As I began writing what was going to be an editorial on management style, I came across an article in The Industry Standard (Oct. 30) reporting that dot.com companies have laid off some 20,000 people this year. Nothing unusual about that, and I was going to skip it and move on to something more interesting, when another story in the same issue caught my eye. It was about psychoanalyzing a dot.com, and it mentioned narcissism, greed, hubris – ancient concepts that you wouldn’t expect to find in a “new economy” magazine. Pretty powerful stuff. I was hooked, and a somewhat different editorial was born.
The gist of that story, for those of you who may not get around to reading it, is that the various stages of human psychological development parallel those of the growth of a business. Guess where the dot.coms are on this continuum? “Some companies have become mired in the infantile grandiosity and narcissism of the precrash new economy, believing that the omnipotence of childhood would last forever,” author Kerry J. Sulkowicz writes. It follows that growing up will put an end to this power trip, but physical change alone won’t do the trick. What childlike companies have in common, Sulkowicz says, is that they prefer to do rather than to think. Hence the scramble to be the biggest, best, and grandest pooh-bah. Action, however, is effective only when it is the result of sober reflection – an activity that children rarely indulge in.
Which brings me to another staple of new economy folklore: Anyone who has anything to do with the Web is always in a hurry. Elaine Rubin, chairwoman of Shop.org, an industry group for online retailers, was recently quoted in The New York Times as saying, “Internet customers place an order, then run to the door to see if the UPS truck is there yet.” Whether there’s any statistical data to support this, no one knows. But apparently the customers of dot.coms are, like the merchants who cater to them, impatient. They breathlessly await the arrival of goodies and throw horrific tantrums if their gewgaws don’t show up on the dot. Unfortunately, hordes of one-minute managers, customer service gurus, and reengineering experts have sprung up to massage the egos of these nanosecond-oriented children.
The best service we can do to operations is to not buy into the unbridled greed, commercialism, and puffery that the dot.coms have introduced into the business landscape. Instead, take the energy and vision that they started out with, and temper that with mature understanding and action. If that isn’t a great management style, I don’t know what is.