Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shakespeare speaks about Corporate Meetings

I remember a book of quotations I used as an arsenal for my essays and articles in school days, to hit unsuspecting teachers with re-heated nuggets of borrowed wisdom.  Those were the days before Wikiquotes or ThinkExist made it ridiculously simple to integrate lines by a plethora of great minds into an original masterpiece. In those days, we had to laboriously look up either the topic in the contents or the author in the index to zero down on a suitable quote.

I could find the greatest of garrulous quoters of the past adorning the index in something that looked like this:

Shaw, George Bernard
10, 24, 55, 79, 133, 138-9,
162, 166, 177-9, 191, 211,
 213, 217, 223, 226, 238,
240-2, 251, 268, 271, 277,
290-3, 299, 300, 305, 311,

However, the system just did not work for the Swan of Avon. The compilers had given up the unequal struggle rather early in the game. Listed against Shakespeare, William in the index was a solitary word in italics passim.

His quotations appeared everywhere, with rare exceptions on every page. The Greatest Poet, the Greatest Playwright or simply, the Greatest Writer of the noble English language seems to have written on every topic of human interest, and several which interest perhaps no one. Not for nothing is he called, among his other names, the Myriad Minded Shakespeare. An index on him would probably amount to a separate chapter on its own. So the compliers were wise enough to sum it up neatly in one word.

Now, back in those carefree days I could not care less for the goings on in the corporate world, and never had the burning desire to leaf through and check whether the great mind had said something useful about how to run businesses, but recently, in my moments of contemplation – that is to say, senior management meetings – his corporate wisdom was suddenly revealed to me in a blinding flash.

The bard’s eye view of the future foretells with eerie accuracy the corporatisation of the world and the social evil of spending hours and hours cooped up in meeting rooms, time that could be used for making the world a better place.
In a famed short scene of just twelve lines, the masterly genius comes through with prophetic analysis of what corporate meeting rooms would look like in another four hundred years. The quill, in a flash surreal brilliance, documents what can be called the first minutes of meeting.

It starts with something that accompanies every managerial session – noise and flashy presentations – something that the greatest of all writers allegorically terms thunder and lightning.

Next,  as the participants of the meeting enter, he cuts a long story short and moves to the only possible concrete result ever taken out of a meeting room.
When shall we three meet again?”  The only question that can be pondered with any hope of an answer in the millions and millions of dark and mysterious rooms around the world with sleepy men installed on comfortable chairs, huddling together beside round tables.

“When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.”  In amazing use of metaphors, Shakespeare does hint at the futility of wasting precious time when there is work to be done. Yes, he is all for a short one once the project is done and over with, retrospection, lessons learnt, but to gather again and again when the game is still underway is a strict no-no. Perceval, Verity and other commentators could have done well to dwell on this lesson, but whether it would have been included in managerial training sessions or not is a deep and dark question.

“That will be ere the set of sun.” Long before it was fashionable, the farsighted plume scribbles down the advent of the proverbial EOD. The witches call for the next meeting in now well known terms –before the end of day, the close of business.
Then comes the small thing of booking of the meeting room, and sending out the invitations. “Where the place, upon the heath. There to meet with MacBeth.” It was the subtle attention to detail with which the glorious pen documented the most mundane along with the most lofty.

 And once that is done, the following lines stun us with their detailed foretelling of how meetings would proceed otherwise.
“I come, Graymalkin.”
“Paddock calls.”
Apart from the time, place and attendees of the next meeting, all that goes on in the gathering are cell phones ringing and calling the attendees away –leading some of them to leave immediately.

And they all depart with the most accurate description of the corporate environment ever penned in the history of the written word. A couplet that etches to perfection the depressing, fuzzy, uncertain cubicular life with its weird reward and recognition system.
“Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.”

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who Moved my Revolution?

(This piece also occurs in the Scroll online magazine. )

Download an audio recording of Hilary Clinton’s Freedom of Internet Speech.  Or stream in some other internet inspired rebellion manifesto by current day thinkers represented by the likes of Jared Cohen, or visionaries like Francis Fukuyama . The last named once proudly proclaimed 1989 to be the end of history.  

Close your eyes, forget the context and float away in the reassuring ramble. “Information freedom ... foundation for global progress ... tools in the hands of people for advancement ....deficiencies in the current market for innovation ... harnessing the power of connection technologies ... long term dividends from modest investments in innovation ... flat world ... connected communication ... Web 2.0”
The excessively empty jargon sounds like eerie approximations of McKinsey-speak. One can almost sense the darkened conference room, projectors beaming meaningless charts and data, with superfluous smatterings of inane inconsequential information on the screen.
The more Washington leans towards the Silicon Valley in rather puerile efforts to electronically re-simulate the samizdat operations of the Cold War era, the more the techno-mingled-drivel of such talks echo the colossal ignorance that reverberate across the corporate CEO meetings.
It is of little surprise that the Freedom of Internet speech of Hilary Clinton has been tagged by some alternative media sites with the keyword ‘ignorance’. Not unjustified. Asked about Twitter a few days before the Iranian revolution broke out, the leading lady had responded, “I wouldn’t know a Twitter from a tweeter, but evidently it’s very important.”
If one pauses for a moment of sanity amidst the furious beeps and clicks of a connected concept of cyber utopia, one cannot help but shudder at the thought of the world being liberated by leaders with self confessed unawareness of the very tools they claim to be magic pills.

We see at work the same wishful thinking with belligerent yet bird-brained buzzwords that characterise millions of Senior Management meetings. Only, in this case, the decision makers are people with phenomenal power, with actual ability to influence the world, who have in their hands technologically advanced and extremely interconnected tools that they do not understand. As discussed in another article, an email sent by one such ill advised policymaker to the administrators of a Social Media Tool can actually compromise the freedom and lives of actual dissidents across the world. Scary? It indeed is.

While the phrase ‘Internet Freedom’ is searched more frequently from Washington area than Iran and the fragmented former Soviet Union nations put together, the policy makers are gaga about the new social media avatars of the samizdat press and the Radio Europe movements that supposedly managed to crumble the Berlin Wall, and folded the Iron Curtain into storage rooms of a half remembered past.

Buzzwords – another very corporate phenomenon – raise their noisy heads with the ingratiating yet convincing smiles. The architectural magnificence and geographical prominence of the Great Wall of China lends itself to the creation of misleading metaphors such as Great Firewall. The legions of politicians for whom 1989 is a self proclaimed feather in semi-thinking caps, pronounce aphorisms influenced by another Wall:“As networks spread around the globe, virtual walls are cropping up in places of visible walls.”
Leaders who have smugly fitted  into the political power-works by manipulating the bipolar world prior to 1989 harp that the Iron Curtain has been replaced by “a new information curtain descending across much of the world” where it is claimed that “viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of the day.”

