Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Military Metaphors in Management Jargon

Musings of a Veteran

The Art and Science of Management owes its genesis and evolution to the Military.  

Modern Management theories, concepts, techniques and practices emerged in the 1950s from the experiences and lessons learnt during World War 2 (particularly in The United States of America by organizations like the RAND Corporation).

For example  the concept of systems analysis  which involves looking at a particular problem not in isolation but rather in the context of the whole system of which it is a part and then explicitly examining the consequences of alternative courses of action  was developed at RAND in the 1950s to address military challenges.

The revolutionary technological concepts of information technology like internet and software and hardware technologies on which today’s corporate world depend so extensively also emanated from the military. In fact – RAND was the birthplace of the Internet's basic distributed network technology.

Isn’t it therefore ironic that the reverse is happening today?

Yes – it was the military that gave modern management principles to the civilian corporate world.

And  today we see a paradoxical situation of military men running to Civilian Business Schools and Management Institutes to “learn” management and acquire the coveted MBA degree which is the sine qua non and all important passport for entry into the corporate world.

It is also amusing to see so-called management experts from the corporate world, safely ensconced in the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, who are far removed from the experience of war and who have never seen a shot fired in anger, boast of using military strategy in boardrooms, and advocating the use of military tactics in sales and marketing.

These management gurus freely bandy about terms like “foot soldiers”, “generals”, “field experience” – and liberally quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and other military classics. 

It has become fashionable to call competitors as “enemies” and use terms like “battles” and “leading from the front” – little realizing that there is a vast difference between the rules of engagement pertaining to corporate “wars” and actual wars fought on real battlefields.

This metaphorical imagery may sound appealing to civilians – but – the stakes are vastly different.

If a manager does not “win” – he risks losing his job – and he may cause a financial loss to his company.

If a military officer does not win – he risks losing his life (and those of his men) – and he can cause defeat in war to his country – which can have catastrophic consequences. 

Think about it.

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