War/Team spirit

War, in its many hues, is hardly understood ever. Sebastian Junger, war correspondent, goes deep in the trenches with American platoon in Afghanistan, and gives us ‘War’, an outstanding war report. But what caught my attention in this Economist review is the question the author asks – what is the reason of soldier’s “good-tempered acceptance of, indeed sometimes relish for, appalling danger”?

Mr Junger is more interested in the war as it is experienced by the American soldiers, mostly white 20-somethings, with whom he eats, sleeps and very often nearly gets killed… He is in awe of his fellows’ fighting skills and mostly good-tempered acceptance of, indeed sometimes relish for, appalling danger. This leads him to a broader inquiry into why this is generally true of modern soldiers.

The main reason, Mr Junger observes and numerous studies have confirmed, is love. The Americans in the Korengal, heroes by the standards of any warrior culture, are not especially religious or patriotic. They show little interest in the war overall or allegiance to the army at large; indeed, they cheer other units’ misfortunes. Rather, with passionate intensity, they fight for each other. “What the Army sociologists, with their clipboards and their questions and their endless meta-analyses slowly came to understand was that courage was love,” Mr Junger writes. “In war, neither could exist without the other.”

Tom Peters too have a word on this ” It’s all about the relationships, duh“?

It will be interesting to know how team of soldiers arrive at this point. Do such a team also goes through stages of, say, Tuckman’s model?


Jerry Garcia school of management

Fourty odd years after the summer of love, hippiedom is in for a different trip. Management science, of all, now looks to Grateful Dead for inspiration.

That’s what Joshua Green talks about in his article in The Atlantic. It seems Grateful Dead’s strategies and practices are influencing, of all people, managers and business students. He writes, “Without intending to-while intending, in fact, to do just the opposite-the band pioneered ideas and practices that were subsequently embraced by corporate America.”

Deadheads, the famous peripatetic (no, not pathetic) fans, followed, literally, the touring band. Though loose in the sense that they came from different parts of the country, there was a deep bond among them. Tribes , in fact.  Grateful Dead knew what it meant to care and connect with their vital fans. “The Dead were masters of creating and delivering superior customer value,” Barry Barnes, a business professor from Florida posits. And that was before American companies had to learn that from Japanese.

Grateful Dead also let Deadheads record songs freely in concerts. Band’s lyricist, John Perry Barlow explains to the author “..if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced...”. None can argue with that now. “Strategic improvisation” is the word coined by Prof. Barry Barnes. May not be the pioneer, but sure an harbinger of open source philosophy.

Prof. Barnes then theorizes, “Giving something away and earning money on the periphery is the same idea proffered by Wired editor Chris Anderson in his recent best-selling book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price.”

Chris Anderson, in his Wired article on Free (there’s a book too), starts with Gillette as revolutionizing business models with offering throwaway models. It’s possible since it comes at throwaway price. However ‘throwaway’ disposable razors are, they are not free. And the difference between “free” and “not-free”, however little it might be, is a major difference.

Giving it all away might not always be that altruistic. Joel Spolsky, in his blog once wrote, “I noticed something interesting about open source software, which is this: most of the companies spending big money to develop open source software are doing it because it’s a good business strategy for them, not because they suddenly stopped believing in capitalism and fell in love with freedom-as-in-speech.” (There, I believe, are open source softwares with its origins in idealism which later got monetized by bigger companies. Then again, do ‘money’ and ‘altruism’ need to conflict?)

Coming to innovative pricing, perhaps Rainbows takes the cake. Todd Sattersten, in his “A Pricing Utopia” says “..You can’t please all of the people all of the time, when it comes to price, no matter what you charge, you are going to leave money on the table. Some customers will pass because the cost is too high, while others would have paid more…..”.

In October 1, 2007, Radiohead released their album on their own website as both digital download and $80 premium discbox that included two CDs, two vinyl records, photos and lyric book. In Rainbows has become more well-known for the sales method than the music itself. So Radiohead vaporized their middleman (recording company) who were eating into the profits and watering down art. Thom Yorke told TIME , “...but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one...”. (Where is the manager of the self-managed team?)

Towards the end of the article, Joshua Green writes “That was the value proposition with the Dead.” The Dead thrived for decades, in good times and bad. In a recession, Barnes says, strategic improvisation is more important than ever. “If you’re going to survive this economic downturn, you better be able to turn on a dime,” he says. “The Dead were exemplars.” It can be only a matter of time until Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead or some similar title is flying off the shelves of airport bookstores everywhere.

Now, at least, there is a blog.

Simple things

As the story goes, Russian cosmonauts chose a humble wooden pencil to use in spacecrafts when the American peers were spending millions in designing a pen which can withstand the zero-gravity of spacecraft. (The story is a myth). Whatever, the punchline is in the simplicity.

When ALM solutions try to oversell, a simple good whiteboard can do the job. And better. Even if you ignore the team jellyness it brings as well as all the benefits of visual boards. (Not to say ALM or project management solutions don’t have a place, but yes, they don’t always have a place).

Kevin Mayer, on his excellent post, points out how a run to staples (to get sticky notes) can do a better job than any expensive software solution. The obvious message is to restrain yourself.

Agile manifesto principles says “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential”. Rings with Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s thought on perfection – “… but when there is nothing left to take away”.

Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist‘ starts with the byline – “If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do?”.

It tells a story on Boeing bombers:

On October 30, 1935, at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers vying to build its next-generation long-range bomber….Boeing’s plane could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested; it could fly faster than previous bombers, and almost twice as far. A Seattle newspaperman who had glimpsed the plane called it the “flying fortress,” and the name stuck.

But the plane crashed on its first attempt to take off.

An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash had been due to “pilot error,” the report said. The complexity overwhelmed the pilot.

The Boeing model was deemed, as a newspaper put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly.

Why do we keep the monster machines running?

Sometimes plain lack of intelligence (Howard Gardner’s selective/multiple intelligence) or empathy or aesthetics. Or sometimes to justify our needs. Or fear. Lizard brain. Sometime believing in what we are taught to believe. How can there be simple solution to complex problem?.

(This is not to say all problems can be solved simply. Most problems, I guess, in development economics fall in this category. Einstein’s  “…no simpler...” can be complex enough)