Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Management of the Absurd

I'm reading the book "Management of the Absurd" by Richard Farson (Simon & Schuster, NY, 1996).  Let me share with you how he opens the book.  "All of us like to think that human affairs are essentially rational, that they work like other things in our world, and that we should therefore be able to make them work for us. The wealth of experience that fails to support this notion never seems to faze us. Small wonder, then, that it may require some effort to accept the fact that life is absurd, that human affairs usually work not rationally but paradoxically, and that we can never quite master our relationships with others."
He goes on to say, "The idea that we learn from our failures is built on the notion that we learn from our own experience, that experience is the best teacher.  In one sense that is obviously true, because experience is really all we have.  But to learn from experience means that we have to process it in some way that makes it available to us. We have to analyze it. And, most of us, for some reason or another, don't do that. We don't take the time and energy, we don't want to know the unpleasant aspects of it, we don't want to look deeply into our failures.  Experience could be the best teacher, but it seldom is.  As an example, organization consultant Robert Tannenbaum says that too many senior managers who have been at the job thirty years don't necessarily have thirty years experience - they have more like one year of experience, thirty times."
As we consider issues in our organizational diagnoses, it is important to look for both individual willingness and organizational willingness to REFLECT on failures as well as success.  I might mention that Farson also says that "we learn not from our failures but from our successes and the failure of others."  True reflection - "nothing is as invisible as the obvious."

1 comment:

Susan de la Vergne said...

“As you look back over your life, you will discover that success and failure are sometimes indistinguishable and highly interdependent,” Dr. Farson says in his latest book, THE POWER OF DESIGN. He recommends greeting failure with open arms.

Not only should organizations reflect on failure, as you say here, they should allow it, even encourage it. Shunning, trying to avoid failure, any failure, has led to an ultra risk-averse approach to business. I believe, in part, that’s led to the fragility of companies we see today.