Judging by the chill in the air tonight here in Philadelphia, winter isn’t as far off as I’d like it to be. It also reminds me of those especially brutal winters I experienced growing up in Minnesota.

So this week, another installment in my Paradox of the Week* series of posts – some contradictory statements/paradoxical assertions made by Bill George. He’s a Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School, and the former CEO of Medtronic – a medical device company founded in my home state back in 1949.[1]

And so…

  • In True North (2007, Jossey-Boss), George emphasizes the importance of a leader’s values: “values are personal—they cannot be determined by anyone else [my emphasis]” (page xxxii). And yet in the very next breath he does just that. “Integrity,” he insists, “…is the one value required by every authentic leader.”

 

What George really seems to struggle with, however, is the title of his book, and how to make sense of it. For instance:

  • On page 1, George defines “True North” as the “compass that guides you successfully through life.” Furthermore, “on your journey, you will need the True North of your internal compass to stay focused…” (p. xxxiv). That sounds reasonable enough…except that he also insists that “discovering your True North takes lifetime of commitment and learning” (page 1 again).

So how exactly is something that takes a lifetime to discover supposed to guide you through your lifetime?

  • George only adds to this confusion by later suggesting that your “internal compass” must be calibrated early on in life. “If you establish your boundaries early…” he writes, “your moral compass will kick in when you reach your limits…” (p. 101).
  • Ultimately, however, much of the what George writes about is intended to help you, the apparently directionless reader, answer the question “What is your True North?” To this end, George posits that your own True North “is derived from your life story, and only you can determine what it should be” (page 1). But this statement seems to go against the very idea that “North” is somehow “True” in the full sense of the word. Instead, it suggests that it varies from individual to individual.

So maybe “True-for-me North,” “My Personal North,” or “North-ish” would be a better title for his book..?

 

That’s it – for more installments of my “Paradox of the Week” series of posts, click here.

As for a chilly Minnesota winter…well, that’s one thing that at least some of Medtronic’s employees will be able to avoid this year.

You see, back in June of 2014, Medtronic announced its acquisition of Covidien—a company based in Ireland—and then moved its “principal executive office” there. Much of its operations do remain in Fridley, MN, however – including its “operational headquarters.” But a so-called “corporate inversion” of this sort allows Medtronic to take advantage of that country’s lower tax rate on its overseas cash holdings.[2]

Now to be fair to Mr. George, this move occurred well after he left the company (which he did in 2002). Nevertheless…

Brrrr, Medtronic. That’s cold.

 

 

See you next week.

 


*An instance in which a business or management “expert” contradicts him- or herself, or otherwise offers paradoxical advice. This is often done without any apparent awareness of having done so. For more examples of this all-too-frequent phenomena, click here. For an explanation as to why it happens soooo often, please see Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1, 2, & 3).


 

Endnotes

[1] From http://www.medtronic.com/us-en/about/history.html.

[2] “Medtronic to Buy Device Maker Covidien for $42.9 Billion,” by Michelle Fay Cortez and David Welch. Bloomberg (online), June 16, 2014. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-16/medtronic-to-buy-device-maker-covidien-for-42-9-billion.html/. Retrieved Oct 6, 2016.