Choose Freedom

In the 1956 preface to his 1944 class, Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek made this comment:

But there are many ways in which we can work toward the same goal, and in the present state of opinion there is some danger that our impatience for quick results may lead us to choose instruments which, though perhaps more efficient for achieving the particular ends, are not compatible with the preservation of a free society.

I enjoy Hayek’s words because they ring so true in my experience with driving change. It seems often I am discussing–okay, defending–the perceived inefficiency and prolonged delays caused when driving change.

“We need this result now.  We don’t have time to ask them to participate.  I’m going to tell them what to do!”

Yep.

“Everyone on your team isn’t a star performer.  You could be more efficient if you refused to let that person participate.”

Okay.

How about this:

You can’t make the change now, even with your orders because you’ve dulled the ability in your people to watch for these problems for you and solve them before you find them.  You’ve taught them to wait for orders and they wait.  Now your problem is that the organization only changes as fast as your brain can comprehend a problem, turn it into detailed instructions, and follow around all your employees checking on their compliance.  That might work well in a an organization of five, but how does it scale to 50, 500 or 5,000?

And, you don’t have a team of “star performers” even when you pick the team, because while past results may be a good indicator of future performance, they aren’t the only indicators.  I’d warn you especially if you look at past performance in a follow-all-orders culture as how you determine who is the likely “star performer” on a new sort of team.  Often you’ll find your future stars among the people (if any haven’t already left your organization) who bristle at your controls and figure out a way to just-barely-comply with your orders so they can deliver you not the one magnitude outcome you wanted but the ten others you’d never have seen coming.

Hayek wrote of the guile of–and ultimate destruction in–man’s belief that he could, through any kind of planning, dictate and direct the independent actions of other men.  Though Hayek wrote his book in 1944, few have learned the lessons he taught.

For my engineering friends, consider Hayek’s lesson a simple inverse rule:

The amount of power you give up over others…is inversely proportional to…the amount of return you’ll get from those freed peoples.

Less control = greater success.

More freedom = great outcomes (for the organization and the individuals).

Many people have lived in countries and organizations that believed in driving people.  And, many have been freed from them, learning to live lives where they drive change.

Why not choose the free life for yourself and for those around you?

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