1. The Open-Plan Office
It seemed like a win-win-win. Employees would be able to build more of a community, ideas would be communicated faster, and the offices would have a smaller, and therefore cheaper, footprint. In fact, it was lose-lose-lose. Employees hated the noise and distraction and communicated less (and usually through email), creating a productivity loss that far outstripped any rental cost savings.
The fix: remote work combined with private or semi-private office work areas.
2. PowerPoint (and Its Clones)
Presenting information in multiple formats was supposed increase retention and spark better discussions. Presentations actually do the opposite because multiple formats confuse the brain and the slow speed of a presentation encourages nitpicking and discussions that go down ratholes.
The fix: Use a briefing document to provide a basis for full discussion.
3. Hot Desking
This is the open plan office on steroids. Rather than even having a set work area, people would just set up work wherever it seemed convenient. The result was predictable to anyone who's eaten in a school cafeteria. High status individuals staked out the best spots and formed cliques that locked out employees of lower status.
The fix: Assign work areas at random.
4. Diversity Training
The concept had the best intentions: make the majority of employees "woke" to their personal prejudices, and weed out the bad apples that can't change. As shown by the tiny number of fortune 500 CEOs who are female (5 percent) or black (.06 percent), and the almost total lack of progress inside companies like Google, diversity training has utterly flopped.
The fix: structural changes like blind interviewing and quotas.
5. Internet of Things
Theoretically, connecting all kinds of devices should allow them to coordinate to create a better user experience. In practice, though, such connectivity fails to be effective because most of the devices have been implemented by grade-D programmers on top of platforms that are inherently insecure. The result is an unstable environment that's a privacy nightmare.
The fix: Minimize your electronic footprint.
6. Group Writing
Whenever a roomful of people attempts to craft a mission statement, a press release, or any other business document, the result is always fuzzy mush. The dynamics of the meeting turn the writing into the weird, competitive, "now it's my turn to say something" behavior that is the diametric opposite of creativity.
The fix: Have a creative do the writing and gather comments into a final document.
7. Wealth of Information
When business pundits started talking about the information economy, a lot of companies and executives thought the term meant that the more information you have, the smarter you and your company are. What's happened, of course, is that information both corporate and public has become polluted with irrelevancies, misinformation, and willful half-truths.
The fix: Train employees in how to spot logical fallacies and demand fact checking.
8. Management by Tantrum
Time was, the good managers kept their cool, while bad managers spluttered and spewed. Unfortunately, the bad examples of a few highly visible managers in high tech -- notably Steve Jobs -- popularized the idea that an effective manager berates employees in public and fires them at whim. Unfortunately, most managers and CEOs lack Jobs's brilliance, and try to compensate by being an even bigger jerk.
The fix: It's a little something called maturity.
9. Stack Ranking
The overall idea is that rather than developing people and making them better at their jobs, you should exploit them, extract everything you can from them, and then discard them like yesterday's trash. The problem with strip-mining talent, however, is it eventually it results in horrible press, with workers leaving for places where they'll be treated like "human beings" rather than "human resources."
The fix: Train managers to develop talent rather than burn through it.
While reengineering was supposed to be restructuring on steroids, in practice it became a code word for massive layoffs. For decades, business pundits and investors applauded CEOs for "clearing deadwood," "cutting fat," and "ventilating the organization." However, layoffs are always the result of management error -- either through hiring too many people, not training them effectively, or making huge strategic miscalls.
The fix: Recognize that CEOs who order layoffs are failures and compensate them accordingly.
11. Microsoft Windows
In the 1970s, it was well understood that, for security reasons, applications should not be able to alter the operating system and also should not be able to alter each other. For reasons still not entirely understood, Microsoft's premier operating system allows applications to do both, thereby making every Windows PC architecturally and inherently insecure. Yes, you can patch the holes, but it's an endless game of Whac-a-Mole.
The fix: Unfortunately, this one requires a time machine.