A column in the recent issue of the Economist points out to the four myths of management theory in the current times — One, the myth of business being more competitive than ever; two, the myth of this being the age of entrepreneurialism; third, the myth of business becoming overwhelmingly faster; and the fourth myth that globalization is both inevitable and irreversible. The column argues that in reality, this is the age of consolidation, the rate of new business creation has actually reduced, the pace of businesses in many ways is actually slowing down and last but not the least, Brexit and Trump have demonstrated that this could well be the beginning of the end of globalization as we know it.
All thoughts, theories and frameworks are contextual — they are not only the products of their times but also by extension more relevant to some times than others
Clearly, all four are highly debatable and contentious issues and we must have our own opinion and stance on them based on objective assessment and subjective preferences. These four trends in management theory were absolute, resolute and unshakable premises till only a few years back — and whether they have indeed reversed or not can be argued, but even the most ardent supporters will have to admit that they have lost sheen if not more (and cricketers will tell you that the cherry which has lost sheen inevitably reverse swings!!)
All thoughts, theories and frameworks are contextual – they are not only the products of their times but also, by extension, more relevant to some times than others. For example, a post-war Europe is different from a post EU one — the generation, its concerns, behaviors, outlooks, preferences and its subjective reality is different. No wonder in country after country, the space of democratic-liberal-globalized polity is shrinking across the world. The question that begs attention is — could what is true for polity, economics and sociology also true for human behavior and leadership issues? Are some truisms of the last past half a century worth re-examining?
Let me illustrate this with a potentially provocative example. Every research on subject of effective feedback (which incidentally is all western research) highlights the need to be careful, empathetic, non-offensive, and overwhelmingly ‘soft’. Kabeer a few centuries wrote –
Shabd maara kheench ke, tab ham paaya gyaan
Lagi chot jo shabd ki, rahi kaleje chaan
(Only when the ‘word’ hit me hard, did I attain wisdom – only when the word pierced through me!!)
One rather notices the lack of ‘softness’ in the tone and tenor of the couplet, and the implication that true change does not happen with kid gloves. The Indian parenting experience of the past at least echoes the above sentiment – parents in the past rarely bothered with niceties while correcting behavior. I am sure one also recognizes how these two world views collide with each other. Is Indian response to corrective feedback different from the western response? The question is not whether it is or it isn’t – the question is whether it has the potential to be different? The question also is whether we consume models, theories and constructs too easily and make them our objective truths. The question finally is – if this is true, then to what vagaries does this leave our behavioral effectiveness susceptible to?
So this is the point — what premises and truisms that we have held so dear and based our entire lives on have lost or are losing sheen? Watch for the sands shifting – they invariably shift.