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.

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