Interview With A Management-ist

Continuing the investigation of the secular religion of Management-ism started HERE, continued HERE and HERE with the story of an HMO-weary Internist "Going Off The Grid" to establish a real Health Maintenance Organization, before delving into deep Abstractions HERE and the mechanical mindset HERE.

([Note: I am the Management-ist depicted here. I am also the one interviewing (or, in proper management-ist lingo, 'being interviewed by') the management-ist. I have been on both sides of this conference table.]

The chill will crawl up the back of your neck.

The surroundings are comfortable enough: a well-appointed office, a conference room decorated with fine art. The welcome will be genuinely warm. The conversation always starts with small talk—studied small talk, as if I'd been instructed to 'start from the heart' and engage with the 'person' first. Whether this takes the form of sports, the weather, the travel from there to here, or the nearly universal quick apology for being a few minutes late for the meeting, the first five minutes of the interview will be beside the point.

Study the scenery. What books are displayed? (These are clues to the form and texture of belief.) What clutter prevails? Am I wearing one of those absolutely unfunctional Polo dress shirts with a logo in lieu of a pocket? Tassled loafers or tasseled Top Siders? The tassel: the management-ist's curious decoration of choice!

Listen to the language. I will pass more than your maximum annual dose of unconditional superlatives. I will say 'best' when the context screams 'better', I will use 'accountability' as a synonym for 'responsibility', I will revere 'predictability' as if it were 'reliability.' Listen closely, you will not understand very much of what I say. I speak in deep code. Buzz words punctuated with references. I will not speak for myself, but quote noted authorities, just as if knowing who said what makes what I say meaningful. Mostly, my story will be garbled. Ask for clarification and expect to receive a puzzled frown.

Sometime within the conversation, I will disclose another's shortcoming. 'They' will have done something 'stupid.' 'They' won't have 'gotten it.' 'They' will be characterized as some form of clueless, a condition linguistically elevated to character flaw. You will sense that 'they' managed to fake it until this recent unmasking of the deeper truth. 'They' are the cause. Defend 'them' at your own peril.

If your mind wanders, reflect on how it is that such a smart and experienced individual could be surrounded by such blunder. If I confide that 'my people' are well-intended, but not very experienced, return a year later, and I will repeat the same story. Then wonder: How could that year have not resulted in someone acquiring experience?

Whatever the topic, notice the interview wandering back toward me, the management-ist. I am the final arbiter of experience. More interestingly, I have assumed the role of final arbiter of everyone else's experience, too, second-guessing whatever fails to make a priori sense or contradicts my personal convictions. I feel powerful, but I am stuck in a story I seem to star in, yet hold little culpability for creating.

Jung claimed that this sort of absent presence occurs when a secondary temperament component (Thinking/Feeling) overrides the two primary temperament modes (Intervert/Extravert-iNtuition/Sensing). Typically, where acquired knowledge is more valued than how one naturally relates to others and how one naturally prefers to acquire information. In other words, where one more highly prizes what they have acquired over what they are naturally endowed with. Perhaps this is the delusion of our age, our very culture writ large. We move to cities to escape where we're from. We take degrees to distinguish ourselves from others so we can get a high-paying job. We assume professional (literally, what we profess) roles, then fuss about not being able to talk about what theory doesn't really work. We believe ourselves to be what we know, not who we are.

Fine, I'd rather have a knowledgeable manager than an ignorant one. But the fine distinguishing line is not between knowing and not knowing, but between knowing and being. The management-ist is defined by what they know, rather than more properly informed by it. A management-ist without a litany of oft-quoted external references (whether from Heroclitus or Tom Peters) is to their mind, no manager at all.

Some worship before the alter of continuous improvement. Others, six sigma. Whatever their belief, you will notice explanations that do not and could not ground themselves. Each requires faith for closure. Each requires belief to work. Ask an innocent question about, for instance, who decided what would be called Best Practice, and notice the quivering eye movements that signal the search for qualifying references. Some noted authority, who invariably became noteworthy due to their own audacious commercial bluster, will be named. This dance can continue for as long as you care to play.

I call the dance between the management-ist and the human Idiot Making. Where another presumes to know better than you what your experience is. Where their 'superior' judgement co-opts your inferior perspective, robbing you of your experience and leaving little more than a promise that, with diligence, you could know better, too. This is where the fear will crawl up your spine and tickle the short hairs on the back of your neck. You will be in the presence of a person capable of justifying almost anything, of dis-qualifying anyone except, of course, himself. Be afraid. be very afraid.

If you glimpse yourself in the management-ist role, as I have glimpsed myself in the past, be even more afraid. This peek took my breath away. Whether or not you suffocate on this unwanted insight, hope to be changed by it.

Next time: Changed By It

blog comments powered by Disqus