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Hard, Harder, Hardest


Inspired by a good post by Steve Hearsum about Stephen Covey’s recent book, I felt the need to post my own personal comment.

Apparently Covey’s “…most recent book – The 3rd Alternative – is an articulation of how “soft stuff is the new hard stuff”. So says Douglas R. Covant in an introduction to an extract from the book on Strategy & Business:

In my 35-year corporate journey and my 60-year life journey, I have consistently found that the thorniest problems I face each day are soft stuff — problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness — not hard stuff such as return on investment and other quantitative challenges…..The soft stuff will forever be the hard stuff, but leveraging 3rd Alternative thinking can make the soft stuff significantly easier to resolve productively.”

As a long time Covey fan and careful re-reader of his work this doesn’t seem to me to be such a big shift in Covey’s thinking. But I’d join with him in wanting to re-label the “soft” as the hard.

It is an unfortunate twist of fate I think that we call the “soft” stuff that because it is anything but.

ROI and other quantitative things are hard too, of course. If you think anything else you are kidding yourself.

But I’d go even further. There’s one bit of the so-called soft stuff that is even harder.

That is understanding that our own development is the real key to growth.

Not the ‘soft skills’ required to get other people to do things (which is, sadly, how many managers understand ‘soft skills’). But our own self-understanding and awareness.

So, how about a complete re-categorisation of all things to do with (conscious) business:

* hard – ROI and other quantitative things
* harder – ‘people skills’
* hardest – one’s own personal development and a relationship of growth with oneself

Author: Pete Burden

New ways to organise and lead - for people with 'purpose' #leadership #inquiry #noticing #complexity #communication

4 thoughts on “Hard, Harder, Hardest

  1. I’m not sure i agree quantitative measurement is hard. I think most organisations are good are measuring stuff. I do however agree that measuring the right stuff is poorly done but that’s because its not seen as important enough. If you look at how investors work, they don’t seem to demand this in any great detail. I do however think there is something even harder than “personal development” and that is values and purpose. Without this vital context, individuals or organisations behave without cohesion, focus or direction.

    Surely a conscious business must have this vital yet very rare sense of self?

    • Thanks Francis – I did’t mean the measurement was hard – I meant making the money, getting the right ROI!

      It’s also a good point about values and purpose.

      However, personally I think that we would all rather talk about other people’s values and purpose than our own. That is what I mean by ‘personal development’ – being humble enough to really look at ourselves individually and how our behaviours stand up against our values, and then do something about the gap.

  2. Thanks for the plug Pete 🙂

    And on a more serious note…. I agree with your comment re personal development; it is easier to project onto another a perceived requirement for learning/development, it is another entirely to accept that responsibility for your self. The pattern in most organisations I have had contact with is that they start down the part of developing people at a point when leadership teams perceive a problem ‘out there on the shop floor’, forgetting that those observed patterns are in all probability a mirroring of the behaviours modelled by the senior team

    Re values and purpose. i agree, important, and only in so far as they begin to set the conditions for how people might think/feel about what they do. What I get curious about is the Simple Rules that are at play, as these are what drive actions ultimately, not values.


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