The Ironic Manager Blog

An Ironic Perspective on the World of Work

Richard's research introduces and supports a “complex view” of irony, treating irony as a multi-faceted and multi-levelled outlook (perspective), rhetoric (performance) or character (personality). It particularly addresses the space between engagement and resistance in culture change, examining the psychological, cognitive and performative reactions of employees who better cope with the ambiguity of fast-paced business transformation and disruption. He explores how greater openness, reflexivity and irony assists individuals and organisations to cope creatively with the dilemmas and pressures of life in complex and dynamic environments.

Your Identity is Fluid

Your Identity is Fluid

When discussing the misconceptions of identity currently littering much of the organisational tracts on the subject, Kevin Sinclair, an Organisational Coach based in Newcastle, New South Wales, and I recently had a brief online conversation about this article written by the philosopher, Julian Baggini. We agreed that (a) the literature fails dismally to capture the idea of the self being fluid and (b) comically (and perhaps tragically) regards fluidity of self as being emotionally stressful and psychologically harmful rather than a necessary and core element of what it means to be human. 

I've written stuff on the idea of a fluid self previously, but have failed to articulate it with any clarity. I always get caught up in socio-psychological jargon that hinders rather than helps the reader. I think it is an important, perhaps vital, topic for those experiencing the pressures of contemporary organisational life. So, not being able to explain it clearly is hugely frustrating. So what to do? 

Obviously, like any good son, I ask my mother for help!

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8 Steps to an Authentic Organisation

8 Steps to an Authentic Organisation
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” 
― May Sarton

The above quote, on authenticity, is one of my favourites. Before reading on, I'd like you to consider the following: Is it the same level of daring if you are in a position of power to when you are in a position of no power? If not, why not? Keep it in mind, because it will help prepare you for the latter steps in the article.

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Sarcastic Employees & Cynical Managers | Is This Your Life?

Sarcastic Employees & Cynical Managers | Is This Your Life?

Just before Christmas, I was contacted by an academic in Austria who had seen me present in Vienna on irony and ambivalence in organisations. She was coming to Australia and wanted to chat to me about her recently published paper on "anti-essentialist" management, which had further piqued her interest in irony. Her research findings are excellent, need to be read by senior managers and almost certainly never will be. Here's what she wrote about and why it won't mean a damn!

Employee Sarcasm and Management Cynicism

Before reading on, the following Dilbert cartoon will perhaps help anticipate the content.

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Emotionally Intelligent Decision-Making in an Ambivalent Society

Emotionally Intelligent Decision-Making in an Ambivalent Society

We are inundated with literature and advice on how to be emotionally intelligent leaders, happy at work, show our authentic passions and generally be positive contributors to society. It's an increasingly powerful force in the world of leadership, management and organisations. As is my wont, I find the degree to which this literature entreats us to follow its path (and no other) suspicious, feeling it is trying to blind us from contemplating Hegel's "unhappy consciousness" and pushing towards being "happy robots".

We seem to be fleeing from something, some amorphous fear lurking at the back of our minds that we can't possible let out into the open, a zombie worm of doubt and fear that feeds our anxieties. By telling us we must be this type of person, emotionally and intelligently, or emotionally intelligently (hah!), assured of making clear and rational decisions that push forward our personal and corporate agendas in the pursuit of our happyness [sic] and purpose, are we not, as we have always tended to do, pushing the complexities of human existence into the naughty corner, out of sight and out of mind. Why are we doing this? 

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Authenticity and the End of Organisational Culture

Authenticity and the End of Organisational Culture

The last great development in organisational theory was that of the strong culture movement, originating in the seventies, developed in the eighties, dominating in the nineties and still, despite a decline, highly relevant today (just note how many job adverts you read talking about the great organisational culture and how interviews check to see if you're a fit for it).  There have, however, been increasing amounts of critique about the tenets of strong culture theory that are hugely impacting the market today, resulting in the rise of concepts such as authenticity, emotional intelligence and purpose. 

In simple terms, the development proceeded like this:

  1. There was a surge of interest around the idea that organisations with a strong culture would be populated by loyal, hard-working and enthusiastic employees. 
  2. It became apparent that such cultures actually produced (a) employees who saw no meaning in these cultural values, finding them absurd and (b) employees who became so emotionally bound to the culture they broke under its pressures.
  3. The above was explained by the idea that such cultures produced "fake emotions", resulting in either existential meaninglessness or psychological breakdown as employees lost touch with their "authentic emotions".
  4. There was a surge of interest around the idea that organisations allowing authentic emotions would be populated by loyal, hard-working and enthusiastic employees.
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Donald Trump: The Post-Ironic Leader

Donald Trump: The Post-Ironic Leader
In recent months, we have seen Donald Trump hit front pages at an increasingly regular rate. Trump has talked about walling up Mexicans (and getting them to pay for the privilege), banning Muslims from entering the US, the no-go areas of Islamic extremism making the police afraid for their lives in London, his excellent health, menstruation causing...
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Irony | Haruki Murakami

Irony | Haruki Murakami

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Socrates and Emotional Intelligence. Or not!

