Tag Archives: management

The “On-Behalf-of” Organization

This is the first in a planned series of posts exploring the logic and inherent order of organizations. Very little of this material has been previously published.

The incomparable Peter Drucker in 1974 wrote: “Our children will have to learn organizations in the same way our fathers had to learn farming.” If anything, he understated the matter; we are still, 40 years later, learning about organizations.

Farming may look like a simple matter: Prepare ground, plant crops, harvest, sell, repeat. But as any real farmer can tell you, if that’s all you know about farming you are guaranteed to fail. Likewise organizations can look to be a simple matter: Create a needed product or service, offer it on the market, sell at a profit, repeat. Some legislators are very fond of this view and suggest it as the model for all organizations. But again, if that simple market-based model is all you know about organizations, you are guaranteed to fail. Organizations come in many different forms, and what works for one form – the market-based for-profit organization, for example – can be devastating for another.

Every organization is a unique and distinctive configuration of people in relation to their world. Depending on the organization’s specific purpose for existence, the value it sets out to create, for whom, by whom, in what working relationships and by which specific means, an inherent order emerges. This inherent order establishes a kind of logic for the organization, defining specific bounds on what actions are appropriate or inappropriate, required or optional, allowed or forbidden, expected or surprising, relevant or irrelevant. Continue reading The “On-Behalf-of” Organization


Nasrudin Learns About Peace and Love

Nasrudin decided to attend a weekend workshop on spiritual matters – and he really got it! As he walked away from the workshop, Nasrudin saw that the entire world was filled with peace and love. He looked at the blue sky and the trees with the breeze gently rippling the leaves, and it was all peace and love. As he walked through the streets he saw the children playing and the cats sunning themselves and the dogs barking, and it was all peace and love, and then a dog ran up to Nasrudin and bit him.

Nasrudin was outraged. He ran back to the workshop teacher and said: “You told me the world was all peace and love, but that dog bit me! What’s that all about?” Continue reading Nasrudin Learns About Peace and Love

Nasrudin’s Gold Coin

Nasrudin lost his lucky gold coin. For days he searched everywhere for it, but it was not to be found. Finally, Nasrudin fell to his knees and prayed:

“Oh Lord, I’ve lost my gold coin. I’ve  done everything I know to do, but it’s still missing. Please help me Lord. It’s my most precious possession. Help me find it, and I promise I will give half my wealth to the poor.”

Nasrudin opened his eyes. Immediately he spotted his gold coin, lying almost completely hidden under his prayer rug. Quickly Nasrudin closed his eyes again and said: Continue reading Nasrudin’s Gold Coin

Nasrudin Loses His Keys

Late one night a friend of Nasrudin’s found him standing under a streetlight, peering anxiously at the ground. “What are you doing?” the friend asked. Nasrudin replied, “I’m looking for my keys.”

Being a good friend the man joined Nasrudin in the search. After ten fruitless minutes, the friend asked: “Nasrudin, exactly where were you standing when you dropped your keys?” Nasrudin pointed toward a dark alley. “Over there.” Continue reading Nasrudin Loses His Keys

Nasrudin Makes Soup

Nasrudin had some vegetables and grain; his friend had a meaty bone from a lamb roast. Together they made soup. Nasrudin got a pot and picked some herbs while his friend fetched water. After each ate his fill, another serving of the rich, hearty soup remained. Nasrudin set it aside for tomorrow.

The next day a man knocked at Nasrudin’s gate. ”I’m a friend of your friend. He said I could have his share of the soup.” Nasrudin eyed the soup wistfully, but he added enough water to stretch it to a weak but still tasty broth and they both had a portion. A bit of broth remained in the pot, which Nasrudin set aside for breakfast.

Next morning another man knocked at Nasrudin’s gate. “I’m a friend of the friend of your friend, and I’ve come for some soup.” Nasrudin took some water, heated it, poured it into a bowl, and handed it to the man. He took one sip and asked: “What’s this?” Continue reading Nasrudin Makes Soup

Nasrudin Plays Golf

Nasrudin took up golf and quickly fell in love with the game. Every day he and three others met just after lunch and got in 18 holes. He returned home every afternoon, tired and happy.

But one day he returned home quite late, and his wife could see he was in a terrible mood. “Nasrudin, what happened? Didn’t you enjoy your golf game?”

Nasrudin replied: “It was just terrible! Bob teed it up on the first hole, hit a great drive right down the middle of the fairway – and keeled over, dead of a heart attack!” Continue reading Nasrudin Plays Golf

Nasrudin and the Strange Green Fruits

Nasrudin loved to experience new cultures. Once, in India, he sat in the market and watched people shopping for a bewildering variety of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. He noticed that everyone bought one particular small, green fruit, so he used his last rupees to buy a kilo of it.  He sat under a tree, with great anticipation bit into one of the fruits – and choked as his mouth began to burn as if on fire!

