“History teaches that history teaches us nothing “- Hegel

28 12 2008

I previously mentioned the MIT video with Henry Mintzberg and Ricardo Semler discussing the value and future of MBA and management teaching. Semler makes the point, “How is it possible to teach for the future (of management) when we only have a poor understanding of the past?”

Semler is pointing out that Management as a science is not as proven and strong as it might be. The poor assessment of the past (albeit interpreted retrospectively) makes interpretation of management action and reaction difficult and necessarily brings into question the teaching of future managers.

Importantly, this is not to devalue or criticise established thinking on Management practice merely point out that it doesn’t appear to be working as well as we are all hoping it would. (insert appropriate example- Mintzberg rather drew a bead on President Bush…)

tay-bridgeNow, coming from a different paradigm I am actually used to things not be quite as we are taught but not throwing my hands up and rejecting everything. Up to the early 1980’s no-one seriously believed that a bacterium could live in extreme acid environment of the human stomach. Now, it is recognised that not only does H pylori exist but thrives in pH =1 and that, contrary to established knowledge, it  is the principal cause of  gastric ulcers and gastric malignancies. Moving rapidly on from that new knowledge it has been found that by eradicating the bug from a stomach it might even cure those diseases within it. Medical science has recognised an error of knowledge, corrected it and progressed.

Management science must also make this sort of progress.

It strikes me that on a personal level this should be achieved thru’ the reflective and iterative processes of Action Research. Hegel of course is right as we seem to learn very little from history in a global sense. However history teaches us nothing only if we fail to observe the past, ask appropriate questions and learn from the results. Furthermore, if the answers we develop don’t work, we should ask the questions again and again testing our answers to see if we have made progress. It’s not rocket science really, is it?

What has history taught you?


edit- Bob C kindly sourced the full quote found ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of History’: “But what experience and history teach is this, – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” This can be read in context here.

The Four Arts of a Scholar – 四艺

23 12 2008

As I mentioned in a previous post, my nom de plume comes partly as an expression of my learning status; insei, a student.

The ancient Chinese believed that a Scholar needed to learn and study to be proficient in the four arts; qin琴, qi棋, shu书, and hua画  and thus become accepted in discussions amongst other educated men.  Importantly these skills themselves of playing a musical instrument, playing a complex board game, calligraphic poetry and painting were not the end point for the scholar. Acquiring these skills was a demonstration of the individual’s strength in reason, creation, expression and dexterity.

We recently watched a video presentation from MIT involving a discussion between Ricardo Semler and Henry Mintzberg in which the latter bemoans the current state of management and leadership. I intend to discuss a few of the points made in later blogs but concentrate in this on this concept of training for management.

Mintzberg comments in the video that he believes candidates for MBA courses should not be sought directly from graduate schools but from industry itself. He believes the candidate should have learnt the arts and crafts of their business by experience, progressed upwards through the organisation so that then, when training in management they might apply their own experience to their learning of management principles rather than take the learnt experience of others and apply it to a job they don’t understand.

The ancients (and I don’t mean Prof Mintzberg) appreciated that to take on such responsibilities one must have experience and understanding of  life expressed in “the four arts” before taking on scholarly pursuits and similarly Mintzberg feels that experiential understanding of the organisation is central to the training of a manager why then do so many clinicians in the NHS move directly into management with no formal training in what is clearly a complex and difficult task?

I believe I have learnt my arts of the scholar (ars longa vita brevis) and now I am learning the skills required for management and clinical leadership. I am being encouraged to take on a managerial role in my organisation without having any experience or training in such a task.  Should I do so and learn by my mistakes or is it better to listen to those with wisdom and first gain insight to then apply that knowledgeably?

I would value, as always, comments on this.

Great tool, wrong job

19 11 2008

right tool, wrong job
This is the MacLaren MP4-22.

It has a 2.4l engine, 7 forward and 1 reverse gears and does 0-60mph in 2.3 seconds. It corners like it is on huge rails, it can come to a perfect stop from 185mph in 3.2 secs and withstand an immense crash at 200mph from which the occupant can simply walk away. It is, without doubt, one of the pinnacles of automotive perfection.

But it is bugger all use for a family of four going to Cornwall for a two week surfing holiday.

It is becoming more and more apparent to me from our studies that current business management practice is well thought out, developed, insightful and constantly being updated. However even in its most generic and advanced form, applied by experts with tact and care it is quite simply the wrong tool when applied to management in medicine.

The analogy clearly is extreme and obviously there are parts of management theory that are applicable and being effectively utilised but from my point of view it appears only one person would get to Cornwall but really REALLY fast!

and without any luggage.

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