Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Learnings from Cemex.

IT can lock in business-as-usual by simply using new technology in the service of old principles. However, at Cemex, automation is not the essential point; the philosophy isn't to try to control everything. As Darwin once said, it’s not the strongest species that survive nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.

The conflicting choices that are the essence of paradox make most people uncomfortable because of the perceived need to choose between seemingly bipolar opposites. It’s human nature to prefer, to seek out, and even to expect certainty. Paradoxes threaten that traditional world order. A common way to handle this is to “fix” on one polarity and to see the world as “either / or,” rather than attempting to reconcile the two polarities with “both / and” thinking.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in management's choice of order over disorder. While this option had worked well for Cemex in the past, it was clear to management that it no longer worked and would become even more dysfunctional in the future. According to CEO, Lorenzo Zambrano, "We spent so much time teaching our organization to be systematized and orderly that it could no longer respond quickly enough in a fast-changing environment."

William A. Orme Jr., a longtime American writer on Mexico, refers to the "cult of the licenciado." Literally, the word means someone who has a college degree, someone who can make things happen, usually from behind a desk. Traditionally, all information goes to the licenciado and all decisions come from him (or don't, which is where the classic bureaucratic swamp begins). What Cemex is doing - giving employees the knowledge that they need and the authority to use it, to make and keep their commitments - turns that old tradition upside down. Cemex people like to use the English word "empowerment." North of the border, this term may have lost some of its freshness, but in Mexico it still has the ring of a call to arms.

Finally, a quote from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

The masters of life know the Way,
for they listen to the voice within them.

The voice of wisdom and simplicity,
the voice that reasons beyond Cleverness
and knows beyond Knowledge.

That voice is not just the power
and property of a few,
but has been given to everyone.

Those who pay attention to it
are too often treated as exceptions to a rule,
rather than as examples of the rule in operation,
a rule that can apply to anyone who makes use of it.

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