November 23, 2011

Where The Biggest Nuts Rise To The Top

According to an article in Mental Floss (November/December 2011) engineers at the Advanced Dynamics Laboratory in Australia in 1996 researched how to mitigate The Muesli Effect, which describes the paradox of how, for example, cereral in boxes tend to separate with the smaller stuff lingering on the bottom and the large chunks rising to the top. This is the opposite of what you'd expect in terms of the larger, heavier pieices falling to the bottom--but they don't.

This is also known as The Brazil Nuts Effect, because the largest nuts (the Brazil Nuts) can rise to the top. While in physics, this may be good, in leadership it is not.

With leadership, the Muesli Effect can led to situations where cut-throat, unethical, workplace operators push their way to the top, on the backs of the masses of hardworking individuals. Unfortunately, these workplace "bullies," may stop at nothing to get ahead, whether it means manipulating the system through nepotism, favoritism, outright descrimination, or political shinanigans. They may lie, steal, kiss up, or kick down shamelessly disparaging and marginalizing coworkers and staff--solidying their position and personal gain, which unfortunately comes at expense of the organization and it's true mission.

Some really do deserve their fortune by being smarter, more talented, innovative, or hardworking. In other cases, you have those who take unjustifiably and ridiculously disproportionately at the expense of the others (hence the type of movements such as 99% or Occupy currently underway). This corruption of leadership begs the question who have they "brown-nosed," what various schemes (Ponzi or otherwise) have they been running, how many workers have they exploited, suppliers squeezed, partners shafted, and customers and investors have they taken advantage of.

Countless such ingenious leaders (both corporate and individual) rise by being the organizations false prophets" and taking advantage of the "little guy"--some examples whether from Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Tyco, MF Global, and Bernie Madoff are just a few that come to mind. These and other examples can be found as well in government, non-profit, as well as educational institutions.

Interestingly, the Museli Effect occurs when you shake a box vertically. However, if you rock it side-to-side, then you reverse the effect and larger and heavier pieces of chaff fall to the bottom letting the precious kernels rise to the top.

This is similar to organizations, where if you focus on working horizontally across your organization and marketplace--on who you serve, your partners, suppliers, investors, and customers in terms of breaking down barriers, building bridges, and solving customer problems--then the real gems of leadership have the opportunity to shine and rise.

In the age of social networking, information sharing, collaboration, and transparency, the reverse Muesli Effect can help organizations succeed. It is time to stop promoting those leaders who build empires by shaking the organization up and down in silos that are self-serving, and instead move to rewarding those that break down stovepipes to solve problems and add real value.

(Source Photo: here)


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