Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hatch Your Own Chickens: How to be a Management Guru

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

A lot of the problems in our country are rooted in the fact that there is a distinct lack of people who consider it their duty to give other people any advice. Specifically, there is a dearth of self-proclaimed experts spouting vague principles of management. Since exam season is upon us and soon many students will be embarking upon a career their parents chose for them the day they were born, we thought we’d do some ‘career counselling’ and educate our young readers on some lucrative opportunities.  

Now, before we begin, ask yourself the following questions: Do you enjoy talking about nothing in particular for long periods of time? Do you pretend to hear what someone else is saying but don’t listen? Do you generally conflate ‘being an asshole’ with ‘being an excellent leader’? Do you think you’re always right about everything?  Do you think that someone should pay you just for existing as a life form? 

If your answer to all of the above questions is a resounding “YES!”, then congratulations, you’re ready to be a management guru!

You must be wondering why the use of the word ‘guru.’ Well, that’s because both religion and management have the same goal: Fooling the maximum amount of people into believing in the existence of a benevolent higher power by making them follow an arbitrary set of rules so as to use their subservience for your own benefit.

The first thing you need to do before you even begin to look for clients, is to fix your appearance. You must appear to be successful, even if you haven’t achieved any success yet. ‘Corporate honchos’ will only take you seriously if they feel like you don’t need the job. The first rule of management is that anybody who actually needs a job is probably not good at it. You must also appear to have no time to take on new projects. For example, hire an assistant who will keep calling you to connect you to a ‘client’ in Tokyo. It’s important to have fake clients in Tokyo because people imagine that if someone in Japan would hire you, then you must be really good. And it should only be Tokyo because people will be suspicious if your fake client exists in a city they haven’t heard of.

The second step is to get a shtick. You don’t want to just talk about the principles of management. That’s boring and quite commonplace.  You’re a guru. You need something more memorable. The best way to do that is to connect management principles to something from the past. It can be a holy book, a political treatise, a novel or even a person. It doesn’t matter! Though you must ensure that whatever you’re going to “re-interpret” should be old enough so that neither is its original author around to counter any of your claims nor do many people living in the present know anything about it. It should require more than a cursory google search to counter whatever you’re saying. Most people will accept your version of the truth anyway because they would consider you to be an expert in such subjects. People will treat you like a genius if you tell them the real reason behind a historical event. Do you remember when Gandhi led the salt march because the regulatory policies of the British were stifling the margins of the Indian salt industry, turning their EBITDA negative and sinking the value of their stock? Hey, if it sounds real, it’s probably true, right?

It’s also quite advantageous to usurp something from the past and use it as your ‘theme’ because people love to - in any way possible - be part of what they imagine must have been a glorious time to exist in. And, anything really, can be re-interpreted in any way you want. What the Mahabharatha teaches us about management: (1) Always keep your eye on the battle (2) Half-truths don’t hurt anyone as long as they help you achieve the organizational goals and (3) Different departments can share a single resource. Having a theme for your work will also help you transition to becoming someone who is ‘internationally renowned.’ It should be weird enough for you to get an invitation to speak at a TED conference and marketable enough for your eventual book deal.

Another important step is to make sure the management techniques you plan to evangelize subvert previously established jargon. With great responsibility, comes great power. Don’t just think outside the box, invert it! However, each management guru must be careful not to repudiate any theories that other management gurus have proposed. We’re all in this together. Even if you hate someone, find at least one good thing to say about them. For example, every few months, some foreign newspaper or magazine does an article on how Mein Kampf is a permanent fixture on India’s best-seller lists. If they call you for a response, don’t say that this is outrageous and is the equivalent of Winston Churchill's Honey I Shrunk the Population of Bengal being a bestseller in Germany. Instead, mention that the book is a great manual of management techniques and except for the horrible genocide, Adolf Hitler doesn’t sound that bad.

Remember, it’s a Rich Dad eat Poor Dad world.

We just live in it.

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