Revolutionary thought leader, passionate simpleton and outspoken gadfly, Bill Jensen is teaching people how to navigate and disrupt the corporate world and survive
The corporate world is a place that a lot of us don’t understand; where people speak an almost unfathomable language and everything its members think and do seems to be carefully choreographed and scripted towards one frantic end: making a large profit for the company.
But corporate bureaucracies have their subversives. One such is the passionate radical Bill Jensen, dubbed ‘an internationally acclaimed thought leader’ which is probably now code for ‘motivational speaker’. And motivated is what he most definitely is about his message to ‘keep it simple’.
Jensen has published nine works on the way we work and treat others in the workplace, and on his website he describes himself as a passionate simpleton and an outspoken gadfly against corporate stupidity that wastes people’s time, attention and dreams.
In his book Disrupt! he talks about great disruptive heroes: CEOs, inventors and scientists, entrepreneurs and freedom fighters, firefighters and doctors, geeks and a couple of freaks. He believes today’s heroes are disruptive because they simply refuse to accept the status quo and they’re heroes because they are changing the rules of the game.
“They’re great because they’re helping each of us change for the better,” says Jensen. “Welcome to the age of continuous personal disruption. When even the most basic daily routines get swept up in a storm of ambiguity; when nothing is certain; when there is no perfect decision to be made.”
The five habits of disruptive heroes
Jensen outlines five habits that great disruptive heroes possess: Question Everything; Audacity Matters; Kill What You Cherish Most; Do Epic Shit; Blow Stuff Up.
Jensen, who holds degrees in Communication Design and Organisational Development, lives, and travels from, Morristown, NJ, USA. His most valueless valuable possession is a 1950s cardboard box that was kept in a hall closet in his childhood home. On the side of the box, in his mother’s handwriting, its labelled: ‘Bill’s Mittens, Hats, Scarves’.
The most important role of his life is being a father to his son, Ian, born in 1986, “an amazing person and a fellow Trekker”. His personal life fantasy is to bicycle around the globe via breweries.
Jensen’s mission in life seems to be overhauling the corporate system, making it more human, convincing employers to treat staff with respect. On his HCL Project, ‘Hack Corporate Lunacy’ website people can contribute actual quotes by actual leaders that fall under the banner of, and I quote: “You can’t make this shit up!”
Some of the quotes submitted include one from a marketing VP to a staffer who wanted to be more creative. The VP says “If you wanted to be creative you don’t belong in marketing.”
In a blog on ‘corporate stupidity’, Jensen says there is no shortage of people saying awesomely stupid stuff, and sometimes people can be horrific in how they treat fellow humans.
An example is what a manager said to an employee, “What difference will that make? Where’s the report you owe me?”, after the employee asked to leave early to be with his terminally-ill father, who was likely to pass away in the next day or so.
He is saddened by how far we still need to go on many crucial topics, like diversity and gender-equality: “Is she a leader or a mom?” That, from a corporate HR recruiter speaking to a line manager.
“I’m amazed at how smart and good people suddenly get stupid and start behaving badly within corporate bureaucracies,” says Jensen.
Data overload and decision paralysis
As for the future of work, Jensen believes data overload leads to decision paralysis and he says whether you work in a multinational corporation or a small enterprise, work has become more complicated in the information age.
“According to some estimates, even the sheer volume of data that workers have to process doubles every year, which begs the question, how are workers meant to sift through the clutter for quick and effective decision making?” he asks.
But to Jensen the answer is simple. On his website he says: “C’mon, people. It isn’t new or difficult. Everything you need to know and do, you learned in kindergarten.”
The corporate maverick gets right down to basics and in the process many of his followers believe he accomplishes some great work. His philosophies, ideas that he believes will take companies out of ‘corporate stupidity’, are many but all boil down to what Robert Fulgrum says in his 1989 book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Quoting Fulgrum, Jensen points out the fact that we already learned everything we need to know to prevent this kind of stupidity:
“Moms and kindergarten teachers (Jensen’s mom was both) taught us so many things that we still need to recall and practice.”
Things such as, ‘share everything’, ‘play fair’, ‘don’t hit people’; ‘put things back where you found them’; ‘clean up your own mess’; ’don’t take things that aren’t yours, and ‘say you’re sorry when you hurt someone’.
How to work smarter, not harder
Jensen is known for his useful content, and his passion for making it easier for everyone to work smarter, not harder.
And to begin to make things better he advises us all to go give ourselves a treat or give someone a hug. “What we can do right now is to take care of ourselves or somebody else a little more today,” he says in an interview on the Epoch Times website.
His corporate profile is not for the faint hearted: apart from being CEO of The Jensen Group, his clients include the Bank of America, Merck, Pfizer, GE, L’Oréal Italia, Genentech, NASA, The World Bank, BBC, Philips Lighting, the US Navy SEALS, Singapore Institute of Management, Guangzhou China Development District, and the Swedish Post Office.
Just to rattle off some of his communities, he’s a member on the Alynd Advisory Board, Work Hackers Community, HR Rockstars, Change Agents Worldwide, Social Business Software. And his specialties: Change Management, Communication, Knowledge Management, Leadership Development, Training and Development, Process/Practice/System/Tool Simplification, Team-Building, Facilitation, Offsite Design, Speaking/Presentations, Gadfly/ToughLove Facilitator.
As a consultant, he helps companies and teams double their efficiency by helping each individual be the best version of themselves. He has spent the past 25 years studying how work gets done and he is horrified by much of what he’s found.
His first book, Simplicity, was the Number 5 leadership/ management book on Amazon in 2000. His newest book, Future Strong, reveals the secrets of building your best future, and how to lead your organisation into the future.
Jensen has been studying complexity in organisations for 25 years. In his report on the future of work he looks at how companies need to change in the next five years. In it, he conducted more than 7,000 surveys and interviewed hundreds of people.
Self-awareness is the start of everything
His top three findings were that Leadership needs courage to lead us into an unknown future. Companies need to redefine worker engagement. Rather than definingengagement as how it benefits the company, the workplaces of the future emphasise the individual’s needs as much as the company’s needs beyond flex time and telecommuting. And the third finding was that Personal accountability will become crucial.
“We have to embrace that personal accountabilities are going to rely on how willing you are to be vulnerable. Most people don’t fully understand themselves — why they do certain things, and why they have certain attitudes. Self-awareness is the start of everything.”
“Over the past 50 years we’ve gotten better at meeting the needs of the customer — making things easy to use, simpler. The next movement is in simplicity for the entire workforce. If we give the workforce the tools it needs to get the job done easily, that makes it easier for the company to succeed.”
Jensen believes the biggest thing that senior executives fear is whether things could get done if they give up control.
“It’s a process of trusting another person, being clear about goals, and translating those goals. That doesn’t happen on a PowerPoint presentation. That happens in one’s heart and head.”
Follow Jensen on Twitter at @simpletonbill.
His publications are:
The Simplicity Survival Handbook: 32 Ways To Do Less And Accomplish More;
published 2003, six editions.
Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results; published 2010, 8 editions.
Work 2.0: Building The Future, One Employee At A Time; published 2001, 3 editions.
Future Strong expected publication date, October 15, 2015
And his latest project: The Future of Work Study 2015 – 2020.