Personal Finance

Think widely to improve your management



  • Though we may like to consider ourselves open-minded, our survival instincts automatically kick in and we quickly make a judgement about someone, based on past patterns, biases and prejudices.
  • When someone is in the spotlight they may project a certain polished ‘aren’t I great’ image.

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge” said Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist.

When you think about business and management it helps to enquire and read eclectically. To just watch, to see how others do things. To see what you did not see before.

Might be the diligence of a matatu tout, or the Zen-like attention to detail that the lady who sells potatoes by the side of the road exhibits. There is no need to draw the water of business insights from a shallow well, that in a time of climate change, will soon run dry.

Why do we get irritated by someone, what can this tell us? Is it worth looking inward? Why are corporate change efforts in the habit of failing?

Programmed to think quickly

When you meet someone for the very first time, how long does it take you to form an opinion of them? Likely 30 seconds. Though we may like to consider ourselves open-minded, our survival instincts automatically kick in and we quickly make a judgement about someone, based on past patterns, biases and prejudices.

Nothing wrong with this thinking quickly mechanism, it is just part of the hard-wired [survival mechanism] programming in the human brain. You can’t stop yourself from doing it, but you can be aware of the process.

Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2002 wrote a wonderful book called Thinking, Fast and Slow published in paperback in 2012, that echoed Jung’s observation. Your fast-thinking operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort, with no sense of voluntary control.

Slow thinking requires effort and concentration, for instance 67 x 56 =? Kahneman pointed out that the ‘rationale economic person’ found in textbooks, taught in economics 101 is a myth, they just don’t exist.

With his colleague Amos Tversky, their work focussing on human rationality and irrationality lead to the founding of the school of behavioural economics. Quite simply: we are not the masters of objectivity and reason, we like to think we are.

That irritating manager

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves” is another of Jung’s insights. One of the most difficult things about business is figuring out, for instance, who to trust, who can really deliver on their promises, and who can add genuine value. “You are what you do, not what you say you'll do” is how Jung saw it.

When someone is in the spotlight they may project a certain polished ‘aren’t I great’ image. But listen to their unguarded remarks, what they talk about, what they joke about in a more relaxed setting?

How do they treat others, that may be below their pay grade, when they know no one is watching? How conscientious are they, how much attention do they pay to detail? How long does it take them to respond to an email?

Time to look inward

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” said Jung.

Simply: an insightful manager looks inward, to try and better understand themselves. This inward exploration is not a quick one-off, but a lifelong process of enquiry.

Why do most organisation change efforts flop?

Shifting from the individual to the organisation, all sorts of companies try and make themselves a better place to work, some are often are so bold as to use the adjective ‘transformation’ to describe the process. When all is said and done, organisational change is a difficult journey, with McKinsey suggesting a 1 in 4 chance of success.

But why is the failure rate so high? John Kotter’s eight-step change process that most MBA’s students are taught can work, the steps are clearly defined, it’s not rocket science. But why is there this gap between theory and practice?

There are all sorts of reasons why organisational change efforts flop, where the lack of a ‘walking the talk’ leadership from the top, is only one factor among many. The business press is full of examples of companies and public sector bodies, where once-promising change efforts floundered, regressing back to the mean, of how things always were.

One clue comes from asking the question: How do adults learn? Staff and managers learn mostly by imitation, not be being lectured, or by being preached to on a Zoom call, or [on the equivalent of death] by PowerPoint.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” said Confucius, a Chinese philosopher more than 2,500 years ago. Lecturing and preaching have severe limits, adults learn best by doing, by imitation. Important to make the process fun and engaging, with rewards for the ‘small wins’ that are targeted.

Habits rule everything

You are your habits. For a company to tip the scales, with a positive uplifting culture change initiative it really happens one at a time, individual by individual. When staff see that, thanks to the [revitalized] systems put in place, despite their initial doubts, doing things another way actually works and is to their benefit, change happens.

Eventually, enough of a critical mass is reached. Success happens when a corporate change effort reaches an escape velocity, to break out of the orbit of ‘same old, same old’ mediocrity. And, the tipping point of numbers is reached.

In our world of abundant distractions and [always on] gadgets, strangely, perhaps sometimes resigned to fate, we don’t often take the time to go into a quiet space and just think. Meditation -- with a paradoxical focus on nothingness -- is a valuable tool in your management toolbox. Who knows, you might judge it to be profitable?