n-co technology management

a side-trip to the human park

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Resource Utilisation: Turnaround at Walt Disney

In 1984, Michael Eisner became CEO of the Walt Disney Company. Between 1984 and 1988, Disney’s sales revenue increased from US$ 1.6 billion to 3.7 billion, net income from US$ 98 million to 570 million, and the stock market’s valuation of the company rose from US$ 1.8 billion to 10.3 billion.

The key to the Disney turnaround was the mobilisation of Disney’s resource base. Among Disney’s underutilised resources were 28’000 acres of land in Florida. With the help of the Arvida Corporation, a land development company acquired in 1984, Disney began hotel, resort and residential development of their land holdings. New attractions were to Epcot Center, and the new theme park Disney MGM Studio was built. They expanded into resort vacations, convention business, and residential housing. The huge investment in the theme parks were accompanied by a heavier marketing effort and increased admission changes. A chain of Disney Stores was established to push sales of their merchandise.

In order to exploit their huge film library, Disney introduced VHS sales of their movies and licensed them to TV networks. The most ambitious part of the turnaround was Disney’s regeneration as a movie studio. Eisner began a massive expansion of the Touchstone label with the objective of putting Disney’s film studios to fuller use, and establishing the company in the teenage and adult markets. Disney Studios doubled the number of movies in production and by 1988, it became America’s leading studio in terms of box office receipts.

[Source: Grant (2010) Contemporary Strategy Analysis]

You get what you focus on – so focus on the positive!

  1. Stated in the positive: What do you want?
  2. Where do you want this outcome?
  3. When do you want this outcome?
  4. With whom do you want this outcome?
  5. What would be the evidence that you had achieved your outcome?
  6. How would you know if you were getting your outcome?
  7. What would you be doing to get it?
  8. What would you be seeing and hearing?
  9. What would you be feeling?
  10. How would your represent this?
  11. What would be a demonstration of it?
  12. What resources can you activate to get this outcome?
  13. What resources can you acquire to get this outcome?
  14. What can you begin to do today?
  15. What can you continue to do?
  16. What would happen if you got this outcome?
  17. How will getting this outcome affect other areas of your life?

“But we must add ‘in a complete life’. For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.” [Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, I, 6]

Stocks are not Shares

People think of stocks as all the same thing. But different stocks look very different. Suppose a company decides to issue a lot more shares. And with the proceeds of the shares, invest in bonds. If they do that really aggressively, what are you owning when you buy the stock? Well the original business was diluted down to – the share issuance is aggressive enough – to negligible proportions. That’s dilution. At the same time, the stock is now really represented by the bonds the company owns.

Or in reverse, a company can do the opposite of that. They can borrow money and buy back shares. And then that’s the opposite of dilution. Then the company becomes leveraged. And it becomes riskier than most stocks because it is kind of an amplified stock. What is the essence, what is this thing called stocks? They are an essential element of a modern capitalist economy for the functions they fulfill. Some people think they own a part of a company if they buy their shares. But it is not the case. The right of shareholders to contest the appropriation of the company’s assets – it was the key issue in a leading case in corporate law, Short Vs Treasury Commissioners, and the shareholders cost. Their Lordships went on to say, in unequivocal terms, ’shareholders are not, in the eyes of the law, part owners of the company’.”

Why Many Projects Go so Terribly Wrong

“Management is essentially an art and, as a manager, you need to learn continuously about your situation. You can do this by studying yourself and the way in which you carry out your work. This is termed ‘reflective practice’.”
[Lawless and Stapleton, 2004]

The software development success rate published in the Standish Group’s Chaos Report is among the most commonly cited research in the IT industry. Since 1995, the Standish Group has reported rather abysmal statistics — from a rate of roughly one-in-six projects succeeding in 1995 to roughly one-in-three projects today. Other surveys like the ones from TechRepublic Inc. (a subsidiary of Gartner Group) are of the same tenor. Although these surveys list project success/failure factors (like realistic schedules, budgeting, leadership of the project manager, etc.) and other interesting data, they do not question the underlying problems responsible for the failures.

Experience with contemporary project management courses and presentations in my country leave me with the impression that management problems can be wrapped into neat technical working packages (Raelin, 1995). If students are left with this impression, they may be unable to transform knowledge gained in one context to another (Reilly, 1982), as this form of learning is done individually and in private (Pleasants, 1966; Polanyi, 1966; Reber, 1993). Hence, if this is the kind of project management knowledge these courses produce, there is no surprise in high project failure rates.

In a wider context, the situation reflects an ongoing discussion about the use of management education in management practice (Hayes and Abernathy, 1980; Cheit, 1985), highlighted by Mintzberg’s scepticism (1996 and 2004) who “was finding too much of a disconnect between the practice of managing […] and what went on in classrooms” (2004, p. ix) and even claims that formal management education is hampering good management practice and therefore the economy. The objections are manyfold:

  • Formal management education separates learning from practice

Education programmes may leave students with the impression that management problems can be packed into neat technical entities (Raelin 1994, p. 303), whereas only later they detect the realities of power and politics at their workplace. Raelin and Coghlan (2006) take the view that formal educational programs often miss opportunities to use the rich experiences of working managers to produce both learning and knowledge.

  • Formal management education is inappropriate to real world settings and therefore to management practice

Reilly (1982) questions whether graduates can think independently, function without sufficient data, change their approach in the course of action, negotiate, and continually reflect and inquire. Cheit (1985) summarises that management programmes have failed to meet society’s needs.