The dangers of such proclamations and the pitfalls of celebrating bloggers as modern day dissidents have been discussed in other articles of the issue, notably by my lovely friend Shruti Rattan. Here I am looking at the unnerving similarity of these declarations with similar decrees in the corporate world – where each and every company of the day is trying to chisel its social networking strategy into a silver bullet with the same chronic short term thinking that is the signature of the industry and, perhaps, the cause of cycles of booms and busts.

In the mid to late 90s, the software world was being steered by senior management made up of experts in third generation languages like COBOL. Simultaneously, there was a lot of excitement about the relatively new Object Oriented Technologies.  There lie in several archives of the industry huge quantities of code written in new generation syntax and semantics, feebly powered by old, procedural design. The platform of coding was changed to imprint the stamp of progress, but the erstwhile experts who engineered the changes often did not have the knowhow to benefit from the features of fourth generation object oriented languages. Enormous systems still chug along on these Jurassic algorithms in the then cutting edge outfit. The result has been a huge waste of money, manpower and efficiency.

In current events, we witness a similar trend in the political scenario. Historical parallels and inviting metaphors can make for great rhetoric, but it is ridculous to base decisions on wordplay and play havoc with the lives of other people.
Reusing the so called best practices of the pre 1989 era, implementing a blanket model that has supposedly worked in remarkably different conditions – along with a bull headed initiative to tweak every innovation into such propaganda are pathetic parallels of the uncommitted world of corporate cubicles.
While the oedipal obstinacy to come out of the cold war parentage while dealing with completely different global situations can be of professional interest to Freudian analysts, basic questions still remain about whether the samizdat offering of leaflets, propaganda, books, photocopies, Radio Europe and so on were actually driving forces behind the fall of communism. There have been arguments that people in GDR were more interested in shows like Miami Vice than in assembling for protests. Was it really the underground photocopiers, or was it the chain of events leading to plummeting oil industry and rising food prices that led to the wall going down in 1989? We are not discussing that here, although it would not be ill-advised to pause and think about it before tweeting propaganda.

In other articles we have pointed out why the current platform of Social Media, with its messy electronic footprints, is far more dangerous for the activist than Samizdat.  We have also dealt with the online version of slacktivists, reverse propaganda and the effect of cheap entertainment triumphing over dissidence. Here I would like to add that millions of connections between millions of people on the internet is a very, very complicated affair. Generalised optimistic jargon filled proclamations about cyber utopia and the messianic merits of the Socially Networked World can be fine for fifteen minutes of spotlight. But, no one can honestly predict the future of such a connected world yet.

The complexity of the electronic mesh that entangles everyone consists of too many parameters. It is prone to the chaotic phenomenon of small changes creating an immense domino effect. It is impossible to predict which way such a connected world will react to the ripples, through integration or falling to bits.
Till such a time that we can form an informed prediction in this information chaos, it may be a good idea to take the deafening optimistic sound and fury about cyber rebellion with the same cynical nonchalance with which we attend management review meetings.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A 'Closer' look at the Cosmos of Cubicle and Clicks

There are many who consider Patric Marber's 2004 bitter romantic drama, Closer, to be a loose, modern and tragic adaptation of Cosi fan tutte, Mozart's opera buffa on partner swaps.

In fact, in the Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen starrer, the hand and handiwork of the great composer can be seen and heard everywhere. The opera is featured in the film and the sound tracks keep resonating with highlights from the eighteenth century production.

For the musically inclined, or those who revel in witty dialogue, attractive people and complexities of relationship, the film is highly recommended as a visual and aural delight.

However, even as I watched mature performances combining with excellent editing to produce a rare symphony for the senses, the most lasting impression was somewhat surprising.

All through the 100 minutes, a feast of feminine charms were portrayed with the most sensual camera angles on two such fascinating female forms as Roberts and Portman. And it is perhaps testimony to the warping of my cubicle calibrated senses, that the most striking scene for me, the one I am currently writing about, took place between the metro-sexual Jude Law and the dashing Clive Owen. Curiously again, in a film which cruises on the sonorous sound-waves created by the genius of Mozart, this particular sequence was enacted with the overture of Rossini's La Cerentola playing in the background.

In this curiously interesting scene, Law, a writer, sits in his home and logs into a chat forum impersonating a woman and strikes up an on-line conversation with Owen, a dermatologist sitting in his chamber. As the two indulge in crude and explicit dialogue that is stereotypical in such encounters, Owen gets horny and takes the phone off the hook to go the full cyber-sexual distance. It is a combined tribute to the directional brilliance, musical genius and acting talents that the entire routine comes off as poetic rather than gross. The fermata, allegro and crescendos are masterfully combined with the smutty suggestions, prurient passes, lewd language and the resulting raise of the eyebrow, rolling of the eyes and other facial expressions.
Even as Law works Owen into a hard on, asks him to take out his member and finally indulges in a typed gibberish denoting orgasm (ooooooo $#&* 000agdfyugefwyfw%%%%% and more such junk), the music synchronises with perfect harmony and the outcome is melody mingled hilarity. The amusement, in fact, is carried on to the next level as Law, posing online as Julia Roberts,  unintentionally sets up a meeting between Owen and the pretty woman, thus becoming the most vulgar version of Cupid ever.

One way of looking at it is to appreciate the ingenuity in synchronising heavenly music to the basest act of fulfilment. While it is relatively common to use accompanying classical music with the rhythms of physical lovemaking – one can remember the pre-internet age Julia Roberts starrer Pretty Woman as an example – this small cinematic burletta does its bit in acknowledging the cyber world as an extension of our own three dimensional one.

However, ever since my buddy screened the famed episode of Everything You Needed To Know about Sex and Were Afraid to Ask in a corporate team building session (now documented famously in The Best Seller) I have been afflicted with the bug of mapping movie masterpieces to the analogous make believe world of corporate circus. As with the earlier observations about Blow Up and Eyes Wide Shut, this particular scene from the poetic drama on silver screen got me drawing compulsive parallels with the world of the click and cubicle.

Think about it.

 Fabrication and impossible promises manufactured over the electronic medium, crude packets of age-old delivery in new fangled form to 'delight' the recipient, ultimately resulting in orgiastic euphoria at something that translates to elaborately typed non-sense. The provider even goes to the extent of lying about his assets, highs and lows, as he tries his hand at customer satisfaction. Throughout, the background score orchestrates music for the uplifted soul, ethereal exhilaration, cerebral ecstasy at the consummating crescendo – while all the while, the transactions take place at the lower depths, with the onus on the bottom line, making ends meet.