Socrates and Emotional Intelligence. Or not!
The estimable Dr. Travis Bradberry yesterday posted a LinkedIn update consisting of the following:Him saying, "Great advice from long ago."A quote, being, "The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." A picture of a bust of Socrates, with the words "Socrates, Greek Philosopher" below it.H...
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Andy Murray and the White Elephant Tennis Centre

Andy Murray and the White Elephant Tennis Centre
After GB's tennis team won the Davis Cup last weekend, there was a quick flurry of reporting before the UK media's interest tennis quickly dropped back into its default position of "almost non-existent". Other than the excellent success of the team, the one thing that did stand out in the brief spurt of activity was Andy Murray's reason for not wor...
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Irony | Voltaire

Irony | Voltaire

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On the Difference between Irony and Sarcasm

On the Difference between Irony and Sarcasm

There's been a fair bit of chatter on this research about how sarcasm makes you "smarter" and more creative (e.g. here). I've read the original article and the core problem is the confusion between sarcasm and irony.

Irony is the ability to see the gap between aspirations and achievements. Sarcasm is a performative form of irony. You can be ironic without being sarcastic, but you cannot be sarcastic without being ironic. An ironic statement intends to reveal the absurdity to the audience, an indirect way of getting them to see what is really going on. If you use the sarcastic form, you want the audience to see whose fault it was (i.e. who is the idiot behind this mess). That's where the "tearing of the flesh" comes in.

If you use another performative form of irony that isn't intended to harm the target, then the creative thinking and "smartness" is kickstarted, as people are having to decode the indirect prompts and work out for themselves what is actually going on.

Unfortunately, the authors of the article didn't take the time to examine the relationship fully, which obscures the message. Ironic?

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Why Change Fails: 3 Things to Think About

Why Change Fails: 3 Things to Think About

Jon Kotter, Ken Blanchard and McKinsey & Company say 70% of change or transformational programmes fail. IBM are more optimistic, suggesting about 60% fail. Harvard Business Review notes that this rate of failure has been consistent for 45 years. Reviewing this, they note:

The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped.

This, of course, places the blame squarely on the leaders, managers and organizations that fail to change. The change agent gets off scott free, having delivered a working model and only been let down by entrenched and resistant attitudes. Is this a fair summary? Let's hope so. What would be terrible would be an industry worth billions of dollars per annum promising one thing (evidence-based, professionally managed successful change) and delivering something else (chaotic, ambiguous uncertainty that requires mental fortitude, wittily innovative thinking and, possibly, blind luck to struggle through).

They say it is a sign of insanity to continue doing the same thing and expecting different results. Is the change management industry insane or is it right to criticise poor leadership and management for its continuous failure to successfully deliver change?

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Top-Shelf Irony

Top-Shelf Irony
Oh, the irony...
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Aesthetic Irony

Aesthetic Irony
Oh, the irony
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Refugee Irony

Refugee Irony
Oh, the irony
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Everything You Know About Change Is Wrong

Everything You Know About Change Is Wrong

Everything you know about change is wrong. And I mean everything. A recently published essay written by Todd Bridgman, Stephen Cummings and Kenneth Brown uncovers the following. 

  1. There is no theory underpinning the foundational model of change management
  2. Further elaborations of the theory by academics and consultancy firms, therefore, have no underlying foundation on which to rest
  3. Contemporary conditions of constant change make this non-existent foundational theory obsolete, but it’s still pretty much all we’ve got.
  4. Given the above, it’s not very surprising that research into the successful implementation of change suggests two-thirds of change initiatives fail. As change models are built on smoke and mirrors, perhaps we should be applauding the great success rate!

Now, if I were a leader who’d just sanctioned another $100 million change program and just discovered this, I’d be angry. Very angry. Livid even.

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Irony | W. Somerset Maugham

Irony | W. Somerset Maugham
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Offended Irony

Offended Irony
Oh, the irony
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The Handyman's Bomb | Irony at Work

The Handyman's Bomb | Irony at Work

A lot of people ask me "why irony? What has it got to do with management and organizations?" While I'm always up for a theoretical discussion, it is often better to provide some stories that illustrate the point. In this instance, the story is from some empirical research in the UK.

The Theory

Situational irony occurs when the characters involved in a situation do not realise that their actions are undermining their intended goals. It classic literature, the victims of this irony are usually leaders, kings, princes (or generally important people). They see themselves as clever but are actually acting in a dumb way. That they are destroying their hopes and dreams by their actions is revealed by a supposedly inferior character, who is perceived as being dumb but is actually revealed as being the clever one all along and of central importance to the plot.

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My Internal Hypocrisy | Taking Irony Seriously

My Internal Hypocrisy | Taking Irony Seriously

At dinner on Friday, to celebrate the launch of Kim Chandler MacDonald's wonderful new book, Flat World Navigation, after opining vehemently about something or other that seemed important at the time, a charming young lady repeatedly asked me the following question:

What's your internal hypocrisy?

My answer | Irony is about finding the absurdity in everything, in not taking anything seriously. Yet I take irony very seriously. 

I'm now going to spend a year reflecting on that!

 

 

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Can We Help You?

The Ironic Manager seriously rethinks how organisations work at the most fundamental level and offers a variety of solutions for businesses struggling to cope with the ambiguity and stresses inherent to contemporary organisational conditions of constant change.

Richard has been helping businesses and people deal with leadership, management, communication, technology and change for over twenty years through his training, coaching, speaking and consulting services. 

His innovative research is highly regarded by world-leaders in management and leadership. 

Maybe Richard can help you?

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Over twenty years helping people managing change understand why resistance happens and develop quality vital communication skills that aid successful business transformation.

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Research recognised as exceptional by world-leaders in the fields of power, leadership and organisational change, receiving considerable praise for its originality, depth and rigour.

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Extensive training, coaching and mentoring experience in professional development in well-known organisations, governments and business schools across the world.

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