09 Jan 2017

The disease that stalks corporate corridors

Is your organization suffering from Dwarfism?

Maybe you are not sure what I am talking about.

I grew up in Ogilvy. My alma mater. My temple of learning. My childhood, adulthood and mature years were spent there. And David Ogilvy’s Magic Lanterns (for those who know) were my text books. His quotes my mantra.

I think (like countless others in and out of Ogilvy) that his wisdom transcended creativity and advertising. It was about organizations. It was about email warfare. It was about avoiding jargon. And toadyism (Oh how I love that word!) And growing brands. But most importantly, it was about growing people.

David Ogilvy’s insistence on getting good people on board was well illustrated in the well-known ad calling for Trumpeter Swans came in. This is how it went.

Hiring those rare Trumpeter Swans is not just smart. It requires courage. Unfortunately, not many today have it. Ogilvy took it a step further by illustrating it in a meeting with Russian dolls. And here I quote another favourite: Kenneth Roman

But it wasn’t just what David Ogilvy said that made his principles special; it was also how he said it. Ogilvy communicated his principles in speeches and memos, then went beyond words, using quirky flourishes — like the Russian matryoshka dolls that directors found at their seats at one board meeting. Opening the nesting dolls, each smaller than the one before, every director found the same message typed on a piece of paper inside the tiniest doll: “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” …Russian dolls became part of the culture.

I proudly look at Ogilvy, the agency, today and recognise the giants that were hired. And the giants that were grown. I know some of them. I don’t know most of them. And yet I know they are there because the underlying principles of the Trumpeter Swans and Matryoshka dolls are tightly knit into the organizational DNA. It simply shows.

And then you turn around and see how other organizations function: in a myopic, diseased fashion. Plagued with dwarfism. Where incompetent leaders, in position by chance, stalk the hallowed corridors of power, plagued by their insecurities. They slink around watching over their subordinates’ shoulders fearing that they may be better than them. They clamp down on the voices of reason or indeed, intellect, so that their foolishness does not come upfront. And then they arrogantly display their business suits, their PowerPoints, and Excel sheets, in oak-paneled boardrooms as dark as their small hearts and even smaller minds.

Most of the sense they make is garnered with the help of an oppressed team. With desperate strokes of a sinking swimmer they clutch onto straws but ensure that the more intelligently blessed and the ones who can swim are pulled down and they – the midgets – emerge victorious out of the waters, beating Mark Spitz at his game. Because hey! didn’t you just tie a rock around his neck and let him sink?!

Dwarfism alert!

The disease is dwarfism and it gets bigger as the minds and hearts get smaller. It feeds on insecurity. It thrives on manipulation. Of course, the organization even if large, becomes smaller in mindset. But who cares. A dwarf is too small to have that big a vision. Or heart.

And oh yes, there seems to be no cure. Unless of course, someone up there does look at that tiny little Matryoshka doll and realizes that there were the bigger ones that they consciously ignored. And now the organizational mindset is that much smaller, narrower and short-sighted.

Too late? May be. May be not.

May be it is time to assess yourself. (With brutal honesty, please.) Assess your leadership. Assess your organization. And think of David Ogilvy not as an advertising man, but someone who built a great organization. And see what you can do, what you could do, if your company were a company of giants! It just might open your eyes.

There it is. My ode to some of Ogilvy’s personal beliefs that shaped some of mine. I wish it had shaped many more people and organizations. Then we’d not be fighting this disease of dwarfism that stalks the corporate corridors like a misshapen arrogant midget.


3 thoughts on “The disease that stalks corporate corridors”

  1. This is a common disease across the corporate world and it is spreading like common cold infecting even the healthier individuals

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