In a curious correction that completes the metaphor, at one point of time during the instant messaging, Law asks Owen about the size of his organ, and in his haste, the latter responds with the unit £ rather than inches – underlying the corporate axiom that whatever be the measure, of the source of life or pleasure, everything boils down to a monetary value.

Cybernetic screwing with background sound effects hinting at the exalted and esoteric. The metaphorical retelling of the cubicular cosmos in a cinematic reel.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Corporate Genius - spoof of Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell's books always fascinate me.

He has not written this, but may well do so after reading this article
Written with the professional elegance of language, they discuss facts that massage the grey cells, passively exercising without stretching them too much. They delight readers by hinting at the possibility of there being something more to reality than is apparent. Pleasant and free flowing, they sometimes do away with scientific rigour – especially when making unverified claims about birth time windows maximising chances of becoming millionaires, highly connected hubs for successful networks and so on. However, they deal with complex sociological phenomena in the simplistic language even the modern twitterature and blogosphere addicts can follow.

In keeping with the fleeting attention span of his wide range of readers, the dimension that the writing probes are breadth and variety without becoming entrapped in despairing depth. So a lot of it is superficial, merely scratching the surface. However, that is to be expected from an erstwhile scribe for the Washington Post who currently earns his royalty-aside bread as a columnist for The New Yorker.

For me, there are a lot of corporate lessons in his works. The books, with their pristine white get up, a concise subtitle and an economic picture of an out of box object, such as a match stick or a shoe, give an exemplary demonstration of the working of visual branding. This has been dealt with by the excellent caricatures of Cory and Blett in

They are also a lesson in how simple facts strung together by scratching the inner peripheries of something that sounds like science can fill pages on pages of engaging thought. Had I been in charge, his entire collection would have been compulsory reading for proposal writers bent on delighting time challenged customers. His latest book What the Dog Saw is an excellent example of reusing old ideas when nothing new seems to be forthcoming.

However, when I say that corporate proposal writers could learn from Gladwell, please don't misunderstand me. I would urge the reader to refrain from concluding that I am equating the works of the writer with the outputs of our cubicle constrained creativity. Many of the ideas penned by him, although often stating little more than the obvious and frequently challenged by scientists, are genuinely thought provoking.

In Tipping Point he talks about the disproportionate influence of a select few, which Joseph Juran had quietly outlined more than half a century ago.In his self effacing way, Juran had named the effect after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In Outliers, Gladwell proposes that success is the result of situations, circumstances, talent, repetition and hard work – a statement that almost challenges the inanity of axiomatic core messages of most corporate innovations.

Picture: Cory and Blett
However, the crux of his argument is interesting. He maintains, and I agree, that situations and circumstances far outweigh the other factors and actually provide the opportunity for talent to be sharpened to the level of the genius through repetition and hard work. Specifically, he comes up with the 10000 hour rule, which indeed what this article deals with.

Based on a study by Anders Ericsson, professor of Psychology at the Florida State University, Gladwell claims that genius does not always need colossal talent, but almost always requires enormous amounts of time. The magic number of hours roughly translates into 10000 across diverse fields. It is the defining claim of the book that a reasonably talented individual will be likely to rise to the level of a genius if fortunate enough to spend 10000 or more hours practicing and perfecting his art.

The Beatles, according to Gladwell, performed live in Hamburg over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time. Gladwell asserts that all this time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent. They were 'made' by this experience, chiselling themselves into something people had never heard before.

Bill Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent long hours programming on it. We need to remember that in 1968 computers were nowhere near as commonplace as they are now, and access to one was reserved for the very elite or the extremely lucky. Gladwell claims that without this circumstantial advantage, Gates could have been successful given his entrepreneurial acumen, but chances of being worth 50 billion US dollars would have remained remote.

Gladwell’s arguments about the hours are quite thought provoking. It raises the question, and sometimes concern, about how an initial edge driven by nothing other than plain strokes of fortune allows some people to experience this ten thousand hour luxury. An analysis of the birthdates of the US national league hockey teams reveals that most of them were born in the months of January and February which enabled them to be the oldest in their classes in junior school, thus enjoying an early physical advantage. He goes on to show how this advantage becomes the differentiating factor as these select people carried forward by timely birth were continuously selected among the best players, thus clocking hours and hours of best competitive hockey time, till the equally capable but born some months apart are left way behind for lack of equivalent practice.

 While all that rings true, and I am a firm believer in chance and opportunity playing a rather unsettlingly dominant role in the shaping of success stories, my rather sinister sense of sarcasm was provoked into wondering how this rule translates into the land of the clicks, beyond the cubicle infested antiseptic boundaries of the corporate world.

Well, these are his actual books
Working fo an Indian organisation, I can hardly open my mailbox without facing a 360 degree bombardment of innovations and accolades, stories of exceptional achievers and fables about delighted customers. The Key Responsibility Areas of managers are being mapped to idea generation by people who believe that time has installed publicity as the mother of invention. Hence, a common employee like me constantly finds his own thoughts slashed to ribbons by so called cutting edge conceptions, and the peace and quiet of the cubicle blasted to bits by the drums, bugles, bells and whistles that accompany these measures and drives. I would say we are lucky that almost all of these revolutionary ideas turn out to be brain farts and damp squibs, preventing a disaster of the nature as perpetual innovation had triggered in the banking industry not too long ago.

However, even with mails, mailers, podcasts and newsletters paradoxically showcasing out of box Einsteins at every nook and corner of the cubicles, not even the most deluded star employee can honestly claim to be a genius at his work by any stretch of his stilted yet flexible imagination. With all the hours booked and salaries drawn by the workforce streaming in and out of the cubicles each day, pitifully little work is done that can be translated into even an infinitesimal paradigm shift. In the form of tools, spreadsheets, reports, metrics, meeting minutes and soiled coffee cups, the resulting output from all but a very small percentage of the hours put in by the workforce comes out as decadent debris of waste – products that can neither be used nor recycled, with the sole exception of the Styrofoam coffee cups. It is also a well known trait in the industry that the higher a person rises, the more incapable he becomes at performing useful work which actually benefits the customers.

So, does the 10000 hour rule draw a blank in the industry? Are all the monumental man years billed to grudging customers and spent in front of futuristic laptops immune to the Gladwell genius syndrome?

Let us take a deeper look.

