The Effective Executive – Beware the Skeuomorphs


Veteran, new and aspiring executives need methods to be successful in their organization. There are 1000s of leadership podcasts, videos, blogs, and articles but few authors address what to do or how to do it.

We have witnessed many executives who are efficient (doing things right), but few executives are effective (doing the right things). We believe this is misguided and aim to remedy the shortfall with executives.

This is the 53rd episode of the Effective Executive podcast. In this episode, Tripp Babbitt explains what skeuomorphs are and how to deal with them. Download our Effective Executive Starter Kit.

Show Notes

The Effective Executive – Episode 53

Skeuomorphs Defined

We’ve always done it this way

Micromanagement Hides Purpose


[00:00:01] Hi, I’m Tripp Babbitt, and this is the 53rd episode of the effective executive, and I’m going to be a little under the weather today, but so if you will excuse the occasional cough.


[00:00:20] I want to talk about, beware the skeuomorphs. Now what is a skeuomorphic? Well, in the late 1990s, I went to a seminar with Peter Scholtes and he wrote the book The Leader’s Handbook, and in it, the book on page one thirty two, he talked about a skeuomorphs, but I’d never heard the term before. And what it is is an activity or artifact that continues and use long after its original purpose has disappeared. So he uses the example in the book of, you know, the grandmother went and before she put a ham in the oven, would cut the shank of the ham. And so her daughter and her granddaughter did the same thing. And the reason that she did it, the grandmother, was because the shank of the ham had to be cut down in order to fit into a smaller oven, which the daughter and the granddaughter didn’t have that problem.


[00:01:38] But it kind of illustrates things that go on in our organizations that happen just because they always have. And there are things to look out for within your organization, but you really see them a lot in things like government, especially federal and state, which I’ve worked with both federal and state, both as well in state and as a chief information officer, but also as a consultant.


[00:02:10] And with the federal government as a consultant. And there are tons of this stuff. I mean, there are people do work and you ask them, you know why you do it that way? You know, we’ve always done it that way. And so there’s a series of lots of laws, policies and rules that just are outdated or they lack a definition of purpose. And the. I mean, an illustration, I guess, would be, you know, somebody stealing a horse. You know, they could hang them because the horse was your primary mode of transportation so somebody stole your horse you could be stranded at, you know, depending on where you live, lived in Arizona back in the 1800s. Obviously, that’s almost a death sentence. So some of those things have kind of are outdated now. They’re not needed because we don’t have the same problems. But you also get from this, and most of the listeners know that I’m follow the work of W. Edwards Deming. It’s what he described as cleaning the table. You know, if you tell somebody to clean a table, they’ve got to understand the purpose of why they’re cleaning the table or are they going to eat off of it? They’re going to do homework on it. They’re going to perform surgery. So obviously, each one of those scenarios requires a different level of cleanliness for that particular table.


[00:03:51] So understanding the purpose of what you’re doing is illustrated in the form of a skeuomorph because you know the answer. We’ve always done it this way, and you ask the question why? And they don’t know the answer. Then you know, you may have a potential problem and it gives you a sense, especially as an executive. How? How adaptable an employee would be in the existing system that you have? Or do you need to change? Things are going on within your system. Now, there are other ways that this comes out, you know, it’s the way that I was trained, I’m following the procedure, all things that unless they understand the broader intent of what you’re doing, they’ve lost the purpose of that particular activity or maybe never were taught with the purpose of of it was. And as someone who questions almost everything as I went through training different organizations when I first got out of school, I was that guy. You know, I was the one who always said, Well, why? And often I didn’t get an answer as to why we just just follow the procedure. Or, you know, we’ve always done it that way. Those types of things and those never set well with me. So and I’ve talked in a previous episode about executive intent. You know, it’s better to give people a an understanding of purpose and then giving them a goal to to achieve as opposed to just giving them pieces where they don’t understand the whole.


[00:05:38] We could ask Bernie Madoff about that, right? I mean, he kept everybody kind of separated so he could run his Ponzi scheme. So micromanagement without the executive intent is usually what’s going on because you got to make sure they’re following the procedure following the rules, following, well, laws or laws, but in essence, things that come out of your particular organization. So, so there’s a need to smarten people up so that they understand the purpose of why they’re cleaning a table, why they’re doing a particular procedure, because that opens their mind to better ways of doing things. Now, another example that I’ll use that it’s slightly disconnected, but but it connects is in business models, you know, get disrupted. And if you go back to 2000, when Reed Hastings was setting up Netflix and he went to blockbuster and said, Hey, you rent movies, we’ll do online streaming, we’ll partner and kind of got laughed out of the room. And at one point, Blockbuster had a chance to buy Netflix for $50 million. So you missed it by that much. So even in innovation, because we get stuck in certain models that we believe are going to go on forever, we miss opportunities to either improve our business or come up with new products and services. So that was it for week 53. Hopefully I’ll feel better next week and we’ll talk to you then.


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