Sometimes, I learn by observing. Other times by reading. I rarely miss by listening, and often am surprised by what I pick up while actually talking.
But in my continued quest for constant learning, rarely have I had as much fun being taught something as I did during a post-talk talk late last week.
The conversation took place at a bar, a couple of hours after I had finished delivering an animated, no-holds-barred, expletive-laced speech for F&O Public, a gathering put together by innovative Internet retailer Frank and Oak.
Said event's audience was a group of F&O employees, investors, business associates as well as assorted friends and family. An almost stereotypical assembly of "the new corporation," just about all of them were under 30, net-savvy, uniquely-dressed, and paradoxically confident and insecure at the same time.
The conversation's audience was a small splinter group of the event, fully representative of its demographic, spirit, look and feel. While the larger theme was comparing the "way things used to be" to "the way they are now," the conversation focused on the collaborative nature of today's digital-based, start-up culture, and the increased irrelevance of two old-school corporate archetypes, namely the "Good Cop/Bad Cop" mix and the "Pitbull."
I'm slightly paraphrasing and protecting the reputation of some beer-inspired ranters, but the conventional wisdom amongst this g-g-g-g-g-generation is that nobody believes the good cop, nobody's afraid of the bad cop, everyone sees through their act, and the Pitbull is a one-trick pony performing an outdated trick.
Snippets of the Cop conversation in essence:
"The Good Cop is powerless, and the only fear of the Bad Cop is that he or she may eventually go postal or rogue, like Christoper Dorner."
"We have smart phones and smart cars, so instead of a Good or Bad Cop how about a Smart Cop that ensures mutual respect? In the past, every time we had to endure a Good Cop/Bad Cop scenario, it ended up divisive and ultimately damaging.
"We don't need to be 'policed' at work, or feel that there's some sort of interrogation going on. Where I work, we don't always agree, or even always get along, but we ultimately end up explaining all sides of a situation before settling on a decision that's best for the business. People aren't always in synch with the decision, but at least the process of arriving at it is transparent."
After another round of drinks, the topic shifted over to the office Pitbull:
"This role may have been relevant in the days of 'Chainsaw Al Dunlap' (the ruthless corporate downsizer of the '80s and '90s), but not today. There are too many things interconnected and at stake, and talent have too many options, for slash-and-burn tactics."
"The bark is worse than the bite in most cases, but the scary part is that the bite is usually indiscriminate. I have two dogs, and to them, the piece of Kobe beef and the old banana peel are the same thing -- food. Put both in front of them, and they'll both be devoured, usually whatever is closest goes first. No distinction, no subtlety, no difference. That's the psyche of a Pitbull -- every problem is the same. Just get through it as fast as possible and move onto the next one."
"The Pitbull may get some things right, but no matter what, will make more enemies than friends. As time moves on, these enemies will make everything harder, eventually muzzling the Pitbull and minimizing his or her effectiveness. It's so much easier working together than fighting each other."
Business ain't easy. Maintaining growth in today's economy is an uphill battle; jeez, just maintaining an economy is tough. And listening to the opinions of some sharp, young people at a bar coming off the euphoria of an industry function may not be precisely indicative of "the way things are."
But at least by talking to those understanding, reaching for and grinding out "the way they should be" gives me a lot of hope for our future. And for the realization that there will be always plenty more for me to learn.