One of the factors which contribute greatly to the lack of expertise seems to be the phenomenal hankering for
Picture: Cory and Blett
 the next level. To the workforce, promotions and change of role is the Holy Grail, elicited through periodic reminders, strategic whining and a lepidopterist like passion for collecting appreciation mails. What this ensures is that organisations play along and keep promoting people, often creating room at the top and adding layers in the middle to accommodate the continuous corporate climb. So, the seasoned athletes competing in the perennial rat race end up with a maximum of 3 years in a particular level, doing the same job.

A person spends around 1700 hours in office per year. The amount of work done in these 1700 hours is a complicated function of the designation, but seldom is it more than a very liberal estimate of 50%. With emails, internet and coffee machines, it is neither possible nor fair to budget for more. Refreshing the mind and body becomes more and more necessary, especially given the extra hours that people insist on staying in office and wear as a medallion during the cycles of promotion.

Hence, with a maximum of 2600 hours on the same job, the drones rarely have enough time to make them deft, skilled geniuses. Even when they perform the same role while spanning three different designations, they fall short of the required amount of practice that makes perfect. Another factor to consider here is that with each passing year and change in designation, the time spent working diminishes, making way for many channels aiding celebration of work in the form of caffeinated coffee, cigarettes, conversations, cell phone and ipod generated music, curriculum vitae circulation, cricket discussions, character assassination, cribbing about reward-less slogging and canvassing for a change of role.

We seem to have dug out the root of the problem. The unfortunate cubicle creatures are handicapped by the lack of opportunity of spending enough time on the job. Maybe a relook at the structure of the industry, the cycle of promotions and change of roles and some psychiatric counselling reigning in the fascination with growth and moving up the ladder can bring about a radical change in the quality of work. Maybe with such a change, suddenly innovations will resemble something worthwhile rather than an excel macro imitating Macavity in working out complicated long division sums.

But, the next question is, what about the hours put in now, piling upon one another, amounting to a mountain of experience so frequently translated into company capability? Do all those logged time amount to nothing? All spiral into nothing because of the change of designations and roles necessitated by promotion cycles? The promotion cycles in its turn are necessitated by the conviction that the most important feature in an individual is not the presence or absence of a sizable paunch, a working knowledge or absolute ignorance about George Bernard Shaw or a fantastic relationship or the absence thereof with spouse and kid, but surfaces only through the word manager and its derivatives printed or absent on a business card.

My view is different.  Malcolm Gladwell does hit the nail on its head. In spite of changing roles every three years, corporate cubicle creatures do develop sophisticated skills at some of the activities demanded by the job. Because, regardless of designation, some things never change.

A standard issue worker consumes about eight cups of coffee per work day. If we put it in the well encouraged and appreciated quantitative numbers, this amounts to nearly two hours per day of taking the walk, washing the cup, choosing the brew, pouring and stirring, adding milk and sugar, networking with colleagues and customers in the highly connected hub called the espresso machine.  This amounts to nearly 450 hours per year. Given the normal 20-25 year career climb to the secluded office with a buxom secretary who will serve coffee and more, one generally ends up spending 10000 hours in quest of caffeine in the corpocratic quarters.

One should also not forget that with growth come additional responsibilities. There are frequent requirements of getting together with customers or colleagues, disgruntled or sycophantic underlings, planning sessions and motivational pep talks. All these mean steaming Styrofoam cups of hot brew.

The trick here is not to change allegiance between beverages. Dividing time between tea and coffee and the occasional hot chocolate like a fickle fresher ignorant of the bigger picture will end up in being neither here, nor there. Definitely not transformed into a genius.

Another aspect where I see excellence regardless of rapid change of designation, is in the phenomenal capacity of self promotion. If 50% of eight hours is spent working per day, nearly an equivalent or more is spent talking about the way the clicks of mouse and the taps on the solitary keyboard are keeping the world from disintegrating into the primordial soup we came from. No wonder people often spend way more than ten hours in office. There are ball by ball descriptions of the complications and challenges, coupled with the innovations brought about to overcome the same. Exceptional skill in every line of code written, every excel cell populated, every audit report filled. The Nobel Prize seems to have just about eluded the excellent and capable grasps in a cruel twist of fate. A fifteen minute interaction with most is enough to fill three and a half chapters of their biographies. Four hours a day engaged in this occupation, with whines and groans to spice things up as promotion cycle approaches, is another constant which gives us a semblance of stability in an ever changing world. A mere twelve years of this enables one to fulfil the Gladwell requirement. Every corporate creep who is worth his salt and has been around for little more than a decade is a genius at convincing the world that it exists because of his exploits in the cubicle. Atlas may have shrugged, but not he – for the organisation, the clients, the industry and the world is balanced on his weary and capable shoulders. Like a deep sea creature, he prides himself in surviving under immense pressure.

So, that is the Malcolm Gladwell verified image of the corporate genius.

Coffee cup in hand, a non-chalant smile taking the focus off bleary eyes, talking about achievements against the odds, about thriving under pressure and about coffers rich with received accolades, yet morose at being not rewarded with the step up to the next level. The air gradually filling up with the rancid combination of coffee and crap.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Innovation Idolatory and Idiocy

The unmistakable sound of a process specialist tripping over the network cable made me look up from my machine even as I was slipping into the morning mode of phasing out.  The face that peered at me was etched with a smile that I interpreted as ominous. The zeal in his eyes spoke of untold owes about to be unleashed on my hapless self. It was justTuesday, a long way to go beyond that sun-kissed weekly horizon beyond which lie peace and quiet.

“Hi,” said the smiling face, a member of the newly formed Inno-culation Squad. From the barrage of mailers that clogged the organisational mailboxes before going through the religious shift delete routine, some did linger long enough for me to know that they were a special bunch supposed to find ways to innovate operations and spread them over the rest of the organisation like a shroud through intelligent circulation. Hence the composite moniker.

“Hi,” I replied hastily, clinging on to the slim chance that it was a casual stop on the way back from the coffee machine. But, I knew better. The Innoculator was already planting his uninvited butt in the unoffered chair. Talk about being proactive.

“Simon,” he greeted warmly, flashing another smile. “A minute of your time?”
I said that I could afford a minute but not much more. But, he translated it as a full blown invitation.
“I wanted to ask you something. Could you share your Outlook calendar?”

Now, let me tell you something about the Dutchmen. They are very touchy about calendars and diaries and appointment books. The average Dutch child gets his or her first appointment diary before puberty and uses them unceasingly for the rest of their lives. Although my ancestry and upbringing have left strains of the Irish and American in me, I am still as meticulous and possessive about my schedule as any Hans or Geert or Jaap.
I politely asked him why he wanted me to do that.

