Thursday, 28 May 2020

An Easy Approach To Business

Updated: September 10, 2011 4:29 pm

We live in a complex, non-linear world—and the challenge is how to embrace the chaos and ambiguity of modern life. The author is keen to stress that this is not a web phenomenon. ‘Something interesting is happening beyond the world of social media: public meetings are suddenly all the rage.’ So, it would be fare to say that this book isn’t written from the perspective of Silicon Valley or some other hotbed of new age and often, to a northern European ear, somewhat naive business thinking, it is hopefully grounded in real business—what the writer typically describes, somewhat unfairly, as “the world of big, boring companies, dealing with everyday big, boring issues”. The writer has therefore included as many case studies on major corporations as he has on the type of smaller, leading-edge enterprises that tend to dominate most business books. The first part of this book explores the forces that underpin the need to loosen up, from the increasing complexity facing all institutions and the growth of new types of informal collective behaviour to the impact of social media and generational shifts at the top and bottom of the corporate hierarchy. The book will then describe what it would characterise as the end of certainty—a collapse of faith in the tight, empirical, rational models that underpinned our financial and political systems and approach to business and how this is being replaced by a new wave of thinking in many of our financial institutions, corporations, business schools and political parties. The book showcases that the launch of David Cameron’s Big Society vision and the new coalition government’s use of participative techniques to involve the electorate in policy and spending decisions, have provided the writer with a particularly timely case study on what appears to be a loosening of the political process. There is talk in the corridors of Westminster about the emergence of a ‘post-bureaucratic age’, brought about by the transformational power of the internet and the public’s desire to scrutinise the behaviour of its so-called political masters.

The book also tries to make a balanced argument. Business theories, models and definitions of what constitutes good business practice are innately oppositional. Every iconoclastic, sweeping assertion by the evangelists of social media and Silicon Valley thinking, criticising generally accepted business practices, receives a counterblast from business professionals, who regard much of this thinking as puerile, contrarian and naive nonsense. The highlights that finding a pragmatic balance, without appearing to sit on the fence, is tricky. It is always easier to write a polemical rant than a sober assessment of pros and cons, but the necessary oversimplification at the heart of any polemical argument makes it difficult to apply any lessons to the real world. Clever sound bites and glib management aphorisms rarely translate into smart strategies. The writer’s contention therefore is that institutions cannot be entirely loose—there has to be some structure and organising principle, otherwise complete chaos will ensue. The book underlines that business guru Peter Drucker talked about how ‘flexible free-form organisations place greater load on their members than do the traditional command and control structures’, while Abraham Maslow made the point that a more democratic style of management was more demanding than an authoritarian approach, because it required more of the individual. It is all, too easy to see why lazy leaders and weak institutions revert to authoritarianism and the illusion of control; it just saves time. Paradoxically, for any institution, being loose is far more difficult than being tight. It takes time and effort to create an organisational culture that can operate without a command and control mindset. This book is a well-read guide.

By Ashok Kumar

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