- Contradictions are valuable.
- They make us to think, to question, and fuel the process of corporate change.
- Contradictions can serve as the fuel that creates the force for managers, to reach an [almost] escape velocity, to move out of a dull and boring orbit.
Contradictions are valuable. They make us to think, to question, and fuel the process of corporate change. Contradictions can serve as the fuel that creates the force for managers, to reach an [almost] escape velocity, to move out of a dull and boring orbit.
In 1687, Isaac Newton published The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy that some have argued is the most important book in recent history. Newton’s general theory of movement and change allowed one to explain and predict the movement of everything, from apples to asteroids, based on three mathematical laws.
Unfortunately, in management, we can’t just plug in the numbers and then know with certainty the velocity, direction and eventual position of a body. If business was just about arithmetic, then mathematicians would be the business leaders. The laws of physics are free from inconsistency; in contrast, management is ‘man made’, or to be gender-sensitive, ‘human made’ and, therefore, packed with internal inconsistencies.
These inconsistencies are not necessarily a bad thing as we try and reconcile the contradictions, thereby fuelling change. It creates movement, generating the happiness one gets from seeing and feeling progress.
Are the decisions you face at work clear-cut? Or, is the evidence on hand filled with ambiguity and uncertainty? In other words, one just doesn’t know, things are constantly shifting and depending on the source, the analysis is contradictory and foggy.
Myth of the entrepreneur glorified in boat loads of business books and TV shows is when the risk-taking individual steps out and tries to make their bright business idea fly. Yet, the evidence shows that a majority of start-ups fail, and new businesses collapse, yet we keep extolling the virtues of entrepreneurship.
There is an addiction to planning, to attempt to take too many variables and project these into the future, and with certainty say this will be the positive and profitable outcome.
We love business plans, yet few survive their first contact with the customer. We forgot this and that, and just plain get it wrong. Back to the drawing board to revise the product or service, and the business model, to give it another optimistic attempt.
In contrast, some long-term planning is well done, even insightful. A prime example would be Vision 2030, Kenya’s economic growth blueprint published in 2007 done McKinsey.
Based on three pillars, each with flagship projects, it has served as a real call to action — taking an incredibly complex problem, and making it understandable.
In the last, say 20 years, since the internet arrived in Kenya, there has been a virtual explosion of information. For the cost of connection, one accesses world-class training on, say, YouTube, on the phone, yet have we become any smarter?
Knowledge is the booby prize; if you don’t take the step of being in action, trying to take the knowledge and transfer it into skills its value will remain at the few cents it cost you to access it.
We extol the virtues of market leaders, with a halo effect. Recently, Safaricom’s share of combined investor wealth on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) touched a high of 63 percent, while other shares have lost value.
In contrast to other telecoms companies and other leaders in financial services, has the management of Safaricom been so stratospheric? Probably not, but what has driven the share value is both the focus on the fundamentals and good old plan emotion, an optimism that the future will be better.
In 15 to 20 years, it is likely that the Kenyan market leader that grabs all the attention may be some now struggling start-up or perhaps it has not been born.
With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and [almost 100 times] faster connections with 5G, the pace of change of the Kenyan business will accelerate – with answers just a click away, accessed from that computer in your pocket.
So, the nature of jobs, the labour market will change, with boring repetitive tasks done increasingly by AI. What will not change is that managers that rise will be capable problem-solvers, able to thrive in a workplace filled with tensions and being able to deal with just about impossible dilemmas.
Answers will abound, those who go onward and upward on the corporate ladder will be the enquiring perceptive minds who can ask the right questions.
Young 40-something philosopher and historian, Yuval Harari, points out that contradictions are part of life, and act as a force for good. Most managers, at times, have beliefs that don’t align with their actions, as in “do as I say, not as I do” yet as Harari points out, this might not be a bad thing.
“If tensions, conflicts and irresolvable dilemmas are the spice of every culture, a human being who belongs to any particular culture must hold contradictory beliefs and be riven by incompatible values,” Harari writes in A Brief History of Humankind.
“It’s such an essential feature of any culture that it even has a name: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is often considered a failure of the human psyche. In fact, it is a vital asset. Had people been unable to hold contradictory beliefs and values, it would probably have been impossible to establish and maintain any human culture,” says the book.
What is the injection that will address the virus of ‘staying stuck in a rut’, saying all the right things, but not really moving forward in terms of insights and career development?
Part of that jab has to be constant learning, bordering on constant reinvention, questioning, and not, as Albert Einstein said, “Doing the same things and expecting a different result.”
Time for a dose of good old-fashioned reading. If you are not reading, one risks being like a tomato on the vine that has just survived, and soon, quite comfortable to go rotten.
In a world of contradictions, which pathway to take?
Cheshire Puss Alice began: “Would you please tell me which way I ought to go from here?”
‘“That depends on where you want to get to,” said the cat,’ wrote Lewis Carroll.