“We have a new idea,” he answered, eyes shining with parental pride.
I winced. Ideas and Innovations had brought the world economy on its knees not too long back. Luckily, our industry of dealing with the software of the Bank leaves us little elbow room to nudge the financial system out of balance. The thought waves are generally too feeble to cause a destructive tempest. Yet, the fear remains, along with the abhorrence for pungent brain-farts. I guardedly asked him what his idea was.

“This was the result of our Ideration,” he informed. “We were discussing ...”
I stopped him and asked him what Ideration was. He smiled proudly. “It is a composite word – for Idea and Generation. We call these sessions of Brain Blizzards ...”

I remarked that all along I had heard the term Brain Storming, and misnomer though it was in the liberal use of the first term, it was probably more accepted  ...

“Well, our first Innovation was to coin a new term for these sessions. It is for a regular Brain Storming session which is also cool. Hence Brain Blizzard. We had gone to Budapest for this Brain Blizzard ...”


“Yes. The different accounts have identified Idealisers. I am the Idealiser of this Account. So, as I was saying, all the Idealisers had been sent to Budapest to be trained in Innovation Techniques by our Innovation Centre of Excellence.”

Even attuned to the Internet, Social Media and Television News Channels, I found myself suffering from advanced stages of information overload. I asked him what on earth an Idealiser was.

“He is an Idea Evangeliser. So, every account has an identified Idealiser ...”

“And all of you went to Budapest?”

“Yes. To learn about thinking out of the box, lateral thinking, Creative Discussion, SWOT Analysis ...”
I politely asked him how long he had been in Hungary.

“Three days. We had some practical hands on sessions on innovation.  We also learnt about the process and templates to follow.”

“You have a Process for innovation?”

“Indeed. It is very rigorous. We have regular process checks to see if new Ideas are being implemented according to the guidelines.”

I sighed.

“And the company paid for this jamboree?”

 He was confused. It was probably too out of box a word for his cubicle and innovation honed vocabulary.

“Yes, there is a lot of focus on innovation now. It is a high visibility project. Every account lead is supposed to show innovation in at least one area every quarter.”

“Ah, so you have goals as well?”

He laughed. “Very defined ones. It is all in the Innual – or the Innovation Manual. We have to go strictly by the book.”

“And is someone keeping score?”

This lateral piece of dialogue foxed the Idealiser. “Score? The World Cup is over ...”

“I mean is someone keeping a tab on the expense of such Budapest Brain Blizzards and Idealising Investments?”

The Idealiser nodded condescendingly. “We are trained to save money with every Idealisation. All this will reflect very positively in the bottom line. In fact, there is a euro-value attached to the goal of one innovation per quarter – we have to demonstrate profits.”

I shrugged. “So in three days you have learnt to save money through Idealisation?”

He nodded. “That’s what Innoculation is all about.”

“And what has it got to do with my calendar?”

He became efficient and businesslike, a man of crisp words and lots and lots of action.

“We will look through your plan, note the deadlines and mark your calendar so that you get timely alerts.”

I waited for him to continue. I waited long, the paragon of patience. But, not another word came out of him, straight or lateral.


“As I said,” he repeated. “We will look through your plan, note the deadlines and mark your calendar so that ...”

“And that will save the account money?”

He smiled enthusiastically. “It will lead to Innov-ofit, that is to say Innovation Profit.”

I nodded. “I don’t doubt that will be enough of it. You have filled the manual with all these terms, haven’t you?”

“We were trained to think out of the box. All these terms were derived in the three days of training. “

“What else did you do those three days?”

“We listened to lectures or – as we call it – Idolatries ... or Idea Lauding Oratories. Now, Simon, could you share your calendar?”

I pressed my thumbs against my temples. The distinct throb was alarming.

“Has it ever occurred to you that Dutch blood runs through my veins? Contaminated by the Irish side of parentage and the American upbringing, but about half of the red blood corpuscles are from the heart of Holland.”

He gazed back, groping inside and out of the situational box, unable to make sense of the innovative angle of argument.

“Okay, let me break it down for you. I am Dutch and I work in the Project Management Office division. Every plan that I keep is tracked to the limit. All the milestones, deadlines, meetings, deliveries, releases for the next six months are already in my calendar. Now what possible value could you add by re-marking my calendar?”

Contrary to the extreme limits of my expectations, the Idealiser smiled knowingly.

“Simon, you made my task so much easier. Now the In-cubation will be so much easier. I will proactively mark your calendar by copying and pasting your appointments and reminders. And, well, in-cubation is placing an innovation in a cubicle.”

“And what will one appointment on top of another do, other than giving me two simultaneous reminders and one continuous headache?”

He frowned and made a note of something in his notepad. Probably the attitude problem of an Incipient – well I was already thinking of myself as a conglomerated being – an Innovation Recipient.

“You don’t see the bottom line do you?”

“All I see is a blot on my horizon.”

I don’t think he understood my sarcasm. He started scribbling on his notepad.

“You see, every deadline you could have missed has a monetary equivalent, an euro value associated with it in terms of loss, rework, penalty payment ... So, already, by copying and pasting your calendar, the innov-ofit will show quite a turnaround. We built a secure solution for you never to miss a deadline.”

I clutched my hair.
“Could you idealise another ground breaking idea?”

He frowned.
“Since you are not an official idealiser, any idea from you will have to be approved by the Idealiser of the account, followed by the Location Innoculator and finally the Grand Inquisitor – that is, the one in charge of Innovation Acquisition. That’s according to the Innual. However, I can try to get it passed.”

I slumped back in my seat.

“Why not leave me alone and let me carry on as usual. You can put down whatever I did not screw up as an Innovofit. Just don’t come to my cubicle again ...”

Obviously, such negotiations did not mature to fruition. To get rid of him, I had to ultimately share my calendar.  And then I popped down to the Apotheek to get myself an NWC 30 SFT for throbbing temples.

The ceaseless strife for the fifteen minutes of limelight has now been reduced to such serious levels of ridiculousness that company mailers increasingly look like badly exaggerated spoofs.  The implementers come and go, unknowingly producing fascinating periods of stand-up comedy.

A previous article I had written about Deming’s first principle rings true here as well, although in notes bellowing out of a grotesque tragicomedy. The trouble is still with the constancy of purpose.

In the 1990s, the Sears, Roebuck management reset the sales goals of automotive mechanics to $147 an hour – presumably to increase the speed of repairs. What it resulted in was overcharging for their services and repairing things that were not broken.

This is just a one-off example.  The business world is littered with such case studies.

