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6 / What’s better than a bureaucracy?

October 2, 2022

Welcome to Issue #6!

The wonderful citizens of the Internet decided to name The Feynman Technique after Richard Feynman, one of my heroes. While endless bloggers all seem to know the technique, it’s not clear he ever described it as we now know it. The gist is that if you can’t explain something to a child, you don’t understand it. The child’s age in question ranges from six to a freshman in college.

Wherever it came from, it’s a helpful exercise to make sure I’m not on Mount Stupid when I think I’m sun-tanning on the Plateau of Actually-Knowing-What-You’re-Talking About (see: Dunning-Kruger Effect).

So. Hoo Boy is about upgrading how you manage yourself, your team, and your business.

So what is management? Can we explain it to a six-year-old? A ten-year-old? A college freshman?

If I were to tell my ten-year-old nephew that his uncle is a firefighter, he’d get it. And most firefighters would agree on what it is that a firefighter does. If I were to tell him his uncle is a manager, though, I don’t think he’d grok the gist of it. And I’m confident that most managers, unlike the firefighters, would give wildly different answers.

I’ll give you my working definition in the next issue. But here’s a challenge for you: write down your definition of what a manager does in simple enough terms that a ten-year-old would get it, and reply to this email with your best shot!

Big Idea #6: The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

The Mouton-Blake Managerial Grid, from Breakthrough in Organization Development (1964)


Back in 1964, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton published an article in Harvard Business Review titled, Breakthrough in Organization Development based on research from 1962-1963 with a large plant with about 4,000 employees. In the piece, they introduced two key ideas:

  1. A Graphical 2-by-2 Grid: This legitimately may have been the first use of a visual 2x2 grid. That sounds insane to me, but the way Mouton & Blake talk about the grid, “New to most executives in concept and design,” threw a flag for me to do some light googlin’, and it turns out someone else already did and couldn’t find one! (thanks to Noah Brier for doing the research).
  2. Management as a Function of Concerns for People & Production: The Grid, literally referred to with a capital G because they thought it was so cool, encouraged managers to think about how different management styles arise when managers have different degrees of concern for people and production.

The pinnacle of management, according to Mouton & Blake, is an organization where members trust and respect one another and achieve the business’s production goals.

Why this was a big deal: the study proved better management—in terms of increased production and happier people—was something you can teach.

  • The study led to a 31% savings, “amounting to several million dollars,” from “improved operating procedures and higher productivity per man-hour,” and 49% of workers reported an overall improvement in “the way they work together with their boss.”

My favorite part: the workers and managers in the plant began referring to certain types of behavior as “9,1 behavior” and “9,9 behavior.” Here’s a paraphrased version of a quote, “If this problem came up a year ago, we would have used a 9,1 on it—told the complainer to go back to work.”

Nuances to take note of:

  • I digitized Mouton & Blake’s graphic with as much fidelity possible. The five boxes call out four extremes and a middle-point management style, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only configurations. The DMV, for example, maybe run via 1,1 management, but I bet it’s closer to 2,3 or something like that.
  • Mouton & Blake emphasize that “the term ‘concern for’ refers to the degree of concern, not the actual results.” Call me crazy, but I believe a management team can operate with a 9 out of 9 concern for people and still make mistakes that call for layoffs.


The application of a 2x2 always yields one thing regardless of the axes: the knee-jerk desire to call out how reality isn’t reducible to two variables. And it’s not, but that’s not the point. The point is to play with the ideas.

I set out to give each box a name, inspired by Ed Batista (in this piece), but I couldn’t come up with one word that fits in the 9,9 management box. So I DM’d, texted, and tweeted, asking for help.

I knew I was onto something when people responded with skepticism and cynicism about whether 9,9 management is even possible.

And I righteously call bold bullshit on that.

9,9 management may be temporary or unsustainable. Maybe the best we can hope for is 7,7 or 8,8 management most of the time, but I have to believe it’s something teams can achieve, even if only briefly.

The fact that we don’t have an easy label to talk about 9,9 management is a disappointing commentary on our collective failure to believe in ourselves. I mean, we can shoot rockets into space and put people on a giant rock orbiting our planet, but build a company where people trust and respect each other while achieving their goals? That’s too far!

When the U.S. Hockey Team beat the Soviets in 1980, that was a 9,9 organization. I’ve never worked in a Michelin three-star restaurant’s kitchen, but I have to believe many teams trust and respect each other while putting out a terrific product.

Regardless of whether you believe a team can embody 9,9 management, I’m confident it’s at least something to aspire to in our behavior. Next time you’re thinking of rolling your eyes in a meeting (total 3,3, behavior, sheesh) or dropping a Slack bomb on your direct report for not sending you a status update on that project, ask yourself, “What would the 9,9 management version of this look like?”

Reads & Resources


An old gem from the archives of Marc Andreessen’s blog, this is the most concise and helpful piece on how to hire great people I’ve ever found. Marc splits the article into criteria and process. His criteria? Threefold: drive, curiosity, and ethics. Driven people are self-motivated, curious people who love their field and have informed opinions on the choices you’ll need them to make. My favorite quote? “Priests, rabbis, and ministers should give people a second chance on ethics—not hiring managers at startups.”

From Twitter

Jaleh does a fantastic job combining well-organized thoughts with graphics that make her ideas easy to digest in this thread on building an engaged team and successful company while remote. She starts with a bold statement about how she used to think the in-person was The Way™ but is now “100% remote and can’t imagine ever going back.” Her big insight I love is that “office culture has a daily rhythm,” and remote companies need to design a daily rhythm to replace that’s as good if not better than the one we get in an office.


Did you know Andy coined the term “Product-Market Fit,” (aka “PMF”), but he attributes the idea to Don Valentine? In the podcast with Mike Maples at Floodgate, Andy shares two tangible heuristics for knowing if you have PMF for consumer companies and two for enterprise businesses. My favorite part is a story about how “Every great marketer I know is a revisionist,” where Andy shares how Google had a hard time selling ads initially.


When I studied at The Hudson Institute for Coaching, this was one of the most helpful (and short) books I read. Ron Short structures the book around three levels of inquiry to learn what’s working and what’s not in a relationship: systems inquiry, mutual inquiry, and self-inquiry.

Dice Roll

Hat tip to my old friend Kevin Morrill for introducing me to this album many years ago. For those unfamiliar, the late Ennio Morricone was an Italian composer most famous for composing soundtracks for movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This album features Yo-Yo Ma, the world-class cellist playing some of Morricone’s most famous works. This is my go-to album when I need something relaxing to read or write.

That’s all for this week. I’m looking forward to what’s next!