Enlightened Conflict

the communication blizzard

November 1st, 2013


So.blizzard of work


While I was using some Toffler wisdom and words <see Armageddon post:

http://brucemctague.com/madness-in-the-world-armageddon-and-a-dose-of-reality > I noted there was an interesting snippet in one of his books on communication overload … he called it <because this was 1980> “the paper blizzard.”


I imagine I am using this as a ‘perspective’ post or observation.


We are always complaining about communication overload between texts and emails and phone and carrier pigeons.

Here is the funny thing … okay … the interesting thing … well … we have always bitched and moaned about it.


I brought up good ole Toffler from 1980 because he gives us some historical perspective on communications as well as some real numbers.

In addition … he also points out that this ‘blizzard of communications’ actually provides a common structure throughout global cultures.


Say what? All this paperwork <electronic communications> and overwhelming no-time to look at all stuff is cultural? Yup.



All human groups, from primitive times to today, depend on face-to-face, person-to-person communication. But systems were needed for sending messages across time and space as well. The ancient Persians are said to have set up towers or “call posts,” placing men with shrill, loud voices atop them to relay messages by shouting from one tower to the next. The Romans  operated an extensive messenger service called the cursus publicus. Between 1305 and the early 1800’s, the House of Taxis ran a form of pony express service all over Europe. By 1628 it employed twenty thousand men. Its couriers, clad in blue and silver uniforms, crisscrossed the continent carrying messages between princes and generals, merchants and money lenders.


During First Wave civilization all these channels were reserved for the rich and powerful only. Ordinary people had no access to them. As the historian Laurin Zilliacus states, even “attempts to send letters by other means were looked upon with suspicion or . . . forbidden” by the authorities. In short, while face-to-face information exchange was open  to all, the newer systems used for carrying information beyond the confines of a family or a village were essentially closed and used for purposes of social or political control. They were, in effect, weapons of the elite.


Global localThe Second Wave, as it moved across country after country, smashed this communications monopoly. This occurred not because the rich and powerful grew suddenly altruistic but because Second Wave technology and factory mass production required “massive” movements of information that the old channels simply could no longer handle.


The information needed for economic production in primitive and First Wave societies is comparatively simple and usually available from someone near at hand. It is mostly oral or gestural hi form. Second

Wave economies, by contrast, required the tight coordination of work done at many locations. Not only raw materials but great amounts of information had to be produced and carefully distributed.

For this reason, as the Second Wave gained momentum every country raced to build a postal service. The post office was an invention quite as imaginative and socially useful as the cotton gin or the spinning jenny and, to an extent forgotten today, it elicited rhapsodic enthusiasm. The American orator Edward Everett declared: “I am compelled to regard the Post office, next to Christianity, as the right arm of our modern civilization.” For the post office provided the first wide open channel for industrial-era communications. By 1837 the British Post Office was carrying not merely messages for an elite but some 88 million pieces of mail a year …an avalanche of communications by the standards of the day.


By 1960 the third wave the industrial era peaked and the Third Wave began its surge, that number had already climbed to 10 billion. That same year the U.S. Post Office was distributing 355 pieces of domestic mail for every man, woman, and child in the nation. The surge in postal messages that accompanied the industrial revolution merely hints, however, at the real volume of information that began to flow in the wake of the Second Wave.


An even greater number of messages poured through what might be called “micro-postal systems” within large organizations. Memos are letters that never reach the public communications channels. In 1955, as the Second Wave crested in the United States, the Hoover Commission peeked inside the files of three major corporations. It discovered, respectively, 34 thousand, 56 thousand, and 64 thousand documents and memos on file for each employee on the payroll!


Nor could the mushrooming informational needs of industrial societies be met in writing alone. Thus the telephone and telegraph were invented hi the nineteenth century to carry then: share of the ever swelling communications load.

By 1960 Americans were placing some 256 million phone calls per day — over 93 billion a year – and even the most advanced telephone systems and networks in the world were often over loaded. All these were essentially systems for delivering messages from one sender to one receiver at a time.


