Healthy conflict key to business success
Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman / AP Photo/Francisco Seco
In the corporate world, there are plenty of heated exchanges and passionate arguments. Anyone who's been around for a while recognizes healthy conflict as a critical part of how successful companies operate.
There is one important caveat, however. When everyone walks out of the conference room, it's time to execute the agreed upon plan like professionals.
We've all seen what happens when that does not occur, when managers or coworkers who don't get their way behave like children. They whine, complain, disparage, play passive-aggressive games, or act out in any number of ways. It's incredibly destructive to an organization.
I've seen far too many examples of that sort of bad behavior by executives in the real world, usually behind closed doors. But yesterday, we were treated to a rare public exhibition of how professionals should not behave, courtesy of professor, author, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
After appearing on CNBC's Squawk Box to promote his new book "End This Depression Now!" Krugman posted this on his blog:
Zombies on CNBC
Wow. I just did Squawk Box -- allegedly about my book, but we never got there. Instead it was one zombie idea after another -- Europe is collapsing because of big government, health care is terribly rationed in France, we can save lots of money by denying Medicare to billionaires, on and on.
Among other things, people getting their news from sources like that are probably getting terrible advice about any kind of investment that depends on macroeconomics. But it's amazing just how skewed the policy views are too.
All that and having to get to Englewood Cliffs, too.
Now, it's a free country and Krugman has the right to his opinion and to post anything he wants on his blog. But there are two things about his actions that I'd like to call attention to. They provide a striking example of the distinction between constructive conflict and childish behavior.
First, I watched the entire 13 minute video clip of the interview. You can see it here. What I saw was an excellent debate between opposing views on the very topic of Krugman's book. Granted, co-host Joe Kernen hit him pretty hard, but I thought Krugman held his own remarkably well and maybe even came out on top.
Moreover, the introduction to the segment included a nice plug of the book by co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin, who also happens to be a colleague of Krugman's at the Times. "Today we are inducting a Nobel Laureate into the Squawk Box Book Club," Sorkin said. "We are proud to present our Blue Chip Book Award ... " and on it goes.
Now, the only possibly legitimate reason I can come up with for publicly slamming CNBC like he did would be if Krugman felt he was blindsided in the interview. But that doesn't even begin to pass the smell test. Squawk Box has been on air for many years and is marketed as an "irreverent" show that features an "unscripted and fast-paced exchange of banter," as CNBC describes it.
Moreover, Krugman's line about the "skew" of the show sounds ridiculous when you consider that his own blog is called The Conscience of a Liberal. Come on now. He's without a doubt one of the most famous and outspoken liberal-leaning economists on the planet. What did he expect, everyone to sing Kumbaya?
The second problem I have with Krugman's post is that it appears to be nothing more than a childish temper tantrum. I mean, what else would you call it? I'm no shrink and I could be wrong, but it sure seems as if he was angry at the way he was treated, so he decided to disparage the show's integrity to his huge audience of readers and followers.
Looks to me like he said to himself, "I'll show them." Well, what does that sound like to you?
Just to be clear, this is not about the content of the debate, and it's certainly not about left- or right-leaning political or fiscal policy. It's about the difference between how the interview was conducted -- which looked very much to me like the sort of healthy debate you see everyday in the business world -- and Krugman's response, which I thought was unprofessional and childish.
That sort of behavior might be acceptable in academic and media circles, but in the corporate world, it's destructive.
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