About the Art of War, Super-planners, Commander’s Intent and Your Management Style

29 June 2010

Innovation and creativity are essential for creating wealth, in the form of ideas for new products and services, improving existing ones, new and better ways to communicate their existence (advertising and sales) and to deliver them (logistics, internet, distribution chains, etc.).

Innovation and creativity, together with the decision to put the necessary effort behind them and invest the money they require, are not the result of planning: one can’t create as a result of a plan or mandate: they need the freedom to imagine, develop and express new and different ideas, ‘play’ what-if scenarios at their own timing, etc. None of this can be planned.

Innovation and creativity can only exist in an atmosphere of freedom, where such activities are not just allowed, but encouraged.

Planners on the other hand, in group or individually, have a vision of how things ‘should be’, including how people (usually others, not themselves) should behave, what they should do, in which sequence, with what intensity, for how long, in what order of priorities, sometimes down to the t. Sure, it does not start that way, but as they ‘wise up’, they set more and more rules regulating an ever increased portion of the other people’s time and activity, oftentimes not just filling their entire workday, but exceeding it with moves, reports, tasks, etc. that require overtime work. Little or no time is allowed for the development of ideas, imagination of better or newer ways to achieve the same or better goals, to anticipate change, etc.

Innovators require time, respect (to be listened to and their ideas to be considered) and freedom to explore, imagine, benchmark (test their ideas), study existing processes to avoid reinventing the wheel, streamlining the processes they discover.

Planners are dogmatic about efficiency and expediency. Exceptions are inefficient distractions for them, so they avoid them, do not allow them and even punish those who dare to step out of the box.

Of course, it is easier to manage an organization with strict planning, as all behave as one. The same set of rules applies to all, behavior is mostly predictable, and everything works like ‘clockwork’, a ‘well oiled machine’, that is to say: like a machine.

But machines do not create, innovate, improve or change. They repeat the same again and again until they are rendered obsolete by a newer machine (your competition coming up with a better product, service or process to get such to market).

Exceptions are the rule. Blind repetition at any level of an organization is a predictable way to obsolescence.

To tightly plan an organization, group of people, community or even a nation, it requires an individual or a group that first of all has enough arrogance to believe that they know better than the diverse ‘cacophony’ of ideas and initiatives that differ from their own. Secondly, it implies that such group or individual admittedly disrespects dissenting ideas and decides to run them over, flatten them with the weight and momentum acquired by power over everyone else. A planner believes so much in his/her ideas, that he/she is willing to suppress the ideas of others to impose their own, silencing or ignoring (‘put your ideas in that box’) any other voices.

Can we backup this concept with real-life experience? We surely can. Unfortunately the world’s history bears the scars of many such experiments in large scale planning: Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, Peron, Chavez, Kim Jong-Il and other powerful visionaries and planners, people that had a ‘vision’ of how a society should be and behave, all-encompassing to the way everyone should work, live their lives, even what they should read and how they should think. In their minds, they believed that their plan was for the general good and welfare. None of them allowed dissent, as that would be ‘reactionary’, detrimental to the overall execution and success of their ‘magnificent’ plan, a distraction if not open subversion. They often dealt with anyone not adopting and following their plan with extreme brutality, which was justified as collateral damage necessary to achieve a higher goal.

Planners accept to sacrifice dissent and individual differences and freedom as a necessary cost to achieve a more important plan that would serve the good of the majority. Other people’s opinions are just obstacles toward a greater good.

Whether called Nazism (Social-Nationalism), Communism or simply tyranny, they all have something in common: planners who decide in advance, what is better for all and how to achieve it. They are inflexible, intolerant and brutal with dissenters. Granted, in a corporation dissenters are not confined in a Gulag, but they have equivalent positions or branches, often referred as ‘Siberia’ in most companies. Coincidentally, Siberia is where most gulags were located. Instead of ‘executed’, dissenters are fired.
Not surprisingly, companies that allow the greater freedom and reward innovation, such as Google, grow at a fast clip and overtake older, more formal, ‘plan based’ organizations that stifle thinking and acting ‘out of the box’. Likewise, countries that opt for a free market society (capitalism) outpace others that choose a more regulated, less free model (socialism). This goes from the macro scale of a nation to the small scale of a business of any size.

When people are allowed to think, imagine new ideas and implement them, when they are listened to and respected, when they are encouraged to take risks and empowered to carry them away, everyone wins (but their competition).

For the Management, it is apparently easier to handle all employees with a single leash, as they all comport themselves alike in predictable ways, like machines. On the long run, this causes this company/nation, etc. to collapse, but managers are human beings, temporary in nature (nobody works or lives forever) and are mostly interested in having a productive and easy turn at the wheel.
When selecting a Company to work for, consider how much freedom is really afforded to you.

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