‘THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING, THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN” – LEONARD COHEN
Below is a complete chapter from Steven Segal's book. This book can be purchased through Amazon: www.amazon.com.au/Business-Feel
Business Feel as Practical Wisdom
Jack Welch is recognised as one of the great corporate leaders of the modern world. It is natural that many managers and leaders would want to learn from him. To this end a number of books have been written on Jack Welch, many of which outline the “Jack Welch way” of leadership and organisational management. Yet one of the outstanding features of Welch is that his way of doing things cannot be reduced to a set of techniques or formulas. Business, he maintains, is not a great science. It is underpinned by being able to trust in “one’s gut.” His success lies in his uncanny business feel.
Welch is not alone in exemplifying the importance of business feel. It is central to the leadership practice of, for example, Andrew Grove of Intel. Worry is the primary form of business feel that underpins Grove’s technical expertise in a number of areas. As we inquire more into the practices of other leaders we see business feel playing a central role in their leadership styles. George Soros, for example, talks of the central role that anxiety has played in his management style. Anita Roddick speaks of herself as having the passion of an obsessive. Ricardo Semler has written of the role of stress in transforming his understanding of organisations. Mort Meyerson identities the role of uncertainty and despair in leading him to rethink leadership. And Lou Gerstner in his time at IBM came to recognise the role of emotions in leadership.
The interesting thing about business feel is that it cannot be learnt in a purely cognitive way. It relies on a feeling for the situation, on being able to make instinctive or intuitive judgements in situation, judgements in which we feel what we are doing is correct without necessarily being able to explain in abstract and rule like terms why it is correct. If we try to follow principles of “business feel” in to conscious and rational a way, we lose the very feel that is the most vital element of business feel.
How, then, can we talk and learn about business feel?
What we shall see during the course of this book is that the abovementioned leaders discovered the importance of business feel in a “philosophical experience,” an experience in which they could no longer take their habitual or conventional ways of thinking about management for granted. Their day to day experiences as managers challenged them to think about their practices as managers in new ways. As they questioned their habitual ways of doing things, so they began to see their own practices and the practice of management in general in a new light.
All the leaders mentioned in this book experienced themselves, at one time or another, as being outside of the socially approved habitual way of doing things. Ricardo Semler, for example, thought of himself as a maverick. Jack Welch says that one needs to be “crazy” to be a leader. Andrew Grove sees himself as “paranoid,” while Anita Roddick sees a sense of being an “outsider” as central for her entrepreneurial attunement. Perhaps the only one who does not fit this mould clearly is Lou Gerstner but it was as an “outsider” who was invited inside that he lead GE from its old way of doing things into a new way of being. And CEO’s like Mort Meyerson have shown how their experience of depression and anxiety opened up opportunities for moving from old but stale ways of doing things to new and invigorating ways of leading.
Yet none of these leaders is or was so crazy that they were out of touch with the world in which they worked. Far from being out of touch with the world, their view from the outside gave them a perspective on the inside that those who were on the inside could not see. For like a fish in water we do not see the water that we are in. Only when we are deprived of water do we begin to see the water that we are in.
Existential experiences of being an outsider as the basis for insight
The experience of gaining perspective on a situation by being an outsider is an “existential experience.” Generally speaking existential philosophers have developed a framework in which to show how experiences of “craziness,” “paranoia,” “stress” and being an “outsider” enable us to see the world in new ways. Existential philosophers were both part of but unhappy with the society in which they found themselves. Fredric Nietzsche, for example, felt very alone and isolated from the mainstream. Soren Kierkegaard was tormented by a sense of profound alienation from the Christianity of his childhood. Jean Paul Sartre writes of intense feelings of alienation generated by mass culture and Martin Heidegger’s early life was spent caught between the familiarity of his catholic upbringing and the uncertainty of the unfamiliar new and modern world. Martin Buber speaks about a holy insecurity which linked him to the traditions from which he felt estranged.
In all cases they were able to turn this experience of being on the margins of society into opportunities to reflect on society and to develop philosophies which have inspired both scholars and those grappling with the question of the meaning of existence. In this book we shall see how some of those recognised as outstanding corporate leaders have been able to turn existential experiences into opportunities for leading and managing in new ways.
Leading in the Breakdown of old traditions and not yet of new traditions
Both the existential thinkers and the leaders used in this book operate in what will be called the “cracks of convention,” where the stability of the old and familiar habits for doing things has broken down, the new is on the horizon but has not yet been firmly established. They are able to thrive in the space between the collapse of the certainty of the old and the uncertainty of the not yet of the new. Indeed, they are able to turn the experience of disruption into opportunities for new possibilities. For the existential philosophers, the uncertainty experienced in being in the cracks of conventions provides the dynamic energy for philosophical thought. Outside of the cracks of convention, philosophical thought, from the existential perspective, is sterile. Where life is simply routine, philosophy becomes abstract and empty. Similarly the leaders who operate in the cracks of convention are able to thrive and inspire others to thrive in the movement through the cracks of convention.
