Monday, May 19, 2014

Management and The Art of War

In Sun Tzu's The Art Of War, one of the lessons is that a good strategy involves teaching your staff good tactics, then using the good tactics to advantage. So, today's Harvard B school management, with its emphasis on how much money is made each quarter, and stupid slogans totally misses the point. Following this plan dooms your business to slow death. Toyota seems to have noticed this. Toyota replaces robots with humans. this problem is not confined to the automotive industry.

Readers of this blog may have noticed that there is a bias towards education. So, let's say that you're a leader of a major organization, involving multiple technologies. How do you educate your staff? You could simply hire college graduates. But the pool of graduates is getting smaller. College costs too much except for those lucky enough to be born into wealth. The middle class is becoming part of the poor. It's not enough. And besides, college doesn't teach people how to make your business work. They still need to learn that on the job. Who do they learn it from? Well, they need to learn it from people already doing the job. But doing this means that your business will tend to simply learn how the business operates, not how it should operate. You can get some more input from contractors. After all, these people very likely have worked for your competition. And even if they aren’t currently as good as you are, they have something to teach you, even if it is by obvious bad example. Contractors are currently treated as second class staff. This is not the way to build a smoothly working organization. It’s a way to alienate part of your staff. It was my opinion that engineers should spend at least some of their time on the factory floor figuring out how to make things work easier, faster and safer. And by engineers, i mean everyone who could learn something for the organization.

In order to create strategy that incorporates good tactics, management must learn all the best tactics. But even if the CEO is already an engineer, that doesn't mean (s)he knows all kinds of engineering, or computer science, or networking, or communications security, or telephony, or building design, or logistics, or finances, or marketing and so on. How does one do it? Well, IMO, the CEO should have depth in at least something, but likely many such things. But also, the CEO should have a skills team covering all bases that can provide advice. And the CEO has to know the language of all the skill team members so that the advice can be evaluated. I'm not saying that the CEO should micromanage the whole system. I'm saying that the CEO should be able to build and tune strategy that allows the whole company to work efficiently. One of the things that management of larger companies currently does is build fiefdoms or silos that insulate groups from different disciplines making communication and cooperation between groups slow, difficult, unresponsive and otherwise dysfunctional. These structures build in inflexibility, and one hears "that's not the way we've always done things" (a phrase that is nearly always something that is demonstrably a lie).

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