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Lessons from MTV

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

One of my favorite music videos as a kid was Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing”. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the lyrics of the song at the time were controversial, and Mark Knopfler actually modeled them on something he overheard at a hardware store.

The song is written from the perspective of someone who feels that they are at a position of disadvantage in some way and feels the person in the video he is watching hasn’t really worked for what they have. At the time, I really didn’t pay much attention to the socioeconomic ramifications of the lyrics, but when I saw the video pop up on YouTube recently when I was hunting for something else, something struck me.

The idea of adverse selection is nothing new. When working in the business ecosystem there will always be information asymmetry.

This is when one party has more information than the other and that party takes advantage of those who do not have the same information in some way to their detriment.

Even if this action is unintentional, the perceived after-effect is the same. The person who does not have the information ultimately finds out (too late to do anything about it) and trust is diminished.

In the case of the video, the protagonist feels that the members of the band have not necessarily worked for what they have and that his job installing “microwave ovens” is much harder. I would argue that is not necessarily the case.

Yes, there are instances where someone has ascended to a position without working as hard as someone else, but, most of the time, individuals all generally work pretty hard to get where they are. So, what does this have to do with organizational strategy? Perspective.

The gentleman in the song says he “should have learned to play the guitar.” That’s a difficult thing to do. It’s hard work. So is delivering custom kitchens and color TVs.

In an organization, it is critical to respect the roles and responsibilities of every person in the workforce and how much effort can go into seemingly simple tasks. Acknowledgment of the holistic team structure allows for better collaborative efforts, increased transparency and communication, and respect for team members at all levels.

Asymmetry of information leads to another critical problem – moral hazard. If someone on a team is willing to take a risk because they feel another team member will have to shoulder the burden of the after-effects, moral hazard has occurred. When your organization talks about how they communicate within (and with clients) this is of critical importance.

Establishing credibility by being honest and transparent about internal processes focuses energy on making the team better as a whole, which allows employees to believe in the organization they work for. In turn this creates a culture of trust and empowerment, rather than one that separates the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

If someone in your organization thinks that someone else is getting their “money for nothing,” it might be time to consider how your organization can be more transparent.

These can be simple changes – something such as inviting different sectors of the company to learn more about each other through training or working collaboratively on internal projects that combine the strengths of their skills in some way.

It might go a long way to not only improve morale, but it may start to eliminate some of the barriers between two groups within your organization that each work very hard doing very different things.

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