Wednesday, August 10, 2011

WB's Way: The 78th Most Common Word

From ‘70s and ‘80s pop music:

Ooh, baby I love your way [Peter Frampton]
That’s just the way it is [Bruce Hornsby]
You can go your own way [Fleetwood Mac]
That’s the way of the world [Earth, Wind & Fire]

I don’t think I could’ve guessed that the word “way” is one of the most common written words in the English language. Now that I know it is, though, I’ll pay even closer attention.

Way originally meant “road, path, or course of travel.” A definition that interests me more, however, is: “a manner, method, or means” – as in a way of doing or of knowing. As in there are as many different ways of being as there are humans.

I’ve actually been paying some attention to its use for a while. This blog (as an indication) is all about various ways of managing. Every manager has her way. The Harvard Business School teaches its comprehensive way. Tom Peters recently summed up and tweeted about his way this way: 

"Cherish your people, cuddle your customers, wander around, 'try it' beats 'talk about it,' pursue excellence, tell the truth."
I haven’t thought this through, but – an exposition of Wendell Berry's way would almost certainly include and revolve around these notions: 
  • we (people) have to act; 
  • we have to act on the basis of what we know; 
  • what we know is incomplete; 
  • therefore, “the question of how to act in ignorance is paramount.” 

The Way of Ignorance. That’s the title of a 2005 collection of his essays. It's also a name I think he’d still happily give to his general approach to things. How do his thoughts (more specifically) about business follow from it? That’s what I hope to keep exploring and writing about...

A ways down the road.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

WB's Way: Intro

I’ve never really bought into the idea that graduates of MBA programs know better ‘an the rest of us what makes companies tick. Peter Drucker was a sociologist. Kenneth Andrews, who (among other things) headed up Harvard Business School’s advanced management programs in the '70s, earned a PhD in English.

Walter Kiechel wrote about both men in The Lords of Strategy, lauding them for the power of their insights and their contributions to The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World. (the book’s subtitle) He described Andrews as “a humanist in all that word’s senses.” And, he noted about Drucker that his “output was so rich, wide-ranging, and ever-renewed with fresh observations that it somehow didn’t come across as systematic.”

Rereading those snippets the other day, I couldn’t help but think of Wendell Berry. 

Wendell Berry.“The best serious essayist at work in the United States.” The recipient, this past March, of the 2010 National Humanites Medal. A swell guy, in my eyes, whose values, opinions, and sensibilities have intrigued me for at least a dozen years.

During their careers, Messrs. Drucker and Andrews were up to their respective elbows in big business. As for Mr. Berry? The word “business” hardly ever surfaces in his writings. And yet he has loads to say about: Work. Economy. Community. Propriety…

The human condition. That’s been his domain. Within it, he's developed interesting points of view that (IMO) speak to the role of people in getting things done and making things better. He's examined all sorts of stuff business thinkers haven’t traditionally shown much willingness to examine – but managers with responsibility for the overall success of their organizations must necessarily address.

I have a vague feel for Wendell Berry’s formula (which has ne’er been formulated, as far as I know) for success. I have a sense I’d enjoy working alongside him. But, I’m not positive. So I want to get a firmer grip; I want to make his approach more explicit, if possible. And then kick it around some.

Ultimately, I’d like to end up with a more informed opinion about whether or not more Wendell Berry in business would be good for business.

Any business.