“Even When You’re Right, You’re Wrong…”




So said the man I worked for many years ago, when I was still as bright as a new penny, just starting out.  He was gnarly, usually with a couple of days of stubble, disheveled always, sized and shaped like Yoda…and with a strange resemblance as well both in appearance and manner of speech.  He had come from various versions of hard knocks and owned several manufacturing companies making consumer products, one of which I worked for as a designer.

Of the greatest interest to me at the time was the amazing cadre of good people around him.  I was blown away by the range of management and engineering talent.  On the surface it seemed all would/could/should function beautifully…and yet?  He had this marvelous ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, to turn positive situations and relationships to muck (euph.)  Positive sales figures were greeted with disdain that they could have been better had the sales team or sales manager worked harder.  Efficiencies in the factory were greeted with an admonition the production manager and his group should have known and fixed it before.  Requests for new production equipment were met with lectures on the economics involved  and how no one in the management team could possibly understand profit, loss and overhead as he did.  And so on, and so on…ad nauseam!

Most baffling was how consultants were treated,  Often paying many (tens of) thousands of dollars to hire specific expertise in engineering, legal, accounting and production technology…the results would be diminished and then a treatise delivered on how HE saw the problem, how the consultant had missed the point, and how his solutions were to be the basis of any forward action…usually at the consultant’s expense!  To say that this behavior caused general bemusement and bewilderment would be an understatement.  To say the ire of many well qualified people was raised resulting in exasperating circular discussions that ended up in the same place (only louder) would also be an understatement.  These discussions always ended in the same way, with the same commentary from Himself: “You’re right, you’re right, but even when you’re right, you’re wrong!”  That’s how we knew the meeting was over!  The more a consultant would assert and defend, the greater the belittlement and rejection of the results.  It was a pathological pattern that repeated itself endlessly.

No one knew anything…and if they did, or other folks thought they did, they were wrong.  Nobody knew as much about anything, and the ol’ man (euph.) because he had been self-made…perhaps success through self-abuse is the key (?)…and had achieved his successes despite all, there was a part of all of us at the time that made allowance, and thought he might know something…EVEN WHEN WE KNEW IT WAS CRAP!  As time went on however, and the business (in spite of the agitation) kept being successful it seemed that the weird status quo of this management style had meat.  But the ol’ man got older, progressively more irrational and obtuse, stability waned, and the inevitable move by the bankers put an end to the enterprise(s)…and then it was everyone else’s fault.

All this to say…a collective knowledge and understanding about a business always trumps the single view…that if no one knows anything, and if it’s always someone else’s fault…you better be God…or at the very least be prepared for the damage and consequences.  And as for lasting damage, this much I know is true!

Pun intended!images (11)