  • (Project) managers cannot be developed in classrooms

It is commonly accepted that experience forms the basis for knowledge (Raelin and Coghlan, 2006). Mintzberg (1973) argues that managers learn in their day-to-day enactment of their managerial roles. Where courses have reportedly made an impact, they have given insight through direct application to real-life issues (McCall et al., 1988).

There are always values at stake in management practice: time, money, people with their hidden agendas and salience, clients, etc. – whereas management techniques infiltrated in sterile classroom settings are free from these pressures. There is nothing wrong about learning certain topics, like corporate finance, in a traditional classroom setting. However, Mintzberg’s (1996) critique goes beyond the teaching of technical subjects in formal management education. If the tacit or implicit knowledge in management practice is not converted into explicit knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995) underpinned by theory, managers are unable to develop a cohesive explanation of their skills (Viljoen et al., 1990). For example, there is no single approach to project management that is best in all circumstances; managers need to adapt their approach to the requirements of different situations. This is called the contingency approach to management (Lawless and Stapleton, 2004).

This likely supports the notion that tacit knowledge distinguishes successful from unsuccessful managers (Argyris 1999), and that tacit knowledge is a product from experience in the real world (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995), not in the protected realm of theory in classrooms. It is a tangible experience for most managers that management learning does not exclusively happen in classrooms, but on the job (Dawes et al. 1996). Additionally, management learning happens through working with others while all engage in real-life problems (Revans 1971). As Raelin et al. (2006) put it aptly:

“Experiencing itself is not knowledge but is a constitutive element of knowledge. Experiencing needs to be accompanied by some sort of inquiry into experience, an inquiry that seeks to frame meaning and judgments and that leads to thoughtful action.”

This may boil down to the notion that project management is not a profession, but an occupation. Professionalism is supported by education, and real expertise is built through formal reflective practice, also referred to as triple-loop learning (Raelin and Coghlan, 2006).

Nietzsche and Jesus

I am not a Christian in any conventional sense of the name. For sure I do not like religion, but that is likely to be misconstrued as faithlessness. But the truly faithless are the forsaken and the suicidal, and I am far from being a suicide or a nihilist. To be a Christian, I would have to feel guilty about being alive, or to look forward to the end of the world.

One should not confuse Christianity as a historical reality with that one root that its name calls to mind: the other roots from which it has grown have been far more powerful. It is an unexampled misuse of words when such manifestations of decay and abortions as “Christian church,” “Christian faith” and “Christian life” label themselves with that holy name. What did Christ deny? Everything that is today called Christian.” [Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 158]

Most of what is today called “religion”, let alone “Christian religion,” is god-forsaken, and has become, itself, “the abomination of desolation” as described in Revelations. It has no spiritual content whatsoever, which is what Nietzsche meant by “the death of God” and in describing the churches as “the tomb of God” and the tombstones of God. For Nietzsche, Christianity had become empty of all positive or progressive spiritual content or direction.

Many of “the Faithful of the True Faith” hold that mere observance of the 10 commandments, the Decalogue or Mosaic Law, suffices to be recognised as Christian or “religious” or even “spiritual”. In fact, the so-called “ten commandents” (in Hebrew, they are called “the 10 terms” or “10 matters”) have no positive spiritual content whatsoever. They are the minima moralia of a political and social constitution, called “the covenant”, designed to fuse twelve fractious Hebrew tribes into a functioning national collective called “Israel”, and in more comprehensive terms, are instruments for overcoming man’s more animal spitits.

“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”
[Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Prologue, §3]

“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.” [Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Prologue, §3]

The Decalogue is a formula for ape-taming, and little else. That this came to be seen as even the essence of a spiritual or religious life is one of the great perversions of history.

The “new dispensation” brought by Jesus was originally discovered by Plato and adapted by Christianity. The Neoplatonic single principle, “the One”, is the essence of the Gospel according to John. And it is why we divide history between A.D. and B.C. or between New Testament and Old Testament: The Old Testament is concerned with ape-taming. The New Testament with overman-making. This is the meaning of what is called “conversion”, or having one’s face turned in a new direction. The Old Testament was concerned with beating back or disciplining the ape-man or “natural man”, and the Old Testament prophets were continuously calling back the lapsed to remembrance of “God” because of man’s tendency to revert to the ape. The whole mood of the Old Testament is “thou shalt not…!” But the whole thrust of the New Testament is “thou shalt…!”

“Be thou therefore perfect, even as thy Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:48) is a completely different imperative or commandment than we find in the Old Testament and in the Mosaic Law. It is not a negation, but an affirmation, no longer to fight against the ape in man, but to transcend it. It is for this reason that Jesus said, “I come not to change the law but to fulfil it” or “the Law is made for man, not man for the law”. While the Old Testament was obsessed with origin, the New Testament is obsessed with destiny. And this is what got Jesus condemned, executed, and martyred as a blasphemer and a heretic.

Jesus had a casual attitude towards the Mosaic Law because he recognised it as purely utilitarian and not as complete in itself. His call to mankind to transcend itself was a greater and more creative challenge than constantly merely beating back the ape or obsessing about the reversion to the “natural man”. And this is the vocation or calling that both William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche responded to, but who were considered lunatic and even evil for doing so.