What was next? A society developing mass production and mass consumption needed ways to send mass messages and communications from one sender to many receivers simultaneously. Unlike the preindustrial employer, who could personally visit each of his handful of employees in their own homes if need be, the industrial employer could not communicate with his thousands of workers on a one-by-one basis. Still less could the mass merchandiser or distributor communicate with his customers one by one. Second Wave society needed and not surprisingly invented powerful means for sending the same message to many people at once, cheaply, rapidly, and reliably.


This gap came to be filled by the mass media.  In the mass media, from newspapers and radio to movies and television, we find once again an embodiment of the basic principle of the factory. All of them stamp identical messages into millions of brains, just as the factory stamps out identical products for use in millions of homes. This meant standardized, mass manufactured “facts,” counterparts of standardized mass manufactured products, flow from a few concentrated image factories out to millions of consumers.


Without this vast, powerful system for channeling information, industrial civilization could not have taken form or functioned reliably. Thus there sprang up in all industrial societies, capitalist and socialist alike, an elaborate info-sphere — communication channels through which individual and mass messages could be distributed as efficiently as goods or raw materials. This info-sphere intertwined with and serviced the techno-sphere and the socio-sphere, helping to integrate economic production with private behavior.


Each of these spheres performed a key function in the larger system, and could not have existed without the others. The techno-sphere produced and allocated wealth; the socio-sphere, with its thousands of interrelated organizations, allocated roles to individuals in the system. And the info-sphere  allocated the information necessary to make the entire system work. Together they formed the basic architecture of society. We see here in outline, therefore, the common structures of all nations — regardless of their cultural or climatic differences, regardless of their ethnic and religious heritage, regardless of whether they call themselves capitalist or communist.


<source: Alvin Toffler 1980>





Here is my point.


overcommunication too many wordsEver since the ‘white collar job’ was created we have been stressed out by over communication. Or maybe better said … we have always been bombarded with an overwhelming amount of communication.


Whether it was the stacks of paper <memos, point of views, letters, reports, presentations, phone messages to be returned, etc.> in the good ole days or today’s hundreds of emails appearing in your inbox … our time has always been stretched with regard to communications.


We have always lived in a blizzard of communications.


And we kind of like it … and it is addictive <no matter how much we bitch & moan>.

Whoa. Like and addictive?

Remember … I wrote this in my time post http://brucemctague.com/noli-timere-business-and-life :


–          Chemicals <within us>. Every time we feel our mobile phone vibrate or ring or ding … we get a small dopamine injection in our brains. Over time this serves almost like an addiction … which results in us wanting this distraction more and more. So when we aren’t being interrupted we go and seek interruptions <check our twitter accounts, Facebook, pinterest, emails> in order to re-inject the ‘doing chemical’ into our brains <and we feel good within the moments>. Oops. The trouble with this? Every time we are interrupted we need to refocus ourselves afterwards … which takes time and energy.




In the good old days communication may have been less often but I would like to point out that it was more often with increased depth <think 5 sentence email versus 5 page point of view>. Basically … more words, more thoughts and more thinking required.


All this said … I go back to my original thought on making employees successful … focus.


I could argue that the deeper you have to intensify your focus <the deeper the interruption> the more energy and time it takes to re-focus on something new.


Therefore … the communication blizzard is consistent … simply with different dynamics over time.


Which is worse <or more difficult>?




Pick your poison.


My real point?



Lets all quit bitching about technology distractions and how the world is so much more difficult today in managing all the random messages we receive and whatever we want to call the blizzard of communications we live in.




20 years ago.


40 years ago.


blah pageSitting at your desk at work has always been overwhelming in terms of communications.


Are the distractions different today then they were in the past? Sure.


Are these distractions any more … well … distracting then they were in the past? No … not really.


Not all distractions are created equal. But we certainly have an equal amount of distractions.


We should all just admit we live in this blizzard … and … well … deal with it.



somewhere within 100 days

May 28th, 2013

So. napoleon marshal napoleon

Today marks some point within what was known as Napoleon’s Hundred Days campaign.

I thought I would use the opportunity to talk a little history … as well as point out how much shit can be done in 100 days and some thoughts on the challenges a great leader has <and leadership in general>.


