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Diagnosing Internal Malaise

The recent airing of General McChrystal’s grievances of the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan through a public outlet has raised a series of important dilemmas for individuals hoping to enact reform within their organizations. How should I go about drawing attention to problems within my business?

One on hand keeping the matter “in the family” can spare higher ups having to deal with potentially embarrassing inquires and audits which will also undoubtedly keep you in your bosses’ good graces.  However, without any external pressure there exists the likelihood that your ideas will falter, as a powerful motivation of change has dissipated. Conversely, you can choose to go public with your misgivings, increasing the probability that change will occur, albeit with the added price of media scrutiny and a sure trip to the unemployment insurance rolls. Usually, I think many would agree that informing principals of your qualms and deploying political competence to see these change through is the optimal solution. However, if the situation merits urgent attention your best option may be to blow things up and take the requisite lumps that will come. One such situation emerged in the years preceding the full outbreak of World War II.   

Throughout history, art has undeniably been linked to propagandistic motives. Picasso’s Geurnica was painted after the tragic bombing of Guernica by Nazi bombers in the hope of drawing international attention to the tragedies of the Spanish countryside. Painted in 1937, Pablo Picasso masterfully conveys the suffering of the Basque people and the tragedy of war. In choosing such a public forum, one of Spain’s artistic lights was able to draw international attention the suffering of his people.

Picasso used light and dark shadows and images to amplify the atrocity of these heinous acts. In order to maximize international attention, he highlights victims by using representations of light and dark along with a linear composition to emphasize the inhumanity and terror caused by the Franco regime. 

Unfortunately, in some cases perverse incentives (typically delayed promotion, being labeled as a snitch, or even fear of termination) keep employees unwilling to collaborate with employers. Non-hierarchical workplaces can temper some of these anxieties and help keep tensions at a minimum. Occasionally, problems need to be addressed in larger forums, which should be used to gauge general concerns and begin to build a consensus towards finding acceptable solutions. Picasso’s painting served this purpose, a large-scale mural, which directed the conversation.

Every organization faces two competing demands: it must execute its current activities and adapt those same activities to face future opportunities and challenges. Organizations hoping to maintain a competitive edge must be able to accurately diagnosis internal malaise.