Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Management -- the wellspring of the Reality Distortion Field

Management is hard. In spite of what the one minute this-and-that books say, it is difficult to be a good manager. Even in the best of times, businesses fail. M. Scott Peck suggests that a person’s mental health relates to how well that person’s view of reality matches the real thing. Within organizations something similar to “mental health” is also present, but it has some significant differences. For example, instead of being the activity between a person’s ears, it is the activity that happens via communication—written, spoken, and non-verbal. This organizational mental health is not just the reflection of the mental health of the individuals within it -- there is a group dynamic too. I have observed groups of apparently sane, well adjusted people come together into an organization that has miserable group mental health. Because this group mental health is significantly different in nature than an individual’s mental health I call it something else—the Reality Distortion Field. This is the best name I have found, the term, evidently was invented in the late 80’s to explain some of Steven’s Job’s impact on Apple's organization in his first engagement as CEO. I have monitored the Reality Distortion Field, or RDF for short, in organizations for at least a decade, and I have noted a few of its characteristics:
  1. All managers generate at least some RDF
  2. In meetings the RDF of the people adds together—creating some pretty scary environments
  3. Higher-level managers tend to generate a higher levels of RDF than their subordinates
Common examples of high RDF behaviors include setting the “aggressive” schedule that no one thinks is possible, the overloaded organization being asked to take on yet another task—without dropping any existing responsibilities.


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