And probably a thought for anyone wanting to come back out of retirement.



The history reminder.

After kicking the crap out of almost every country and general for over a decade or so Napoleon abdicates his throne and on May 4, 1814 Napoleon is exiled to the exotically barren island of Elba.


After kicking around on this miserable little island for a while Napoleon realizes that retirement ain’t as cracked up as people made it out to be and in February 1815 he says “the heck with retirement … I miss the whole leadership thing <that I was pretty darn good at>” and high tails it off the island.


March 1, 1815: Escapes Elba, Napoleon returns in South France

March 7, 1815: Napoleon rallies the French army

March 20, 1815: King of France, Louis XVIII flees, Napoleon takes control, begins “Hundred Days” campaign.

–          What happened in the 100 days <the cliff notes version>:

napoleon Jourdan and prisonersNapoleon did what he always did when he was in trouble and what he was <frankly> great at … he went on the offensive. With his newly raised army of around 75000 troops, he attacked Belgium, where the British and Prussian armies were camped. His hope was that he could separately destroy these armies before the Russians and Austrians arrived. The British army was commanded by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army was commanded by Marshal Gebhard Blucher.

The French army engaged the Prussians first at Ligny, on June 16, 1815. The battle was either a slight win for Napoleon or just relatively indecisive <although imminently winnable by Napoleon should a domino or two fallen his way>… and both sides regrouped.

Napoleon decided next to attack the English, then at Waterloo, a village near Brussels.

On June 18 1815, the British and the Prussians defeated Napoleon.

The victory signaled the end of a more-than-ten- year period filled with war <and a boatload of Napoeon victories>.

At Waterloo, Napoleon had 72,000 troops, Wellington commanded 68,000 troops, and Blucher 45,000 <this becomes relevant later when I point out that “they” had more resources than “he”>.

There were a boatload of good and iffy decisions made by both sides but maybe the biggest was because the ground was muddy on the day of the battle Napoleon made the critical decision of waiting for the ground to dry before attacking Wellington’s forces in the afternoon. This delay allowed Blucher’s forces to reach Waterloo in time to make a difference in the outcome of the battle. While the French made assault after assault on the British, they were slow to make progress, and Blucher’s Prussians advanced against the French army’s eastern flank.

Marshal Ney, one of Napoleon’s best commanders <called ‘the bravest of the brave’>, orchestrated a combined attack of soldiers and artillery, and came very close to breaking Wellington’s line. However, Napoleon could not reinforce Ney’s attack, since he was forced to divert a large number of troops from fighting the British, including his crack Imperial Guard, in order to face the Prussians.


June 18, 1815: ·Defeated in the Battle of Waterloo by the British and Prussians, led by Wellington and Blucher respectively.



Let me try and make several points.


–          100 days.

A shitload can happen in 100 days if you know what you are doing, are a good leader and have a great support <management> team.

In fact you can gather almost 100,000 personnel and the materials needed to sustain them and move them hundreds of miles and get them to perform at the highest level if you really have your shit together.

My first point.

100 days is a lifetime if you use it well.

Businesses can dither around and make excuses but if you cannot get something done in 100 days you should probably be looking for some other business to conduct.

If someone <Napoleon> can swing almost 100,000 men into action and in a span of three or four days of battle at the end of 100 days almost win a victory when outnumbered and outresourced it seems pretty logical that we in business can certainly make a widget in 100 days.

My second point.

100 days doesn’t have a huge margin for error when doing something big and important.

Everything has to happen fairly efficiently and everyone has to be aligned.

It helps when you have a tried & true team in place. The right people at the right place at the right time. Not just the workers but the management too.

In today’s business this is the trickiest.

100 days is a lifetime if you have the right team.

100 days and you can still have victory <not just show up or ‘get it done’> if you have the right team.

100 days never seems like enough if you lose … ponder that … because I see too many times when it doesn’t end well that a business will sit around and say “if we only had more time!” … 100 days was not enough.


It wasn’t the time. It was the team.


–          The importance of the management team:


It seems rarely mentioned but Napoleon not only glimpsed victory at Waterloo … it was his to be had.

I will let all the military experts tear apart the minutiae in the decisions made that day.

From a business perspective the key to the loss <to me> was simple. Napoleon didn’t have his tried & true chief of staff, Marshal Berthier, on this campaign.

Napoleon sorely missed the legendary Marshal Berthier as chief of staff, and Marshal Soult <his replacement> was a good, but not as good, substitute.


And there was a domino effect on the entire management team as people shifted to assume slightly new roles.

napoleon marshalsNapoleon was the master at making on field decisions and yet permitting independent decisionmaking … empowering his best to do their best. And let’s be clear … Napoleon possibly built the greatest team outside of the 1927 New York Yankees <murderers Row>.

By Waterloo several stood on the sidelines, were dead or were managing from a different role than they were accustomed to. But. Napoleon’s management team … his marshals and generals below the marshals were the best of the best.


It is possible Napoleon should have shifted his management style to accommodate the shift in the personnel … but that is speculative thinking <because if he shifted his style who knows how that would have affected everything else>.

100 days would have been nothing if the team was in place.




So I am suggesting one person … and not even ‘the leader’ can make that big a difference?

You bet.


In business this chief of staff person is:

<a> reviled by the young employees as old, conservative and an order taker for the leader,

<b> loved & hated by middle management as they love the fact this person deciphers the vague but inspirational thinking of the leader and gives them the specifics on what to do but hates that this person is not the most creative thinker in the room and is always bitching about why you cannot have the resources you claim you need to do the job you are being given, and

<c> appreciated by the leader because this person can decipher what you are really thinking, get people to do it and while maddeningly conservative <versus the leader> they have a tendency to stop the leader from doing something too incredibly stupid <or risky>.


This person is key to the success of a great leader and an organization.

Napoleon saw things on a battlefield that no one else could ever see.

He could see things before they happened.

That kind of person <as a general or in business> needs someone to coordinate and corral the incredibly talented independent thinkers & managers who will actually implement the vision.

And it takes a while to learn how to decipher a truly visionary leader.

Soult was a good general … probably a novice decipherer.

In addition … by shifting Soult into chief of staff all the other marshals began assuming different roles & responsibilities.

You get it.

You need someone to decipher as well as you need someone to implement and in a 100 days it helps if the people who know what to do are in familiar roles.


–          How a leader is judged:

If you lose you are a loser … and are inevitably second guessed.


Napoleon was arguably the greatest general in history <if you want to be nitpicky you could say the greatest offensive general in history>.

I am probably wrong but I struggle to think of one battle in his history that Napoleon had more resources <men & artillery> than his enemy and yet he constantly drove on the offensive … and won.

No leader has ever done more with less than Napoleon.

At Waterloo he had just won a phenomenal battle at Ligny two days before, after one of the greatest blitzkriegs ever mounted. During his lightning advance, he had managed to separate two major armies who knew he was coming, and inflict simultaneous defeats on both of them.

At Waterloo two of the greatest commanders in all of history faced each other.

Wellington, master of defense, was in an entrenched position that he had chosen, and counted on the arrival of Blucher. Napoleon considered the Prussians under control by Grouchy, and had von Bulow not arrived in Napoleon’s flank and rear, the French would undoubtedly have won, and we’d be reading about Napoleon’s finest victory, Ney’s brilliant attacks etc.


But he lost.

Winning and losing is often defined by the slimmest of margins.

Sometimes even by chance.

But most likely it is defined somewhere within the organization and how the organization, and its people, take action.

That is somewhere within the dependence upon solid visionary direction and independence to react to the situation.

101 days wouldn’t have given Napoleon a victory.

It wasn’t time <or the lack of it>.

It was more likely the management team <or possibly his lack of effectiveness in communicating what he wanted to a new management team>.100 days challange


Napoleon is typically judged by his two historical losses … Russia and Waterloo.


Can’t a great general <leader> get a break?

Answer: Nope.

Leaders typically get defined by how they end and not all the good <or not so good> done inbetween.


100 days is a good reminder of what a great leader can do in 100 days … as well as how slim a margin moving quickly gives you between victory and loss.

Enlightened Conflict