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Paradigm Paradox

Asked about the art of team management, Casey Stengel once remarked that it’s about getting paid for home runs other …

Asked about the art of team management, Casey Stengel once remarked that it’s about getting paid for home runs other guys hit. It is a boom market for publishers of business books, most of which would have us believe it’s no longer that simple. After a decade of downsizing and restructuring, any CEO who has survived is a natural target for the mini-industry of consultants trying to explain these changes.

Dominating the discussion last January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was the changing assumptions of corporate organization, leadership, and even the world economy itself. Michael “Mr. Re-engineering” Hammer and Harvard’s Michael “Mr. Competitive Advantage” Porter outlined their respective new models of competition. Each dueled with ABB CEO Percy Barnevik, who thought their schemes a little too cold-blooded. It is well to argue that firms should discard traditional structures, Barnevik said, but every change causes as much disruption as relief.

During the 1980s, the management buzzword was quality. This was quickly followed by TQM, customer satisfaction, business process re-engineering, team management, and empowerment. We haven’t gotten to globalization yet. Conceptual overload may be a natural consequence of coping with so many requirements and our organizations’ inability to respond to them. In this and future issues, Chief Executive will examine how companies search for the appropriate model of change. This month’s logistics roundtable and accompanying article on supply chain management details how this humble segment of operations is becoming a competitive model in its own right. Our

January 1995 edition will mark our 100th issue published. In it, we will provide a broader perspective of the changes CEOs have faced since CE was first published in the summer of 1977.

Charles Handy, a Fellow of the London Business School and author of “The Age of  Unreason” and “The Age of Paradox,” writes that he learned the wrong message in school, namely that every major problem already had been solved. Unfortunately, the solution was in the teacher’s head, not his own. In a world of certainty, education was supposed to transfer the information from her head to his. Later, he realized this was not only wrong but crippling. “The world is not an unsolved puzzle, waiting for the occasional genius to unlock its secrets,” he wrote in a Harvard Business Review article recently republished in “The Relevance of a Decade.” “The world is an empty place waiting to be filled. We have to show that efficiency can march hand in hand with humanity, and that there is room for the human soul in the corridors of our institutions.”

CEOs, we trust, already have absorbed this lesson.

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