Thursday, May 3, 2012

Artists and Scientists

Recently, I finished reading the acclaimed tome by Eric Reis, The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. The ending was the most impressive part to me. Reis is willing to submit his own ideas of innovation accounting and the like to rigorous testing in startup research labs in universities. A footnote mentions that Nathan Furr of BYU and Thomas Eisenmann of Harvard Business School are already studying lean startup management practices. In a startup world full of dogma, this is thoroughly refreshing. This has also helped me see that there is a continuum of startup ideation and management practices. On one end, there is the thoroughly scientific crowd, focused on meaningful metrics and rigid adherence to the rule of data, however interpreted. On the other, there are those who rely on epiphanies, intuition, and instinct. I certainly don't claim that these are mutually exclusive nor that one is necessarily superior to the other. Context matters.

Long ago, it became accepted wisdom that business acumen had much to do with gut-instinct. In the era before everything became measurable, this was largely all that a businessperson could rely on. Even today, there are instances when gut is all you can rely on. A businessperson relying on gut-instinct is similar to artists in a sense. When it comes time to make a decision, after taking into account costs-benefits, it often comes down to gut and the impetus to make a decision in the face of considerable uncertainty. But this is what Lean Startup was all about, how to make the best decisions in the face of great uncertainty. Reis talks about Frederick Taylor and the dawn of "scientific" management, which focused on individual productivity, as a counterpoint to Lean Startup practices. Today, we have professional management, the product of the mind-numbing number of MBA program variations. I've heard the argument that today's professional management are different from the self-made management of the days of yore. They don't necessarily have the domain knowledge or company-specific experience as the yeoman manager. It's interesting to see the move from the self-made management to professional management progressing at a vastly accelerated rate in emerging economies.

Still, I distinguish between professional management and what I will call "scientific" managers, or perhaps scientific management. Though professional management may have been steeped in "scientific" management principles, they might not adhere to them. The "scientific" managers rely on organization and a somewhat tighter leash to make progress. It could be argued that "scientific" managers easier to evaluate since their progress is closely monitored, regularly measured, and comes with a good assortment of metrics. Artistic managers rely on creativity, impetus, and a well-honed instinct to get things done. One can certainly still evaluate artistic management, but there is more effort involved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.