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Corporate culture

They are (not) like us

The Proclamation of the German Empire by Anton von WernerIn the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871, the mobilization speed of the Germans and the French was very different at the beginning of the war. The Prussian general staff succeeded in moving powerful units to the imminent front quite quickly thanks to sophisticated rail logistics and the joint transfer of troops and material. At the same time, chaos still reigned on the French side. Units could be moved only slowly from their home bases because of inadequate logistics, and of those that reached the border, many were still waiting a long time for weapons and ammunition.

This difference in mobilization speed could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the war. It did not, however. For one simple reason: the Germans would have had to be aware of it. They weren't. To the contrary, they assumed that the French would be just as fast as they were and therefore decided to play it safe. The French, in return, assumed that the Germans were just as slow as they themselves were, so there was no reason to worry. The first advance of the war came from the French: The militarily nonsensical and, for the weaker side, risky occupation of Saarbrücken. Prussia ultimately won the war by a decisively – mobilization was not the only area in which it was superior to the French. However, if the Germans had been able to exploit their faster mobilization, victory might have been achieved even more quickly and with fewer losses.

The mistake behind this, which affected Germans and French alike in 1870, is one we encounter many times today as well: In case of doubt, one assumes that the other side with which one is in conflict is just like oneself, equipped with the same capabilities and the same knowledge. Written down in such abstract terms, it is obvious that this is quite nonsensical. That two people or two companies have exactly the same skills and knowledge, that is unrealistic. Nevertheless, it is easy to fall into this assumption: in one's own overestimation of oneself (like the French) or in overestimation of the other (like the Germans).

That's why it's worth sitting down in front of a white sheet of paper every now and then to write down what you really know for sure about your counterpart – without thinking first and foremost about yourself.

Written in April 2023 | Category: Corporate culture

Ideas of Man in Management

Camus\' \From Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus", I have particularly taken a control question to throw it against theoretical-abstract interpretations of the world and strategy recommondations derived from them: And if it were so, what does that turn men into? That resonated with the computer engineer in me, who knows that above a certain level of complexity, you can no longer understand software line by line, but instead have to test and evaluate its output.

Whenever I sit in management seminars or read management literature, I throw this question back at the content. With unfortunately quite unsatisfactory results at the moment: the idea of man behind current management ideology seems to be quite consistently – despite different topics and approaches – one that conceives man as exclusively good (and good-natured). One would still face obstacles to live up to this – lack of acceptance of emotions or poor reflection on humanity or bad organization – but if these obstacles were overcome, then the good and right would always win (and companies would then, of course, be even more successful).

It is a thoroughly naive view of humanity that, confronted with Büchner's question of what it is in us that goes whoring, lies, steals and murders, can only turn away and cover its ears. This is interesting because the image of the classic manager is that of a rational decision-maker who cannot avoid a realistic image of man as a precondition for his rationality. The current management literature stands in fundamental opposition to this.

Written in December 2022 | Category: Corporate culture

Assessment Center

School and university examinations have something artificial: never again in professional life will the performance evaluation be so compressed to a very concrete examination situation. There is no equivalent for exams in professional life.

The closest thing to university examinations in professional life are assessment center before hiring or a promotion. However, if the university exams are about a specific subject whose performative knowledge is being tested, assessment center are about something different: can the applicant (1) recognize and (2) fulfil the expectations placed on him. Already the first task poses a challenge: Different corporations with different officially announced cultures also have different requirements for the habitus of their new recruits. Expectations can also shift above hierarchical levels. It is the job of the applicants to know these expectations. And then it is also necessary to fill this recognized expectation spontaneously and possibly in an artificially induced stress situation through demonstrated behaviour.

Thus, the assessment center has the artificial situation in common with the university examination, but unlike the latter, skills are tested that are decisive for professional success: Being able to recognize and fulfil expectations is an essential cornerstone of a corporate career. In the subject matter of the examination, the assessment center is therefore true-to-life.

Written in October 2020 | Category: Corporate culture

Endgame Fallacy

Being able to reduce complexity and thereby make facts discussable and, above all, problems solvable is one of the core skills in modernity. There are various tricks for this. One trick that I encounter from time to time is what I call endgame analysis: Sometimes developments are complex, but one can describe relatively well what kind of state there is at their end. So you describe this final state and then derive actions from it without having to discuss every intermediate stage.

But this reduction in complexity is usually accompanied by the loss of temporality. And that is often problematic. For in most cases it does play a role whether the end state is reached very soon or in the distant future - and above all whether its occurrence is brought about earlier or delayed.

An example: "In the long run we're all dead" (Keynes) is undoubtedly correct. But whether one dies sooner or later is not unimportant. "If I'm dead in the endgame anyway, I can actually (today) also stop eating" is therefore also an obviously stupid suggestion. However, relatively often I encounter endgame considerations, where exactly such a thing is derived.

So be on your guard against this fallacy. Unless you want to cheat - for that, endgame considerations are relatively well suited...

Written in January 2020 | Category: Corporate culture