In the almost pathetic parallel played out in the cubicular world, the goals are set to one innovation every quarter for every manager. Obviously, they will try and fix what is not broken, idiocy taking the guise of ideas, business as usual retrofitted as innovation and hallucination poured in large quantities into empty reality to conjure up figures showing return of investment.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Plato in the Totalitarian Corporate Boardroom


How the Business World is following the
ideas of Plato
Simon van der Wiel

(This article is also available from the Scroll website)

The face looms out of the decorated poster in a glorious celebration of importance. The eyes look with dream filled zealousness into the distant future, a patchwork of pixels proclaiming the visionary. Below, etched in professionally artistic fonts, are some of his sterling quotes, proudly propagated yet magnificently mundane. Side by side, his dreams and life story are strategically dispersed through meticulously compiled internal articles.
Simon van der Wiel is a fictonal character from Arunabha Sengupta's novel The Best Seller.

Half Dutch, half Irish and brought up in the West Coast, he works for an Indian firm and interacts with Dutch clients.

His blogs dealing with Corporate Circus, some from the novel and some extrapolated from the storyline, can be found at Blog of Simple Simon

Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution?

Not quite. We are referring to the modern day corporate leader. The organisation designated visionary entrepreneur.

One whose mug shots, borne by a barrage of company mailers, newsletters and affiliated business news publications, violate the more refined of our senses. Whose inane utterances are developed from
scratch through the magic of delegation, jotted down in tearing deadline-defying hurry, typeset in relentless review cycles and dished out in thousands of electronic mails which pop up in the innumerable inboxes till the discerning 
 employee develops distressed digits from continual clicks of shift-delete.

"Customer focus is the key for business in the next decade."... "Innovation and thought-leadership will define the new leaders of the industry."

Harping on unremarkable, universally acknowledged postulates, packaged as visionary proclamations of the all powerful and immensely knowledgeable Philosopher King. In that context, are these too different from "Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated " of Mao’s Little Red Book?

The striking similarities do not end with the image of an overhyped worshipped leader, zealously protected by internal police from criticism, with embargo on expression of honest thought. The likeness
stretches even beyond the inequality, injustice and deception of the policies that irk all rank and file behind the facade. It goes even beyond the axiomatic assumption of the state – in this case the organisation – being perpetually more important than the individual. Nor is the resemblance restricted to the most scarlet pigment of Red China. Today's large corporate organisations are more like any Totalitarian regime than can be contemplated without a shudder. 

The Philosopher King:  The marauding magic word of modern times is Innovation. Technology continues to evolve at the rate of mega-knots. Trillionaire tycoons –therefore accepted present day philosophers – vouch for business at the rate speed of thought. The focus is therefore on Innovation and Thought-Leadership. Hence, the different corporate organisations that conduct business in the time tested way of hiring out resources at lowest of low rates have to project themselves as factories doling out trendsetting ideas, packaging out of box thoughts in a moronic oxymoron.

As a corollary, people who have, often unthinkingly, climbed to their pinnacles of these organisations have the mantle of remarkable thinkers and visionaries thrust upon them. And through the propaganda machinery of newsletters, blogs, websites, information sharing portals, knowledge management
systems, podcasts, in house tweets, domestic electronic walls and external pandering to news agencies, the hastily donned manufactured greatness wraps itself tightly around them in the short term memory that rules the times.

 In a tailor made way, this fits the goal of the grand Corpocratic illusion. These companies essentially run on hordes who have to be fuelled by a vision of something more – or radically different – than the harsh
ground truth of being sold cheap. So, it is apt for the leaders to be projected as beings with knowledge and understanding that elude the common. The normal employee can only hope to gauge an imperfect approximation of their superior intelligence through the flickering shadows of reality and the reverberations of propaganda as they remain chained to their confining cubicles in the eerie
corporate equivalent of Plato's Cave.

The wisdom of the Philosopher King cannot be doubted, his words the unquestionable truth. Anything to the contrary can lead to public rebuke or banishment.

The maximisation of authority is linked to a great extent to supernatural mystical capacity to convert the massaged and mundane data from the floor, using the alchemy of positional power, into the gold dust that adorns the landscape of projected future.

The Tribal Society The world becomes flatter, contracted through the process of tying the ends together with fibre optic cables. Even as globalisation makes itself more and more apparent, the corporate organisations romping about in this world-wide arena remain undeniably tribal.

Anyone who has jumped through the hoops of corporate circus will identify with the last paragraph of the last section. In complete indifference to the stark actuality that is painted in unmistakable patterns by the ebbs and eddies of regular work, when facts bubble up to the stratospheric abode of the organisational demi gods, they are washed clean of the ugly smudges of reality.
They undergo a metamorphosis in keeping with the wishful thinking of privileged minds. There are certain norms that go with the dictates of the top management, certain elaborate vision and mission rolled out with singular purpose. Little things like truth cannot tamper with their unwavering, unquestionable vision. In fact, as we shall see later, the reality is not true. 

Chairman Mao could never admit the atrocious failure of the steel industry during the Great Leap Forward. Idi Amin pampered his guests with Scottish accordion music while dressed in a kilt himself even as people
died in hordes across the Ugandan nation. In the more antiseptic air-conditioned corridors of a corporate organisation, the same delusion plays on the leaders when their grandiose plans show unmistakable signs of being derailed into the realms of the Quixotic.

This inability to understand the differences between normative and actual laws of the world uniquely characterises tribalism. The refined fanaticism that manifests itself in the corporate police in defending the
proclaimed norms against criticism shows glimpses of semi-religious fervour of demon worship.

Parallels with tribalism do not end with this. Ritualistic chants and dances exist in the form of regular meetings, status reports, dashboards, circulated metrics, process verification checks and power lunches.
All these are activities that hardly ever lead to any tangible benefit but create an esoteric tribal bonding in the name of company culture.

As in any tribal system, there is an inherent compulsion to invest heavily in forming a closed society. Corporations carelessly cross frontiers of professionalism and tolerance levels in the attempt to create mutual family feeling. Thus, company family is a much harped and hated concept, a continual effort to make the boundaries between the office and family life and feelings as fuzzy as possible.

We increasingly find attempts to create an enclosed microcosm which tries to replicate the attractive aspects of the external world within the organisational boundary. Musical events, sporting fests, internal
newsletters featuring interviews of bigwigs, mutual back scratching in blogs and other social networking platforms... It is an effort at creating self sufficient small world which breeds its own tribal allegiance.

It is a common enough trend to be unable to contemplate a change of workplace after organisational bonding creeps into the psyche of individuals for a considerable period. With time, there is an increased reluctance to accept the possibility of an external world beyond the boundaries of an organisation from professional as also social aspects. For people accustomed to this environment, it becomes increasingly difficult to break away from the ancient lures of comfort feel and mutual support. All these initiatives of
extending the family feeling in corporate organisations are but veiled attempts at promoting tribal affiliation. 

