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The Destructive Force of the CAVE Mentality

9 January 2015

A regular criticism of a lean approach to work is simply that it’s “common sense”. If it’s so “common” however, then how come there are so many work processes that are so complicated, unwieldy and simply do not work?! To say that a lean approach to work is common sense belittles the amount of counter intuitive concepts that exist within the discipline. However, I’d be lying if I said that sometimes it can feel that all that is required in terms of intervention is an injection of a really strong work ethic and an overwhelming desire to improve!

A person who possesses both of these characteristics can be a formidable force within an organisation. The opposite of this, a person who has a CAVE mentality (that’s a Citizen Against Virtually Everything!), can be a hideously destructive force! When teaching, I show a great video “Building a Lean Culture” and the managers in the case study talk about how toxic people with a CAVE mentality can be stating that “they are the one bad apple that can spoil the whole barrel”.

Companies are increasingly putting more and more focus into ensuring that the staff that they employ are the right sort of people who possess not only the skills that they require, but also the right attitude towards work and improvement. Critically, these people need to be keen to learn and develop and are happy to contribute to the success of the organisation.

A trend that I’m currently noticing within operations management is that increasingly high tech companies such as Spotify, Netflix and Valve, are allowing their employees quite a bit of freedom in terms of the tasks that they work on and how they contribute to the company, allowing them the time and space to think innovatively and creatively. They are able to do this because they put a huge focus on a) recruiting the right people b) keeping the right people c) removing the wrong people.

Netflix are very clear in this now famous presentation, that they reward the best and do not tolerate mediocrity. Spotify are very clear about the numerous stages that you’ll need to pass through if you’re going to be allowed to join them.

Valve discuss how they have taken the time and trouble to find and recruit you as a new member of staff and as such, when you do join them, they’ll simply ‘let you get on with it’, finding a role for yourself to work on exciting new projects within an extremely flat organisational structure.

Successful organisations such as those mentioned understand that building their work on a strong foundation of amazing people is the most critical part of their operation. It is important to realise however that a bad organisational system, and encountering a few people with a CAVE mentality, can turn a potential shining star of an employee into an unappreciated, lethargic one. CAVE people have a habit of converting other people to the dark and dingy ways of CAVE life, so it’s not enough to take the time and trouble to hire brilliant, dynamic minds – organisations need to ensure that these minds are given the freedom to fly, are not brought down to earth by negativity too often, and feel supported by an organisation that truly values them.


1 comment
  1. David

    Although I have witnessed the CAVE mentality I never knew there was a term for it so thanks for sharing. Leadership guru John Kotter agrees that one well placed blocker in an organisation can stop an entire change effort as they undermine the vision and dis-empower employees. His solution is if they fail to come on-board then they must be removed from the organisation.

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