Uncertainty In Management

The answers to the questions raised in this post will come, hopefully, in the comments box for this post. I am however sure that there will be comments that will provoke thought and perhaps some interesting discussions that may produce the answers. Perhaps even from GLH!

“What Would Dad Say”
, is a fascinating blog with some unusual insights posted by G L Hoffman. I have made a habit of visiting his blog to enjoy some humor, some management topics and some odd subjects. GLH’s taste is eclectic as is his knowledge. His diagrams are crisp and say more than words can ever say. None of his posts ever fail to appeal to me. His tag line “Frequently wrong. Never in doubt.” says all that there is to say about his blog!

Recently, GLH wrote about a Management Topic to which I took exception, and you can see his post, my comments and his response to my comments. I suspect that he is just being polite.

The post however got me thinking about my days in Management and this post is about my own beliefs which need not appeal to everyone but, for what they are worth, I give them here. I have not been in active Management for the past eight years and so, I may even be outdated. The principles however, are unlikely to have changed dramatically in the interim.

My ability to articulate my findings have been greatly enhanced by my study of Vedanta, a school of Indian philosophy. The Bhagwat Geetha, particularly has been an inspiration and so has been my Guru’s hammering of some eternal truths into my thick skull. (Another post on the differences between a Guru and a Teacher is on its way!)

In Management, as I find in general life too, there is one thing that we cannot avoid. That is, some kind of action. We cannot just live a life without taking some action or the other. The only exception to this rule is when we are in deep sleep. Even when we are in the dream state, I would call the process of dreaming as action. From waking up, getting up, brushing our teeth and so on and so forth, we are constrained to be in some kind of action, physical or mental in our waking and dreaming state. All our actions are also with an outcome firmly held in our minds and expected to accrue as a result of the action that we take. Even brushing our teeth, though may become routine and which we do not think about, is done with a view to a obtaining a result, which could be hygiene, prevention of disease etc.

All actions therefore are taken with an end result in mind and undertaken either consciously, or as a habit and even unconsciously. An example for the last could be lighting up a cigarette without even being conscious of doing so.

For the purpose of this post, which started off, because of the post on Management in GLH’s blog, I shall restrict myself to those actions that we take consciously and with a result or outcome in mind.

To undertake any action, we need

• knowledge,
• skill and
• effort.

These three factors can be fine tuned to a great extent by training, repetition, and application/ discipline. With these three inputs, we complete taking the action and expect a desired outcome.
The outcome of any action however can be only of one of four possibilities.

• Get the opposite of what was expected,
• Get more or less than what was expected,
• Get something completely different to what was expected and
• Get what was expected.

It is common sense, and not rocket science, that these possibilities are the ones that we live with on a day to day basis.

Since any one of the four possible outcomes can become a reality for us, we must be prepared to accept whatever comes. If we are prepared thus, a lot of avoidable emotional upheavals can be eliminated from our lives.

The three inputs, knowledge, skills and effort by themselves however, are not adequate to produce any result for an action. There is the fourth dimension to this paradigm and that is the uncertainty aspect, which I call ‘chance’ or divine intervention. Since I am a believer, for lack of a better alternative, I accept whatever comes my way, arising out of actions taken by me, as the Lord’s grace and get on with the next project. Once the outcome has become a reality, my famous tag-line, ‘Wisdom By Hindsight’ comes into play, and forms the basis for my ‘knowledge, skills and effort’ inputs for my next endeavor increasing the chances of getting the desired result with the same inputs the next time around.

This was the point that I was making in my comment in the post where I had said that flexibility and doing one’s best under the given circumstances is all that one can do. All wisdom coming from the so called experts is by hindsight, given a certain set of circumstances. Unfortunately, the circumstances and the people involved keep changing all the time, or at least most of the time, and this is why ‘Managers’ are needed in any case!

No amount of formal education in Management, or Economics, both of which I had acquired, can prepare one for the uncertainties of actual Management. If they could have, we would not be in the kind of mess that we are in now would we? We should never have failures at all, should we not? Just take a look at books like “In Search Of Excellence” by Tom Peters, or “Good To Great” by Jim Collins. Companies that were doing well, admired and the authors extolled, fell flat within a few years of being written about! If all this is true, why do we then continue to have fancy colleges and universities teaching these subjects and why do students study them and employers, hire such students?

Absolutely,’The’ last paragraph. – I took the advice of Jean and cut pasted the original last paragraph as the first paragraph for this post. I think that the effect is really startling. What do you think?

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