean cruel. In my friend’s case (who didn’t get fired) one of her colleagues was part of that company for 18(!) years.

cruel |krʊəl|
adjective (crueller, cruellest; US crueler, cruelest)
wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it: people who are cruel to animals | a cruel remark.

Next to the fact that these people never saw it coming, it leaves the rest of the workforce uncomfortable, restless and uncertain about their future. This too is cruel. And yes, the next day another was “let go”. Adding fuel to the fire.

There has to be a better way.


That’s a dirty word, after all, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. The fact that the company is putting you out to pasture after 20 years of service is, of course, nothing personal (note the sarcasm here, in case it wasn’t clear).

However, I can imagine that even companies with the best intend to change for the better may have to deal with some old fart’s legacy. Sometimes change hurts, even when it’s for the better.

Even then, you can have compassion, be courteous. You could even involve employees in the process, or at the very least keep them informed of the changes ahead. Let them know how many FTE’s need to be cut, then at least they know when it ends.

And maybe, just maybe, some employee might even have a good suggestion to help with the crisis. Or somebody might even volunteer to be let go, saving some other poor soul the grievance of being fired on the spot.

I do understand the rip-the-band-aid-off-in-one-go tactic. I really do. The process still hurts, but for a shorter period, although probably a lot more. And, those responsible avoid any situation where they have to explain themselves. Why would you take responsibility for something when you can avoid it.

Dying Industries

When I was discussing this with my dear friend and podcast co-host John Wenger, he brought up British Coal as an example of a business in a very tough industry. There are others to choose from of course, many are dead or dying, and many industries change all the time. The continuous development of technology happens quicker and quicker and we all need to keep up, or be left behind.

Anyway, John’s point was, what if you have no choice.

I’d dare say, you always have a choice. The sad thing is that most business related choices revolve around profit, and profit alone. And usually only for a few people who seek to make as much of it as possible in the shortest possible time.

They don’t care about long term consequences, whether they’d be sociological or ecological. most decisions they make won’t come back to them in their life-time, especially when they have enough ‘profit’ in the bank. Rendering them untouchable of the consequences.

This directly relates to people losing their jobs. It’s the direct consequence of bad and selfish choices of a few.

Wilful Ignorance

Politicians take the cake with this. And let me be frank, I loath politics. I think there’s no such thing as a “good” politician. Yes, you can argue all you want about those who truly believe in the positive change, are green(ish) and left(ish), and try and work the system from the inside.

In reply to that I say, how’s that working out for you?

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No, in our current “democratic” re-elective system the focus is always on compromise and (re)elections. Leading to promises made and promises broken. And the ones who really matter, or really want to change the system are snowed under and kept short, because.., well.., they are annoying. And thus, effectively, quite useless. Without the aid of the masses no real change can happen.

James Hansen’s TED Talk is evidence of this reasoning.

Climatologist Hansen has been trying to convince governments of the severity of climate change for over 25 years. He argued his point in front of the highest echelons of many western governments. And where has all this effort led us… no where. What has been done? Nothing.

Now, sea levels on the North-east coast of the US have risen nearly 4 inches in one year (between 2009 and 2010). This is permanent, not due to (extreme) weather.

And yes, there is a point…

We know things have made a turn for the worse. Those in power have known for decades things are getting from bad to worse. Irreversibly so.

Tough decisions had to be made to save our living environment. Most would’ve had severe economic consequences. This is the one reason why nothing has been done. Sure.., now we acknowledge the fact climate change is real, and we come up with all sort of long-term solutions, like reducing emissions over a 50 year period, or something useless like that.

Problem is, it’s too little too late.

We knew, but did nothing (hence The Age of Stupid). Sitting government officials cannot (or will not) be held responsible for things they did while in office. So they’re good to go. There is no need to worry, it won’t affect them and they never lost the power they worked so hard to obtain by making unpopular (economic) decisions.

‘We’ still aren’t committed to reducing CO2 to an acceptable level. But, our generation doesn’t really need to worry about that. It’ll be our children who’ll reap that harvest.
(which is probably not true, because the changes in our climate happen quicker and quicker, the chain reaction has become unpredictable. We know what will happen, we’re just not entirely sure when)


As mentioned in my previous post, companies go to great lengths to please their shareholders. IBM even created a program to optimise the return on investment (ROI) of its shareholders, with the inevitable lay-offs following suit. I think Bruce Kasanoff got it right;

Protect the machine, not the people.

As I wrote about in the Bloodhound post, the initial attitude of any business determines a lot of its eventual outcome. A business build with the sole purpose to generate as much profit as possible is doomed to fail. It’ll lose its customers, partners or market share, or it’ll be bought out by a bigger player (this too is a goal for many who build a company).


Where was I?

Oh right.., how to fire people.

I guess I’m still trying to make the point that you shouldn’t have to.

Be Smart

A smart company has its focus on the thin line where customers and the company meet. Some say those who actually have contact with the customer are the most valuable people in the company. Managers three layers removed from the customer become less important.

I agree.

Also, a company should keep an eye on everything, the market, economical and political situations, the environment, their customers, the attitude of their partners, their employees… All should be continuously considered.

Not only will you be able to (partly) predict the market, which is good for your products, but you’ll also be able to (partly) predict big changes in any of these areas. Giving you a heads-up. This might give you enough time to adjust any parameters to make sure you stay in the game.

Couple that with an engaged workforce and you just might have enough fluidity to move with the current, instead of stubbornly fight against it. Which, in the end, will result in the need to fire people.

Just Don’t

So, there you have it. When you worry about how you’ll fire people, what you really should be worried about is why you need to fire people in the first place.