Sunday, 25 March 2012 INDEX

Zen Management
This is both a handbook to help you succeed in the modern world of work and a survival guide for those unfortunates who have no desire to climb the greasy pole but would prefer not to get on the wrong side of the powers that be in the organisation in which they work.

It introduces the idea of Zen Management. This sounds like a highly exotic technique but is actually the commonest form of corporate organisation in the workplace today.

Zen management is by its nature chaotic and destructive. It is one of the most profound reasons why the corporation is likely to be replaced by a loose network of individual contracts, with people working together on a freelance basis on individual projects, connected only by the internet.

In a world where roads are permanently jammed by crawling traffic, it makes no sense for people to spend perhaps ten hours a week getting to an office that has worse equipment (computers, phones, faxes, broadband etc.) than they could afford to buy for their own home.

Ten hours a week is about the same as 1.2 working days. The average person goes to an office about 45 weeks a year. That means the total travelling time is about 54 working days or nearly 11 weeks. That is the equivalent of working from January until the last fortnight of March! Apart from the damage done to the planet, this wastes an awful lot of resources. It is not uncommon for people to spend £2,000, £3,000 perhaps even £5,000 a year commuting. There are parts of the world where an income of £5,000 a year would be regarded as wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. In the age of the internet people who live in these areas may be able to compete against some of the commuters for their jobs. Call centres have already started to do this. Quite clearly the current level of commuting is not sustainable.

Right now the corporation seems stronger than it has ever been. It is the dominant form of social organisation and thrives while other social systems (churches, voluntary organisations, cinemas, clubs and societies, even pubs and drinking clubs) languish. It is likely to remain that way for at least the next decade. It wouldn't be worth writing the book if it was any other way.

But all forms of organisation wax and wane. They have a natural life span. And when an organisation seems to be most powerful it is a likely sign it is about to decline. Has the corporation reached its apogy! Probably not just yet. But it will at some time. Probably some time in the 21st century.

Zen Management conjures up the image of Tibetan priests in spartan temples ringing bellls annd using prayer wheels. But these are not the signs of Zen Management. The most obvious sign is that when you deal with an organisation the first thing junior staff tell you about the middle management is that they do nothing.

If you then talk to the managers themselves they will usually tell you they are fiendishly busy and have to work incredibly long hours.

Both groups are often guilty of a degree of self delusion (managers may still be in the office three hours after the end of working time, but they may also slope off at other times when they believe no one is looking--- workers come to believe that everything they do is entirely their own idea and forget that the job has been set up for them). But to some extent both groups are right in what they say. Middle managers do work hard and they do appear to do nothing. This is the nature of Zen.

The Zen Master causes things to happen without appearing to do anything. And the Zen Master has to spend a lot of time in contemplation in order to reach enlightenment. From the outside this meditation looks an awful lot like doing nothing.

Many who have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance will be reluctant to believe this. ZAMM, as its fans call it, made Zen appear to be a bullshit free zone. Engineers doing things because they were the right things to do rather than to impress anyone.

Zen is like that but there are many forms of Zen. You could have a Zen of military force, perhaps even a Zen of thieving or contract killing.

Zen management is unpleasant and inefficient but it is nowhere near as immoral as the Zen of contract killing, if such a thing exists.

Posted by Jonathan Brind
Sunday, 25 March 2012 INDEX