Sometimes, insight arrives a couple of decades later.

I’m referring to George Will and his recent column, “Think you’re living in a ‘hellhole’ today? Try being a billionaire in 1916.” (Washington Post, 5/5/2017) and research he cites from economist Don Boudreaux, who makes points identical to those made here more than twenty years ago (“A holiday card to the industry,” InfoWorld, 12/16/1996).

Beyond my chronic whining about how little I’m appreciated by folks like this is a point about human psychology that has broad applicability in your dealings with everyone you work with in the humdrum world of business. Namely, luxury is comparative, not absolute.

To understand the point, look inward: Given a choice, would you prefer to live John D. Rockefeller’s 1916 lifestyle as Boudreaux describes it, or your own? Even, better, ask the question inside out: Given how much better your life is today than his was back then in so many different ways, why is this even a hard decision?

It’s a hard decision because as Rockefeller, you (or I; I’m hardly immune from the syndrome) would have been the envy of everyone else, while today you’re just another schmuck.

Luxury is comparative, not absolute.

How can you use this insight?

Start with program governance. It’s well established that, as the figure shows, when projects are fewer and fully staffed, they all complete earlier than any project does when project staff are spread thin. Businesses that schedule projects this way receive, not just their first benefits, but all benefits earlier than those that rely on multitasking so as to make progress on more fronts all at once.

Everyone benefits. Even business managers whose pet projects launch last get their benefits earlier than they would if everyone’s projects had been approved to launch at the same time.

And yet, this style of project governance is, in my experience, extraordinarily rare. Why? It’s the Ursine Comparative Velocity Strategy in action: I don’t have to outrun the bear, just you, which is to say, I don’t care if everyone does better. I care that compared to everyone else, I’m not last in line.

Luxury is comparative, not absolute, so if you have any influence over your company’s project governance practices, this insight is the starting point for making them more effective.

Example #2: Much to everyone’s astonishment, Microsoft’s Surface Pro line of detachable computers has, according to my informal surveys, become the top I-don’t-care-if-I-need-it-I-want-it end-user device in corporate America. (In case you’re curious, at the bottom of the list are virtual desktops, where the not-personal computer in front of you only provides the keyboard, mouse, and monitor, with everything else happening on a server in the data center.)

If you’re responsible for end-user provisioning, you’d best remember the point about luxury being comparative: If I hold a high-clout position in the enterprise and I want a Surface Pro, you’d best give me a Surface Book, which I’ve never heard of but which is the Bentley to the Surface Pro’s BMW, which in turn is more luxurious than the MacBook’s Lexus, let alone the virtual desktop’s Dodge Neon.

What’s best for the corporation? What do different types of user actually need to get their jobs done? This only matters for those whose positions don’t entitle them to luxury.

Then there’s the ever-popular help desk. In many enterprises executive perks are part of the landscape — executives expect luxury and you’re in trouble if they don’t get it from you if you’re in a position to deliver it.

CIOs in companies where this is part of executive culture know to include an AEE (automated executive escalation) function in their help desk ACDs. The AEE routes calls from known executive telephone numbers to the most senior analyst available, or, failing that, jumps their call to the front of the ACD queue.

Further, help desk analysis are instructed to always ask AEE callers if they’d like an in-person visit to resolve their issue.

If one of these executives asks the CIO if this is standard operating procedure for the help desk, the CIO explains that it isn’t, but that a small list of executives receives “white glove” treatment because, given their role, downtime has a higher impact than it would for most employees.

Does it really? That doesn’t matter. Telling the exec she’s among the exclusive few — that’s what matters.

And it will matter even more come budget season, when the CIO needs executive support for the proposed IT budget.

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On an entirely different subject, my daughter and webmaster Kimberly Lewis recently posted a nice piece on the business value of 508 compliance. Worth your time. You’ll find it here.

Empathy is widely misunderstood.

We’re told, for example, that psychopaths lack it. And yet we’re also told they’re able to figure out their victims’ emotional buttons and levers, exploiting them to achieve their nefarious goals.

Accurately figuring out someone’s emotional buttons and levers sure sounds like empathy to me.

I’m just messin’ with you. True empathy means vicariously feeling what someone else feels. Psychopaths don’t experience the feeling. They infer it.

If you want to be a mensch, true empathy is pretty useful. But if you want to be an effective leader, psychopathic empathy is the way to go.

Oh, now, don’t look so horrified. I’m not suggesting you become an out-and-out psychopath. Just to emulate this one ability.

See, something leaders have to accomplish from time to time is organizational change, “time to time” meaning every single day. Sometimes we’re talking about the micro level of getting a bit more out of an employee whose performance is currently just an increment better than adequate. Other times the change might be a complete transformation of how an organization gets its work done.

Inept leaders, of the when-I-say-frog-you-jump variety, rely on their authority to make change happen.

Inevitably, they fail … not in making any change happen, but in making the intended change happen. Put leaders like this in charge of some dog sleds and they’ll end up pulling not only the sleds themselves, but also dragging their huskies behind them as they complain to each other about how lazy their dogs are.

Effective leaders, in contrast, don’t only get their huskies to pull the sleds. Their canine followers think pulling the sled is their idea, and an excellent idea it is, too.

But enough. If I keep this up the metaphor police will hunt me down like a dog. And so …

Effective leaders of organizations don’t say “frog” expecting their minions to immediately jump. Effective leaders rely on persuasion. They do everything they can to encourage the men and women who do the work of their organization to understand the intended change and why it’s a good idea. More than that they encourage them to participate in figuring out what the change should look like.

Much of which requires empathy. Not empathy of the I-feel-your-pain variety. I-feel-your-pain empathy might, in fact, lead to unproductive management hand-wringing — regret over the pain the change will inflict on members of the workforce.

Nope. Effective leaders have developed their inner psychopath — their ability to analytically figure out how different individuals and groups are likely to respond to what they have in mind, and why. It’s this insight that lets them adjust their plans and their communications so as to minimize resistance and maximize active participation.

Example: Quite a few years back I facilitated a discussion about resistance to the implementation of electronic medical records (EMR) systems. One participant vented his frustration that of all people, it was the doctors who were most actively resisting this obviously important change in how hospitals and clinics do their work. He just couldn’t understand how the best-educated members of his workforce could be such Luddites.

And so, we applied some psychopathic empathy to the situation.

What, I asked, motivates doctors? Why did they choose their profession? Answer: They want to cure patients of what ails them.

And were doctors (I asked) likely to consider the planned EMR system something that helps them cure patients, or a distraction when compared to clipboards at the foot of the bed?

This having happened in the pre-tablet era, the new EMR system meant walking over to a new and unfamiliar application running on a PC that wasn’t as conveniently located as a clipboard at the foot of the bed. Distraction it was.

Second example: Back in the day, when IT leaders were trying to pry their batch COBOL programmers loose from their old habits to embrace object-oriented programming and on-line, real-time systems, many refused to be pried. Why might that be? Shouldn’t a bunch of techies love new and shiny tech?

Well … no. The combination of OO and designing and programming on-line systems was a change that invalided the COBOLites’ hard-won expertise and turned them back into novices. Why would they like that?

We’re talking about a clear-eyed thought process, not a complicated one. Just look at the change you have in mind through the eyes of different stakeholders and stakeholder groups and figure out how it will affect them.

Psychopaths use their ability to infer motivation to manipulate people. You could use the same ability to persuade them to follow your lead.

What’s the difference? Good question, for which I’m not sure there’s a good answer.