None of the corporations that become huge are quite planned that way. Companies more or less always rise by chance, retrofitting the happy turns of probabilistic coincidences into successful vision and strategy. The bigger they get, more is the risk of exposure of employees to open communities, the greater
the danger of esoteric policies being put under the scanner of an extended worldview and, hence, more is the resistance to change. So, the bigger they grow, we find increasing number of initiatives that try to lower the opaque canopy of tribalism around their widening walls.

A year or so earlier, I informed my boss about bagging another opportunity in Europe after being particularly pissed with the uncertainty that surrounded my job in Amsterdam. I could see the tribal king unravel in front of me, peeling off one layer of superficial sophistication after another, till the primordial headiness of unquestioned authority lay bare on his face. I had committed the unpardonable crime of deserting the clan and moving elsewhere. I was told that had I proved unwavering in my allegiance, I could
have been the Last Man Standing in Amsterdam.

 Be it mirroring the Wild West or the ethnic inhabitants of the Polynesian Islands, rule of the tribal lord is very rampant. 

Totalitarianism and tribalism indeed go hand in hand.

Plato's Idea of a Corporation?  I would go further and state that many of the Corporate policies, sometimes documented and more often unwritten, are strikingly similar to Plato's idea of a Republic. 

It is a good place to pause and dampen the jubilant exclamations that may emanate from the corpo-philic at the invocation of the name of an intellectual giant and his seminal work. In lines of the pop-management-philosophical lines of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Confucian Analects, Plato's Republic should
in no way be mistaken as a guideline for ideal management. Compiled largely as a reaction to the major democratic changes of his times, it is, in more ways than one, a colossal propaganda for totalitarianism. Plato, according to respected schools of thought, was plagued by the strain of democracy and hankered after the bygone days of tribal certainty and steadiness of life.

Photo: Chiranthan

One of the many recommendations of the great Greek thinker that has become unmistakably mirrored in the industry is to destroy family values, lest it interfere with the duties to the state.

How many times have we come across neglected spouses and children, and sacrificed social occasions at the altar of deadlines and escalations? And how often have we witnessed the employees honoured as the
model worker – another term shockingly lifted from Maoist China – for carrying out such sacrifices, thus creating a company culture and competition in familial negligence? Family is a threat which has to be innovatively converted into opportunity. And one way out is for the word to be identified with the greater
company circle, as discussed in the earlier section.

One of the favoured reuses of a Plato masterpiece of manipulation in the corporate world is in the distinction between the individual and the team player. This is where we witness the great mind indulging in subtle artifice with words.

Plato defined the totalitarian morality by linking good with whatever is good for the state. Translated into the jargon of modern day corporations it is equivalent to value-adds or best practices which benefit the

 While this itself is not remotely as axiomatic as he made it sound, his genius was evident when he delicately denounced individualistic advancements by equating them with egoism while glorifying collaborative thought as altruism.  Thus to him, whatever is carried out for the benefit of the whole is by definition good, whereas individual goal is selfish and therefore harmful. Whoever cannot sacrifice himself and his desires for the benefit of the bigger picture is undesirable.

Even in an era that supposedly thrives on innovation, this particular concept is almost axiomatic to the archetypical organisation. Radical thinking almost never makes it through the layers and layers of
bureaucratic approvals. There is an inherent compulsion to rein in individualistic thought, and if that is not possible, to obtain Intellectual Property Rights for the same. More often than not, free thinking individuals are branded with attitude problem, while the herd that follows the narrow path
of convention are hailed as team players. Thought-leadership, save a few exceptions, constitutes canned stale ideas packaged in new, glossy containers. 

All this makes sense to the Platonic ideal, where the yielding masses, lubricated by totalitarian morality, can act as the best cogs in the corporate machinery. To promote smooth operation, it is desirable for the nuts and bolts to change positions as rarely as possible. Hence it is made difficult for a normal employee to reach the level of the Philosopher King and his consorts.

Plato also engineered the prototype of the boorish manager – the watchdog defending corporate morality. According to his celebrated discussions, dogs can be ideally bred to keep sheep in order, snarl and attack strangers while being the soul of deference to the master. The people in Plato's ideal state – and therefore in the derived corporate world – are cattle who need skilled herdsman-ship.

Not too long ago did a modern day managerial guru of a major Indian corporation go on record bettering the Platonic benchmark, "Engineers are like vegetables. We can buy and sell them any time we want to." Plato at least dreamt of happy citizens, an unnecessary overhead that corporations can do without. Hence, we find preference for more subdued and stationary plant life.

What Plato’s laws presuppose is what the managements swear by – the organisation can judge the individual, but judgement cannot flow the other way without tipping the hierarchical balance. A fool-proof formula for the higher management to be elevated into god-players. 

The corporation is, therefore, always placed higher than the individual – something which is taken for granted by corporate drones and managers alike, without really waking up to the underlying naked fascism

indicated by the statement. However, such a conclusion is hardly earth shattering. Fascism in its turn is defined as the ideology to organise a nation according to corporatist values.

To drive home the totalitarian authority of the corporation, another Plato tenet becomes a favourite mission statement of corpocracy. Fitting the Republic-an directives into the corpocratic form, it can be
rephrased as: whether they manage by or without law, over willing or unwilling employees, whether they purge the company by laying off or transferring, as long as they proceed according to justice and preserve the organisation and make it better, this form of management must be declared the only one that is

Corporate Totalitarian Justice based on Plato's framework If we are buoyed by the reference to justice, let us take a closer look at the concept according to Plato's ideas. Doing so, we unearth untold wealth of wisdom which in fact powers the corporate value system.

Justice, as outlined in the Republic, is a surprisingly blatant argument against equality and freedom. And if we pause to consider the same concepts in the light of the current day, we find them taken for granted in the social fabric, yet ridiculously defiled under the juggernaut of corporations.

Republic works on the assumption that different individuals are by nature unequal. By corollary, equality for all begets inequality. Hence it makes sense for different privileges, including authority and education, for different classes. And in flourishing rhetoric, this was presented as the just course, because according to the Platonic theory of justice, the sole purpose of citizens is to maintain the stability of the state.

Again, transforming the argument into the totalitarian tenets of the corporation, we discover amazing congruence. Till around the turn of the century, when the obvious benefits of the internet made it absolutely ridiculous, in a lot of organisations web browsing had been the privilege of a chosen few. Till today, performance appraisals are carried out with preference for those who indulge in just that amount of self development that is optimal for the role he plays in the organisation. The desire to cut and trim individuals down to the size of the cogs which facilitate operations is evident in every policy and  procedure.

