Managing in the real world is not easy since it means compromise and tradeoffs. There is only so much money, time to execute, and impact to be made. Phrases like the tyranny of the urgent conjure up how tempting it is to do what is easy or let panic rule the day. Few managers can truly execute a strategic vision without being distracted by daily skirmishes.
Where disciplined critical-thinking minds prevail and all the facts seem to be present and confirming, you observe rightful decisions and progress. However, the real world is seldom so transparent and consistent, so you tend to observe “paralysis by analysis” where studies seem to only raise more doubts and the need for more studies. This is what one of our energy colleagues coined as the apropos acronym WASTE to describe the current scientific situation: It was the Welfare Act for Scientists, Technologists, and Engineers … after all, if you ask them what to study, they will invent ideas!
My father, who was president of a division of Panasonic, chastised me when I finished my master’s in management and offered to help his business using the disciplined methods I had learned. He said, “Those techniques are useless in the real world. By the time you have gathered all the information needed to use your models, the competition would have already claimed the prize!”
Managing by what my father called gutfeel or instinct could not be further from today’s business styles. Management-by-committee-and-consensus has replaced common sense and any form of sophisticated intellectual ideas. Worse yet, our cancel culture seems to care much more about mediocrity and some sense of societal equity, rather than striving for excellence in every position and people empowered to make a difference.
This perfect world idealized in our youth might be good for society if it were blended into a realistic framework of cost-effectiveness and some retrospective wisdom. Unfortunately, each generation must learn that lesson on their own and many, sadly, follow the German philosopher’s line that, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” They would do well to listen to the wisdom of leaders who have been there and done that and can make decisions instinctively vs. seeking consensus leading to mediocrity.
Instead, we have ideologues dominating the discussion and consensus mechanisms that have an insatiable appetite for more information … more studies … and endlessly more bickering…more WASTE.