The middle manager predicament

“Landing in the middle of the status hierarchy actually makes us less original. When [psychology researchers] asked people to generate ideas, their output was 34 percent less original after being randomly assigned a middle-manager role than a president or assistant role. In another experiment, merely thinking about a time that they were in a middle-status role caused participants to generate 20-25 percent fewer ideas […] than thinking about being in a high-status or low-status role.”

-Adam Grant, Originals (p. 84)

I suppose “death by middle management” is basically cliché at this point. But normally I just hear people joking about it. It occurs to me now that middle managers are a good case study for examining the problems with traditional management hierarchies, because middle managers are subject to the stresses both of trying to please those above and trying to be responsible for those below. (To put it another way, the system gives them less than one-person’s-worth of power, yet more than one-person’s-worth of responsibility.)

The way I interpret the experiment’s results above is that being in a power hierarchy at any level stifles creativity, but middle managers receive a double dose.

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