Consumer Sovereignty


Mainstream economics uses some simple starting points; it believes that they are the best possible. First is that agents have more wants than they can attain, so that they feel scarcity; in fact, for practical purposes, wants are assumed to be endless. Second, third and fourth are that agents are self-interested, rational, and the best judges of their own well-being. These four assumptions are indeed usually good starting points, rather than starting by assuming that agents are completely fulfilled, altruistic, irrational, and not well-placed to evaluate their own situation. They are not equally good as finishing points. Sometimes good arguments exist for not accepting them.

An assumption that agents are the best judges of their own well being is less questionable for businesspeople and corporations, given the resources they have for analysis. Debate focuses more on consumers. The phrase consumer sovereignty is sometimes read descriptively, to mean that consumers are sovereign, in that procedures are induced via profit-seeking and competition  to provide what consumers want. Sometimes it is read normatively, to mean that consumers should be sovereign, their wishes should prevail concerning what is good for them. The normative claim can rest on three different bases: that consumers do make good choices; that the alternative stance is worse – to use someone else’s judgments and estimates of what is good for a person and how good it is; or quite differently, that people have the right to make their own choices and mistakes.

Consumers will not make good choices automatically and unconditionally. Our wants are not simple; for example, some are wants to not to have other wants (such as the desire to smoke or a compulsion to gamble). Establishing a mature balance between wants involves skills. Choice is also unlikely to bring satisfaction if taken on the basis of weak information. Markets often do not provide consumers with full and reliable information, for it is hard to exclude people from information and therefore to ensure payment for it, so its market supply is weakened. Instead, in a commerce-dominated society, one of the main types of information that adults get will be images that say the good life is obtained through high consumption of commodities; there is too little counteracting public information.

The issue of consumer sovereignty goes beyond whether choices are good for the chooser. Other people are affected. Some wants may thus be unacceptable, notably wants that bring harm to others, including even wants to harm others. Mainstream economists have unfortunately often taken a don’t-want-to-know approach to ethics in which they confuse acceptance of all wants with a value-neutral stance.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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Ethics and Leadership


There are several different types of leaders:

  1. Universal Leaders: Those who believe that ethics has no business in the workplace. Their decisions are not guided by ethical principles. They tend to operate out of personal and pragmatic motives with less concern for the altruistic or idealistic implications of their decisions. This does not mean that every decision is unethical, merely that the ethics of the decision is not considered when it is made.
  2. Ethical Leaders: Those who are personally ethical in word, thought, and deed and conduct their decision making openly so that they are perceived as ethical even from a distance. Not only do these leaders consider the ethical consequences of their decisions, in addition to the individualistic and pragmatic, but also it is obvious to the observer that this is the case. They make a point of ensuring that the ethical aspects of their decision-making process are as valuable and transparent as they are pragmatic. Additionally, ethical leaders are attentive to culture and symbol aspects of how they act out the “moral manager’s” role. They understand that their actions and decisions communicate symbolically as well as literally.
  3. Ethically Neutral Successful Leaders: Those who are personally ethical in word, thought, and deed, but are not open about it. These leaders may not be perceived as ethical from a distance. They are often viewed as not paying adequate attention to the ethical component of their decisions, not because the outcome is unethical, but rather because their decision-making process is not readily apparent.
  4. Hypocritical Leaders: Those who deliberately choose to act unethically.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Drive


A person’s drive is not changeable. What drives him is decided by his mental filter, by the relative strength or weakness of the highways in his mind. His drives are, in fact, his striving talents.

Take the striving talent of competitiveness as an example. Some people have a four-lane highway for competition. Show them scores and they will instinctively try to use these scores to compare their performance with that of their peers. They love scores, because what you can measure you can compare, and if you can compare, you can compete.

However, people with a wasteland for competition will see the same scores and not feel any jolt of energy at all. Putting themselves on a level playing field, putting their best efforts against their peers, and winning means nothing to them. They rationalize their behavior by opining, “I don’t like competition; I prefer win-win scenarios,” or the classic, “I prefer to compete with myself.” But these comments are just signs that their filter is, understandably, trying to describe itself in the most positive light.

The truth is that they are not competitive. There is nothing good or bad about this. It is simply who they are. And there is not much that either they or you, their manager, can do about it.

Similarly some people have a four-lane highway for constant achievement, a striving talent we call achiever. They may not have to win, but they do feel a burning need to achieve something tangible every single day. And these kind of people mean, “every single day.” For them every day—workday, weekend, vacation—everyday starts at zero. They have to rack up some numbers by the end of the day in order to feel good about themselves. This burning flame may dwindle as evening comes, but the next morning it rekindles itself, spurring its host to look for new items to cross off his list. These people are the fabled “self-starters.”

Not all roles require employees to possess this striving talent of achiever. Nurses, for example, do not have to generate all of their drive from within. Instead they have to respond caringly and efficiently to the urgent needs that face them everyday—for nurses the altruistic striving talent mission is much more important than achiever. But if you manage roles that do require achiever—like an insurance agent, a pharmaceutical salesperson, or any role where the person must initiate rather than respond—then remember; You had better select for it. Because if a person does not feel this burning fire, you cannot light it for him.

The same applies to all striving talents: the need to be of service, the need to be on stage, the need to be seen as competent, the need to help others grow. All of these drives are talents, and therefore they have the same characteristics as other talents. Namely, they are part of each person’s mental filter. They are unique and enduring.

A manager can never breathe motivational life into someone else. All she can do is try to identify each employee’s striving four-lane highways and then, as far as is possible, cultivte them.

When describing human behavior, stick to the clarity of skills, knowledge, and talents. Tread carefully when using habits or competencies—they lump too much together rather haphazardly. Likewise, if you feel a need to use attitude or drive, be cautious. Remember that a person’s drive and his prevailing attitudes are talents, and as such, they are very hard to change. When you hear yourself berating the person to “get a better attitude,” watch out. You might be asking him to tackle the impossible.

None of this implies that a person cannot change. Everyone can change. Everyone can learn. Everyone can get a little better. The language of skills, knowledge, and talents simply helps a manager identify where radical change is possible and where it is not.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

The Three Kinds of Talent


There are three basic categories: striving talents, thinking talents, and relating talents.

 Striving talents explain the why of a person. They explain why he gets out of bed every day, why he is motivated to push and push just that little bit harder. Is he driven by his desire to stand out, or is good enough good enough for him? Is he intensely competitive or intensely altruistic or both? Does he define himself by his technical competence, or does he just want to be liked?

 Thinking talents explain the how of a person. They explain how he thinks. How he weighs up alternatives, how he comes to his decisions. Is he focused or does he like to leave all his options open? Is he disciplined and structured, or does he love surprises? Is he a linear, practical thinker, or is he strategic, always playing mental “what if?” games with himself?

 Relating talents explain the who of a person. They explain whom he trusts, whom he builds relationships with, whom he confronts, and whom he ignores. Is he drawn to win over strangers, or is he at ease only with his close friends? Does he think that trust must be earned, or does he extend trust to everyone in the belief that most will prove worthy of it? Does he confront people dispassionately, or does he avoid confrontation until finally exploding in an emotional trade?

 Striving, thinking, and relating: these are the three basic categories of talent. Within each you will have your own combination of four-lane highways and barren wastelands. No matter how much you might yearn to be different, your combination of talents, and the recurring behaviors that it creates, will remain stable, familiar to you and to others throughout your life.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight