Drawing on 3,000 years of management experience

Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-analysis, once gave a lecture to his students with a cigar in his mouth. Holding the cigar up in his hand he said “You see this, it is a phallic symbol”. All the adoring students nodded their heads knowingly.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-analysis, once gave a lecture to his students with a cigar in his mouth. Holding the cigar up in his hand he said “You see this, it is a phallic symbol”.  All the adoring students nodded their heads knowingly.

Freud paused for a minute, and then said........ “But you must never forget, it is also a cigar.” 

Often in management something has a meaning at the surface, but its real influence is at the subconscious level; driving behaviour in a subtle yet powerful way. Effective advertising is like that; something touches you deep inside and you find yourself walking out of Nakumatt with a certain product.

At one level, how we approach management is unduly simplistic, and we know it is, but go ahead anyway.

For instance, your boss says “March revenue target was Rwf 100 million, your unit achieved Rwf 75 million, we have to do better.”

Is this a management, or cowboy comments?  Problem is that the pool of management thought and practice we draw on is too shallow and limited.  

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth” were Goethe’s thoughts.  Same goes for ideas about management and business; it’s a bit primitive to think that concepts about management began in the early 1900’s with Frederick Taylor’s ideas of time and motion and the best way to shovel coal. 

For example, one of the last big management ideas was business process reengineering, a fancy way of saying: when one looks at how organisations function,  focus on the set of key tasks at hand that drive the enterprise, and not what departments they cut across.

Then redesign the company to fit those 3 to 5 core business processes.

But don’t you think, someone on the East African plains stalking antelope for dinner 5,000 years ago understood the business process at hand: stalk, aim, kill, cook and celebrate.

Not to mention the paramount importance of giving the customer (in this case the family clan) what they want?

More than 2,300 years ago, Alexander The Great, a brilliant “business” strategist died at 33 having conquered most of then known world and being the only person ever to be called “great” in their own lifetime.  Was he a good manager?

Yes, because he was able take an army of 50,000 men and defeat Darius’s army of 2 million, by questioning a fundamental assumption. 

But why do we find it difficult to think “outside of the box” like Alexander the Great? It’s because our thinking process relies on patterning, resorting to the familiar.

So what’s the solution? Next time you have something to drink, pick up the cup with the hand you don’t normally use.  Feels odd doesn’t it?  That will remind you to break out in your thinking.

Start to think about how you think – the box like patterns you have imposed on the business.  No, I am not suggesting wild abandon.

Whenever a new possibility comes up – crunch the numbers, do the hard analysis – then be ready to step out and be uncomfortable.   Do you begin to see a pattern?  Pass me that cigar.

David J. Abbott is a management consultant working in Rwanda

dja@abbott.co.ke

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