“How unfortunate!” he thought to himself. “I must have chosen a bad one.” So he picked another of his small green fruits, bit into it – and found the fire in his mouth doubled.

Just then, a passerby saw the tears streaming from Nasrudin’s eyes and asked what was the problem. When Nasrudin explained, the passerby laughed and said: “Those fruits you bought are chilies! We only buy one or two, and use them to spice a big dish of vegetables. Nobody ever eats them raw.”

Nasrudin nodded thoughtfully, looked at the large pile of chilies in front of him, picked up one and began to eat. The passerby was astonished: “Why, man, now that you know what they are, why are you eating the chilies?” Continue reading Nasrudin and the Strange Green Fruits

Nasrudin Shoots an Arrow

Nasrudin decided to try his hand at archery. He fit an arrow to the bow, aimed at a nearby tree, pulled back the bowstring and let fly. The arrow flew straight past the tree and stuck in Nasrudin’s shirt, which was hanging on the line to dry.

Nasrudin let out a great shriek and sank to his knees, wailing. His wife rushed from the house to find out what was the matter.

Nasrudin pointed in horror at the arrow sticking out of the shirt. His wife looked at the shirt, pulled out the arrow and said: “Nasrudin! What’s wrong with you? It’s an old shirt, it’s only a small tear, I can mend it – what’s the big deal?” Continue reading Nasrudin Shoots an Arrow

Nasrudin’s Donkey Goes on a Diet

Nasrudin attended a lecture on the health and spiritual benefits of fasting. He was impressed by the speaker’s claims, but, being a cautious man, decided to try out this new path to enlightenment on his donkey first.

He began slowly, cutting back the donkey’s food by a little each day. And everything was great – the donkey seemed more cooperative, he did all his work, and Nasrudin was saving a lot of money on his food! Finally Nasrudin achieved full implementation of the program: the donkey received no food at all. Nasrudin eagerly anticipated seeing with his own eyes the health and spiritual benefits of fasting. Continue reading Nasrudin’s Donkey Goes on a Diet

Nasrudin Takes a Hike

Nasrudin decided to go for a hike in the wilderness. Since this was new territory for him, he studied the map beforehand, and planned out his route carefully. He put a good sandwich into his backpack, made sure his water bottle was filled, and set off.

Hiking in the mountains, Nasrudin came to a fallen tree which completely blocked the trail. He started to go around the tree, when suddenly he encountered a huge bear who did not seem happy to see him. Nasrudin ran back the other way, the bear in hot pursuit. Nasrudin tripped over a rock and fell into a mud puddle as he scrambled uphill. He grabbed the sandwich from his backpack and threw it at the bear, who, being more interested in the sandwich than Nasrudin, stopped to eat it while Nasrudin scrambled out of the mud and over a ridge.

After a time, being sure the bear was no longer following him, Nasrudin sat on a rock to clean up and get a sip of water. He took the map from his backpack and looked at it with disgust, saying to himself: “I’ve got to get a better map! None of that stuff was on this one!”

Commentary: Alfred Korzybski famously said: “The map is not the territory.” He might as well have said: “The plan is not the reality.” Plans are everywhere in organizations: strategic plans, business plans, action plans, investment plans, growth plans, cost-reduction plans … It’s hard to be taken seriously in business, politics or academe without a well-documented plan. And we do take them seriously: in many circles, “not making plan” is the strongest criticism of a manager’s performance. Just as we wouldn’t start on a trip without mapping out our course, we want to be sure to have a good plan before we start our endeavor.

But once we get going, reality has a nasty tendency to deviate from the plan. A sharp competitor cuts into our market share; interest rates head down instead of up; a new technology opens up a whole new set of opportunities; we recruit some key players for our team while losing some others; credit markets freeze solid. What do we do about the plan, then? Do we “stay the course,” insisting on “making plan” regardless? Do we revise the plan, or just abandon it and improvise? At what point does the plan become an obstacle to success?

But there may be a deeper meaning here as well here. Could Nasrudin be asking us to recognize that reality is filled with unexpected hungry bears?

Is he reminding us that something big and unplanned for always happens? How often do we find, looking back, that the most important thing we had to deal with was completely unforeseen? Perhaps we should consider the fallen tree and the bear as the rule, rather than the exception. We can’t know what it will be, or when it will come, but one thing Nasrudin asks us to consider: when all is said and done, the least likely scenario is finding that everything played out as we planned.

Nasrudin may be reminding us to keep our eyes out for hungry bears (and that sometimes you need a good sandwich to feed the bear more than you need a good map).

Contemplation: How are your plans doing in matching reality? Are you confusing the map for the territory? What are you doing to keep an eye out for hungry bears?

Dedicated to the millions of people who lost trillions of dollars in 2008 when the “impossible” and completely unforeseen became real.