Additionally, there is the almost esoteric, mythical knowledge that remains in the highest echelons of the organisation, passed down to the favourites of the demi-gods on a strictly need to know basis. The tree of knowledge has always brought about the downfall of the mortal man who has not known better than to step into the territory of the God.

Transforming Plato’s Republic into the organisation, rules are designed to bring about welfare of the company, fitting the employees into one unit, by persuasion or force. Plato’s idea of justice was synonymous to whatever was best for the state – which in corporate terms can be rephrased as,
whatever suits the purpose of the organisation.

Finally, we need to focus on how the life-blood, the prana, the sustaining chi of corporations owe its origin to the genius of Plato. We are referring to the global phenomenon of celebrated corporate bullshit.

If one is unfortunate enough to delve deep into colossal crap that passes for senior management propaganda, it becomes obvious that following the footsteps of the great Greek authoritarian, organisations too use the technique of dramatic devices, lulling the critical faculties of the employees
into stupor, even as they propagate their selfish agenda while ostensibly promoting justice for all. It is the ancient use of oratory to divert attention from the intellectual poverty of propagated piece of fluff.

Deception Plato promotes deception as a favoured tool of the leader. In his vision, the philosopher king is a healer of the society – in our case the organisation. Just like the medical man, he is armed with the license to lie. At the same time, similar ruse, if detected in people not in the position of leaders, is a punishable offence. 

The corporate equivalents of totalitarian deception principles must be self evident. When it comes to fabrication on the part of senior management, the binding thread dangles clearly.

To cap it all, Plato pronounces three laws of deception that redefine the concept of truth – the echo of which reverberate till this day inside meeting rooms and corporate cubicles.

 One – Installation of rites and gods is the privilege of the great thinker. Down the ages, the adjective has frayed and decayed to fit the implied grandeur into the crammed corporate quarters. But when applied to
designation rather than faculties of reason, the manifesto rings as true as ever.

Two – Authority must suppress all doubts about any part of the politico-religious dogma. He advocates severest punishment for even honest, honourable people if their opinions concerning the (demi)gods vary from that of the state. Not recanting or repeating the offense is death – which can be translated variously into the termination, sack or the pink slip.

And finally the pivotal third – Anything that serves the interest of the authority is the truth. There is no other criterion. A remarkable sentence that strips truth of the virtue of universal unconditionality. It is in this defining clause that we find corporate organisations to be eerily similar to totalitarian regimes.

Lies, said the great philosopher, are necessary to carry the herd to its perfection. Plato may have been misguided in his pronouncements, but he did retain a modicum of Socratic ethics. Hence, he openly admitted that he was lying. Corporate leaders, sadly, remain blissfully ignorant of such and
other principles. Not too many of them are aware of the teachings of either Plato or Socrates anyway. These lessons have lived on, in the tribal tradition of comfort feel, as defence mechanism in the face of growing openness.

Why do Leaders Suck How is it that we always find ourselves in this kind of an unavoidable rut when we work for a big organisation? Why do corporations unwaveringly and systematically suck?

One of the reasons is the close circle of leadership and succession. The authoritarian will generally select those who obey, who believe in his lies or pretend to do so, and who respond favourably to his influence.
And, in doing so, he is almost bound to select mediocrities. He invariably excludes those who revolt, resist or doubt his influence. Never can totalitarian authority admit the intellectually courageous.

Authorities will claim to, and remain convinced of their ability to, detect initiative, proactiveness and innovation in people, but what they are quick to notice is the tendency of questioning authority and nothing more. 

Demands of corporate hierarchy enhance this vice. Those who dare to think for themselves are generally court-martialled and eliminated through charges of attitude problem and insubordination. Those who are good in following are seldom ones to be the harbingers of positive reform. The Man Friday of a party leader is seldom a capable successor. Institutional identification of leaders and emerging superstars are actually excellent for the purpose of arresting change and increasing the rule of the incompetent. An excellent process of filtering out actual innovation and ability to think for oneself.

Additionally there is the perennial problem of utopian engineering – that of the dictator’s successor. Even a true visionary cannot ensure that all his visions are implemented by his circle of command and his
successor. This is inevitable, since large numbers by definition imply mediocrity.

What lies ahead?  In the guise of consulting companies, we find the modern day equivalents of Plato’s political artist. Those jargon-chanting tribal priests who study the organisation and trim it down through rationalising recommendations in the alleged quest of guiding the company to its ideal performing form. Which is one more way of selling crap, selling short term benefits and ROIs packaged in sparkling jargon.
However, the livelihoods of human beings cannot be tampered with for the sake of artistically beautiful bullshit. One cannot clamour like Archimedes for a place to stand outside the world in order to lever it away to a better position. The organisational engineer has to do his bit by standing shoulder to
shoulder with the people who are the cogs that run the profit making machinery. 

Plato demanded rule of the wise or sophocracy. With the passage of time, it has degenerated into idiocracy or corpocracy. According to Immanuel Kant the king becoming philosopher or the philosopher king is not likely to happen, nor would it be desirable, since the possession of power invariably debases the free judgement of reason.

Karl Popper, the most brutal of all critics of Plato’s totalitarian arguments, goes a step further. He is candid in his statement that behind the sovereignty of the philosopher king lies naked quest for power, Plato’s own personal ambitions. The age old sham of professing love for freedom while nursing own dreams of power plays on in the so called visionary leadership of today’s corporate world.. .

 At the end of the day, corpocracy is nothing but totalitarian power. All power corrupts and absolute power is devastating in its corruption. This is a natural law that outlasts the make believe normative laws preached by the high priests of totalitarian propaganda. And, somehow, the insignificant cogs need to roll on without being crushed beyond recognition by the ever expanding corporate vehicle. How then does one survive? 

Not all can afford to get off the moving machinery without leaving means of livelihood in the sinister yet sustaining system. And one cannot change the machinery without getting sucked into the corrupting power - thus ending up resisting change, or arranging a corporate coup - which takes enormous amount of organisation time and energy, most of which can be better used if one does not lack a life.

The only way out of this problem, unfortunate as it is, seems to be to adjust expectations from corpocracy, preparing oneself to withstand the shocks and stutters of the worst possible leadership.
Simon van der Wiel is a fictitious character who appears in the novel The Best Seller by Arunabha Sengupta.

These lines are both collected from the novel and extrapolated from it - additional musings of the author through his alter ego

About Simon

My photo
Amsterdam, Netherlands