What would you do to get ahead? How clear is the path to advancement in your organization? Does your team have both a common goal and a shared understanding of the means to reach it? What can we learn from criminal behavior in this regard? In Malcolm Gladwell’s recent take on criminal upward mobility, he references The Crooked Ladder which details how some minorities have utilized organized crime to advance to power, respectability and eventual legitimacy. In effect, criminals often operate as innovators whereby they accept a mainstream social goal (e.g., success) while rejecting the means by which it should be pursued. A better understanding of this goals-versus-means interplay may impact our perception of rules, norms and routine enforcement. Even criminal leaders consider this in their management approach, as sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh recalls the reaction to a sales manager selling diluted product:

“Most guys wouldn’t even think of these ways to make money,” he said. “Here’s a guy who is looking to make an extra buck. I have hundreds of people working for me, but only a few who think like that. You don’t want to lose people like that.” What he needed to do, J.T. told me, was quash Michael’s tactic but not the spirit that lay at its root.

How are you managing the ladders around you?