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Tomorrow morning, BadConsultant will once again be hitting the MetroNorth-East corridor into New York, arriving at Grand Central in the midst of rush hour.

[hey, why not say “Hi!” if you spot me?]

It’s a nice trip – I get some quiet time on the train, do some thinking, listen to my iPod, get a little bit of work done – an almost zen-like zone of tranquility. And yes, I am attempting to teach the conductors to chant ‘Ommmmmm’ when they ask for the ticket. So, it was a few weeks ago, that I emerged from the train floating a little in transcendental space, thinking of everything, thinking of nothing, flowing with the energy within and without

[don’t worry, there is a point coming – I just wanted you to get my mood, maaaaan]

as I stepped out of the track doorway and into the human chaos that is Grand Central in the morning.

I started walking at my usual quick pace, practising being centered, anticipating others movement, adjusting course, blending with the mass of moving humanity. Gradually I slowed. Because I noticed the absence of something (which isn’t all that easy to do in the sensory overload of New York).

There wasn’t one inter-person collision. No-one fell over. No-one was angry with anyone else. The whole thing flowed like bees in a hive, or ants in a colony. This was a society moving naturally, this was a dynamic system, self-adjusting and evolving as I watched.

I stopped walking.

How many people do you think travel through Grand Central station every day?

Hang on a second, I’ll just nip over to Wikipedia… Wow!

  • Over 500,000 visitors every day
  • Over 125,000 commuters every day

How big is your organization? Mine is about 75,000. Nearly twice as many people commute through Grand Central every day as my whole global organization.

And those commuters don’t seem to need managers.

No collisions. No casualties. Give and take, ebb and flow.

If managers ran Grand Central what do you think would happen?

Let’s try the obvious…

  1. Each thoroughfare would be neatly organized into bi-directional walkways to ensure that people walked in the right(®) direction
  2. Each of these bi-directional walkways would have designated entry and exit points with a queuing system/process to ensure smooth transition
  3. Each traveler would have to have a pre-planned, approved itinerary indicating their time of departure, destination and expected seating assignment
  4. Managers would stand at the doorways, to discuss the planned itinerary and to educate the traveler in question exactly how to walk – speed, gait and acceleration – as well as testing quality of footwear and appropriateness of attire
  5. Each traveler would have to ensure they had necessary budget to travel prior to commencing entering the station
  6. Finally (though the list could go on and on and on) there would be totally, categorically NO SIGHTSEEING – that’s right, anyone stopping to enjoy the breathtaking setting of Grand Central would be held up on a performance management infringement immediately

It’s kind of laughable, right? Yet


we put up with this kind of bulls*** every day in the modern organization – and assume it is the way it has to be. In fact, right now, someone reading this blog is thinking that there’s no way such anarchy/chaos could work in an organization.

[come on, I can hear the gears whirring in your brain… Even from here]

Yet, over 125,000 people get where they want to go every day without major, or even minor, catastrophe. Why is that?

  1. They want (or have to) travel – i.e. there is an intention to travel
  2. The destination is clear – the overhead boards tell me which train is going where I’m going, what time it leaves and which platform
  3. Signage to platforms is clear
  4. Nobody has a vested interest in stopping me getting where I’m going – the only time a win/lose proposition comes into play is when someone is guarding and empty seat with their bag to avoid having me sit next to them

[probably not a bad idea]

“But,” my modern organization believer screams at me, “there’s an army of people making sure that Grand Central runs smoothly so that commuters can get through quickly!”

And that’s my point. Of course there is. But I don’t see them. I don’t talk to them. I only deal with them when things are going horribly wrong because of something out of my control. And when that is fixed, they fade away again.

Hmmmm… helping me when I need it, leaving me to do my thing when everything’s running smoothly.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be ‘What If Managers Ran Grand Central?’ but instead ‘What If Grand Central Managed Your Organization?’

Oh well, I’ll see if it’s so smooth tomorrow – knowing my luck I’ve probably jinxed Grand Central and will get to watch 5 cardiac arrests, 3 broken femurs, a small brush fire (in Body Shop), 16 muggings and 1 bizarre act of biblical revelation before I get 10 yards from the platform.

[In which case I will, of course, blog about it]