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Carrot Better Than The Stick

The Economist December 12th 2020 pp65 |Bartleby| “Fair Play” “A new book argues that decency pays off in business as well as in life.”


This is a brief review of a new book by David Bodanis entitled “The Art of Fairness”

Read the article for all detail.


The author cites the outcomes of treating people/workers well versus not doing so. Examples given are the talented but ill-fated 1969 Chicago Cubs under the bad actor Leo Durocher,-“Nice guys finish last”, the great success of the building of the Empire State Building, Eastern air rise and fall, Microsoft under Balmer versus Nadella and keeping the 2012 opening ceremony a surprise even though “thousands of volunteers” were involved.

Empire State Building-constructed in just 13 months, management focused on worker safety, good pay and hot meals on site

Eastern Air-Eddie Rickenbacker good pay and pensions followed by Frank Lorenzo who cut wages and did “asset stripping” which resulted in workers striking and ultimately bankruptcy

Microsoft-Balmer known for “rages” missed out on “several promising opportunities” and when his departure was announced “the share price jumped 7.5%”. His successor Nadella refocused the company on “cloud-based services” and regained the “title of the world’s most valuable listed company.”

2012 Opening Ceremony Olympics in London-how to keep the opening details secret? Donny Boyle, treated thousands of volunteers and others like adults asking them to “keep the surprise” rather than just having all sign non-disclosure agreements.

What distills from these examples?

Key is a willingness to listen in part by overcoming the trappings of a “high-power distance score.” When there’s many skip levels from leader to worker the sense is that go-along-to-get-along and that “the junior staff should not question their superior’s decisions.” Further, there’s often a sense that leaders won’t listen to ideas from juniors even if they are bold enough to offer them up.

Depending on where one stands on the org chart the perceptions often differ widely. “A study by John Hopkins University found that 64% of medical specialists interviewed felt that their operations had high levels of teamwork, whereas only 28% of their nurses agreed.”

Often leaders become “fixated on a particular approach” to problem-solving and “ignore any advice that suggests a different tack, especially if it comes from a junior colleague.”

Leaders need to actively work on removing fear of speaking up to ensure best outcomes. “Ruling by fear may work for a while, but it is doomed to fail in the long run.”

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