Summary of Beyond Measure by Margaret Heffernan

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Beyond Measure by Margaret Heffernan

If something can be measured, there is data to be collected. You can use metrics to decide if actions need to be taken or if a change is needed to be made. Whether something is good for the company or bad. Metrics are key to keeping track. But what about the factors that are beyond measure? 

Yes, there are some things that cannot be measured. Consider the relationships you have with your colleagues at work. These cannot be measured but that does not mean that it is not important. In fact, the relationships you have at work can have exceptional consequences for the company in terms of collaboration, innovation and motivation. This is why the things that are beyond measure could be the most valuable asset in a company. 

In this summary readers will discover:

  • Why Creative conflict is good
  • Social capital
  • The problem with being a workaholic
  • Thinking outside the box
  • An organization of leaders

Key lesson one: Why creative conflict is good

We have all disagreed with decisions made at work before. More often than not we keep quiet about it. After all, you don’t want to come off as being hostile and confrontational in a meeting right? But this way of thinking does not help a company in any way. What if your concerns about the decision were valid? You could have possibly saved the company from making a mistake.

Avoiding debate within a company is a truly unproductive habit. Imagine the possibilities if ideas were debated openly. Not only would it identify any possible problems, but by the end of the debate, you would be left with the best possible approach from everyone’s perspective. But this can only occur if it is done right. This is where everyone needs to learn about creative conflict.

Creative conflict requires some skill and experience. It is definitely not something that can be done right on the first attempt. But you should not let that discourage you. You have to remember that practice makes perfect. Constructive conflict specialist, Brooke Deterline advises that people must prepare and gain allies within the organisation before taking on authority figures. This may sound like a coup but let’s consider an example to fully explain. 

Deterline coached Luke, her client when he had to face an aggressive boss while negotiating a contract. The first step was to prepare, and this was done by considering how the confrontation might go. They both simulated different reactions which the boss may have and Luke determined his responses to these reactions. After this, Luke asked his colleagues at work for support and advice before going into the lion’s den. By doing this, Luke was confident, prepared and able to speak to his boss productively no matter his reactions.

As a manager, there are also some steps that can be implemented in the workplace to facilitate creative conflict. There has to be an environment that encourages honesty and transparency without fear of being rejected or reprimanded. For this to happen, you have to listen to one another and ask questions. If mistakes are made, consider them learning opportunities instead of shaming the person at fault. And, above all, ensure that your workplace is diverse. You cannot function effectively in a group full of ‘yes’ men and women who are just reflections of yourself and your beliefs.

Key lesson two: Social Capital

The concept of social capital is not a new one. It has existed since early civilization when some tribes were able to survive and thrive because of the close-knit community they had. They knew they could rely on each other for help when needed. It was a great survival tool then and is still today. 

Anyone who has been part of a team knows that if you are not comfortable with each other, nothing productive can happen. People are too nervous to speak up, they hesitate at every decision and discussions are non-existent. Social capital is the answer in situations like these. Companies need to promote creative conflict and build social capital.  When coworkers practice creative conflict they improve relationships and this creates social capital within a company. People begin to trust each other and know they can continue to engage in creative conflict.

Building social capital can also occur when companies promote creativity in general. One CEO initiated a company-wide project in which each department had to participate in. They had to create a short film that highlighted the work done in a department different to their own. By doing this they allowed company members to interact with others that they would not normally interact with. It also got them to ask questions about the work they do thus building relationships. This small action allowed the company to build social capital.

Key lesson three: The problem with being a workaholic

The general consensus is the longer you work, the more work you get done. But, this is not the case. Increased working hours have actually been shown to decrease productivity amongst employees. Ernst Abbe even proved this a century ago when he discovered that decreasing the workday by an hour increased productivity. 

However, companies still persist in making employees work longer to get tasks completed. This can actually do more harm than good. Research has shown that if employees work longer than 40 hours per week, they are more likely to make mistakes. Being a workaholic, therefore, is not beneficial to anyone. You are not proving yourself to anyone if you are too tired to think straight and just get work done for the sake of it. This is not reflective of your true potential. 

Working too much can unfortunately lead to tunnel vision. You become focused on the completion of tasks and you lose your ability to think and reason accordingly. This leads to you being closed off and inflexible – refusing to adapt to changes or identifying any errors. You cannot afford for this to happen to anyone in the company. It will just lead to more work in the long run.

Working in this manner can also compromise one’s health. We’ve all seen it in the workplace. Those who are stressed and work longer hours are often prone to getting ill and also increases the risk of depression. You need to stay physically and mentally healthy if you want to succeed. 

Key lesson four: Thinking outside the box

In a company, it sometimes takes an outside perspective to get you on the right track. Staying in the comfort zone and repeating the processes that have led to success before will not guarantee success now. It also inhibits innovation.

Take Roche Pharmaceuticals, for example. The team leader didn’t know how to improve the company’s diabetes products. The team needed fresh ideas and this required a new perspective. This led to them hiring an artist to join the team of scientists. This may have seemed like an unlikely pairing at the time, but it actually turned out to be an effective strategy. The artist was able to connect with the people who would be using the product instead of focusing on the technical aspects like the scientists on the team did. This resulted in a groundbreaking new diabetes pack which included a new device that helped patients measure their blood sugar and administer their insulin.

Thinking outside the box also allows companies to connect with other businesses to break boundaries and grow. This was what the small software design company ARM discovered. They started with only 12 employees and quickly learned that in order to grow they had to collaborate with larger firms. They grew not by trying to make it on their own but by becoming a part of teams in other companies. Even currently ARM employees spend most of their time working within other companies. 

Introducing a diverse team member or going out into a new setting will undoubtedly allow companies to develop creative ideas and encourage productive thinking.

Key lesson five: An organization of leaders

Sometimes, hierarchy in a company can get in the way of collaboration. If companies want to innovate, they should therefore consider the adoption of a flat hierarchy. Conventional vertical hierarchies are overly complex. They contain a long chain of managers between executives and employees which makes the flow of information from the top down difficult. It often leaves employees at a loss as to what needs to be done.

A flat hierarchy introduces a company structure that eliminates the middle management that usually separates employees from executives. This allows information to flow freely and does not leave executives detached from their employees. Oftentimes, due to their positions, executives fail to listen to the opinions of others and are reluctant to seek assistance as it might be seen as a weakness. It is not unexpected that leaders behave this way as they have the responsibility of the company on their shoulders. However, implementing a flat hierarchy actually prevents bad leaders. There is a better distribution of power and allows teams to be designed based on expertise and not hierarchy. In this way, it also encourages employees to be problem solvers knowing they have support if needed.

To supplement this organizational structure, Heffernan recommends having regular hackathons. Hackathons are when groups of people within a company come together to collaborate on an idea or challenge. This type of activity brings a diverse group of people together to provide creative solutions and valuable insights. It also allows everyone to build trust amongst each other, reduces any competition that may exist and increases the social capital of the company. 

The key takeaway from Beyond Measure is:

There are some things within a company that cannot be measured but that does not mean they are not important. The relationships and social capital of an organization are important and should not be ignored. There are many small changes that companies can make to be better equipped and form mutually benefitting networks within the workplace. This forms the basis of a ‘stronger together’ mindset within a company. 

How can I implement the lessons learned in Beyond Measure:

Being a workaholic does not mean that you are working to the best of your ability. You have to learn to work effectively and not strain yourself unnecessarily. It is best to produce quality work over quantity and in order to do that you must ensure that you remain focused on the task at hand. Do not tire yourself out that it will cloud your judgement and stop you from thinking clearly. Block off time in your workday to focus solely on your work without the distractions of meetings. And lastly, leave work at work – leave days and weekends should not be sacrificed.

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