Nine Lies About Work: A book review by Bob Morris

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World
Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
Harvard Business Review Press (April 2019)

Why making the world a better place requires the courage and wit to see it as it really is now

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall selected an appropriate observation by Mark Twain to serve as a head note to the Introduction:  “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.”This is a human deficiency that Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham characterize (in 1955) as “the unknown unknowns.” Buckingham and Goodall are freethinkers who wrote this book for others who are as eager as they are to challenge what James O’Toole refers to as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom” in today’s business world.

With regard to the book’s title, they explain, “We could call these things ‘misconceptions’ or ‘myths,’ or even ‘misunderstandings,’ but because they are pushed at us so hard, almost as if they’re used to steer us away from the world as it truly is, we’ll call them ‘lies.'” A freethinking leader “knows that the only way to make the world better tomorrow is to have the courage and wit to face up to how it really is today.”

We all know that there have been several major changes in the traditional workplace in recent years.  Just as there are significant implications for individuals (Marcus Goldsmith suggests “What got you here won’t get you there”), there are also significant implications for organizations, whatever their size and nature may be. Traditional assumptions need not be “lies” literally. Rather, they could be well-entrenched organizational habits, such as the chains that Warren Buffett characterizes as “too light to notice until they are too heavy to break.” As indicated, Buckingham and Goodall focus on nine of them. They have much of great practical value to say about “how it really is today,” devoting a separate chapter to each of the “lies.”

This book ALSO has two especially valuable appendices. First, “The ADPRI’s Global Study of Engagement”  co-authored by Mary Hayes, Frances Chumney, Corinne Wright, and Buckingham who share the results of nineteen-country study that measured the relative levels of engagement in each country, “and to identify the conditions at work that are most likely to attract and keep talented employees.”  (See Pages 237-245) Next, “Seven Things We know For Sure at Cisco” co-authored Roxanne Bisby Davis and Goodall (247-260) in which they discuss the characteristics of Cisco’s best teams as well as “the relationship between attention and performance, the relative importance of team and company in our experience of work, and much more.” They focus on the seven highlights of what they have discovered so far.

The best business books are research-driven and that is certainly true of this one. Few of Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s insights are head snappers. However, most of them repudiate assumptions about today’s workplace culture that are either obsolete or flat-out wrong.One of the greatest challenges that leaders now face is changing how they think about change. What got their organizations here won’t even allow them to remain here, much less get to there, whatever and wherever “here” and “there” may be in today’s global marketplace. There are no guarantees that how it really is now will remain true…and that’s no lie.

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