Why Bankers Are Like Street Gangs

From John Kay in the Financial Times (thanks to Liam Brown):

“Gangs differentiate themselves by their characteristic beliefs and values. Your performance as a gang member is judged not by rational, objective criteria but by the approbation of your peers. As on the streets, also in the office towers. The people on the floor above fix your bonus and advance your career.

Some beliefs and value systems are more successful than others. The effortless superiority prized at Goldman Sachs seems to have served it well in the subprime crisis. The extreme aggression of Bankers Trust and Credit Suisse First Boston in the 1990s led ultimately to the destruction of these organisations as independent businesses. But always, the beliefs and values that matter are local, not global; subjective, not objective; and to question the prevailing culture is to exclude yourself from the group.”

Now my question is.. can KM benefit from gang-like behaviours too? Or must we remain their victims?

2 Comments so far

This is such an interesting area to explore - the paradox of groups and the way their collaboration delivers both the benefits of gestalt whilst simultaneously the disadvantages of group think. (Weren’t collaborators persecuted in post WWII France? Didn’t the Nazi’s use the excuse they were just following orders) How can you disagree without getting excluded from the gang or forever treated with suspicion?
I think this gets to the heart of the problems that are encountered in trying to ‘control - direct - manage’ Knowledge Management, Change Management and Learning. I agree with Walter Baets’ argument that these three things are so intertwined that they cannot be pulled apart when you try to look at a complex situation. He uses innovation for learning, however, in my opinion learning is the more useful term because innovation is so closely associated with creativity.
I don’t think believe in a Muse that delivers from the wide blue yonder, it’s 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Alexander McQueen said that for 11 months people would think he is doing nothing, but what he was really doing was observing – engaging the outside world. The 1 month where he created his designs he was drawing on those observations and making creative connections between them. I believe learning doesn’t occur in isolation. I agree with Banduras’ social learning theory of reciprocal determinism. Decartes expression in image of Rodins’ Thinker has shown it doesn’t work in a Romanian Orphanage, you need the Socialisation and Externalisation in the SECI model to move forward and keep momentum, but the paradox is that you need the group to support you even if this counters their way of perceiving a situation. You can keep your kid safe from harm by never removing the training wheels or by giving them a tricycle, but by doing this we limit their ultimate potential in achieving speed and manoeuvrability. So you need to trust your teacher before you are even willing to learn, to be secure in the knowledge your errors will be forgiven.
Baets’ ran simulations that showed it wasn’t the religious beliefs of the individual but their alignment to the values of the group that bred fanaticism. It was this adherence to group values that broke down negotiations between ‘groups’. Stephen Pinker in his book on cognitive functioning spoke as a Jewish man how ‘kosher’ had more to do with maintaining exclusion rather than actually serving a religious purpose . If you break bread with someone you start to see them as an individual with similar traits, rather than as a stereotype. So this is the challenge, how can you belong to part of the group yet still maintain your individuality? How can you challenge groups without offending them? No man is an island, but choosing your continent can be hazardous.

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 11:47 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

A very rich comment Andrew! Your question “how can you challenge groups without offending them?” struck a particular chord (we need to do this very soon) - I found this video on the Anecdote blog rather inspirational in this regard… it’s about designing a problem that different fractious parties will recognise as a common problem, and just stepping aside to let them address it - together.


Posted on February 21, 2008 at 05:20 PM | Comment permalink

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