The aim of the book is to enable managers to achieve excellence in their practice by learning how to turn disruptive management experiences into learning opportunities. The key to doing this is learning the philosophical skills of management. The outline of these skills is the central theme of the book. These skills will be developed by situating the management experiences of recognised corporate leaders such as Jack Welch of GE, and Andrew Grove of Intel in the context of the views of recognised figures in the history of philosophy such as Socrates, Plato, Jean Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger.
Transition in approaches to Management
The way in which managers and management theorists think about management is currently undergoing a transition. Historically management was rooted in the scientific management account of Fredric Taylor. Today there is increasing dissatisfaction with this approach. Yet management still holds onto the idea of being a science. Because management discourse and practice is so embedded in a scientific approach, movement beyond it is fraught with difficulty. As Jack Welch says to change an embedded tradition such as scientific management is a hundred-year project.
This book examines the process of moving beyond the scientific approach to management. It will do this on three levels: firstly, as has already been stated, it will show the movement from scientific to philosophical conceptions of management is exemplified in a number of corporate leaders. Secondly, it will show some contemporary trends in management theory imply a philosophical rather than a scientific framework. Thirdly, it will develop a concept of education appropriate for the transition from a scientific to a philosophical notion of management.
Regarding the first level, the book will demonstrate how the philosophical skills of those corporate leaders mentioned above have enabled them to move beyond scientific accounts of management. Based on their experience, it will also suggest that a philosophical rather than a scientific base is more appropriate to the changing world in which managers find themselves, and thus that managers need to complement their scientific understanding with a philosophical attunement.
Practical wisdom, Business Feel and “Emotional Intelligence”
In this sense the book will develop in rich ways some of the themes that emerge in the Emotional Intelligence literature. However, this book will argue that the conventional literature on emotional intelligence does not do justice to the experience of business feel, that we need to go back to notions of practical wisdom or practical reasoning situated within the philosophical tradition in order to fully appreciate the notion of “business feel.” Situating the notion of “business feel” in the context of the history of philosophy will also make the notion more accessible to business people who habitually are averse to any talk of feel. It will also allow us to integrate feeling and cognition in a way that does not privilege one over the other.
In terms of the second level, the book will also show how a number of contemporary trends in management theory presuppose a philosophical rather than a scientific disciplinary framework. It will show how Hammer and Champy’s concept of re-engineering, how Christen Clayton’s concept of the innovator’s dilemma, how Fernando Flores’ idea of the “entrepreneurial life,” how the concept of creative destruction put forward by Kaplan and Foster in their work on creative destruction and how Boleman and Deal’s concept of organisational frames presuppose a philosophical framework.
Educating for Existential Leadership
The book is also concerned with the changing process of education implied in changing from a scientific to a philosophical conception of management. It will outline an existential hermeneutic account of management education in which theories and case studies are situated within the context of the experiences of managers and not discussed in a way that is detached from the experiences of managers. Situating the theories and case studies in the context of the experience of managers makes it possible for managers to not only learn the theories and the case studies but to explicitly examine their own hidden and taken for granted assumptions of management – something that is not necessarily achieved through studying either theories or case studies.
The book is addressed to a number of audiences:
Managers who need the skills to turn negative experiences into learning opportunities and who are also engaged in a transition from a scientific management to a philosophical style of management, management theoreticians concerned with articulating the transition from a scientific management to a philosophical conception of management, management educators frustrated with traditional forms of management education and open to an existential hermeneutic account of management education, management consultants working at the interface between theory and practice and to philosophers who believe that philosophy is a practical activity.
The book is written in an “existential hermeneutic” style. This means that it situates theory in the context of the experiences of managers. It begins with the experience of managers who, in transforming negative management experiences into learning opportunities, also find themselves in a shift from a scientific to a philosophical account of management. The theoretical expression of their experiences is then built on to their journey. In this way theory is not imposed on but emerges out of experience. This ensures that the theory is always discussed in the context of experience and so it ensures that theory is accessible to those who have no background in the particular theories or philosophies developed in the book.
The book is written in such a way that it can be read on a number of levels: for the practicing manager it can be read as a series of skills that allow him or her to reflect on their practices. For the management theorist it provides a framework to examine the transition from a scientific to a philosophical account of management. For the management educator it provides an educational process for learning from experience. For the consultant, it provides a framework to integrate theory and practice and for the philosopher it opens up the realm of the practical.
This book can be purchased through Amazon: www.amazon.com.au/Business-Feel