There are a great many principles of management and leadership, and no book has yet been written that encompasses them all.  But it is still good to state—and restate—them when necessary, since new circumstances and conditions are always arising that challenge our adaptive powers.  I wanted to talk about two of these principles, both of which forced themselves into my life recently as a result of some work challenges I had to deal with.

Too Much Organization Can Be A Bad Thing

The conventional wisdom tells us that we should seek to be organized in every detail, and that we should strive for a harmonic balance in our business or organization.  Up to certain limits, of course, this is a valid and perfectly reasonable statement.  Who can deny that businesses or organizations should not be organized?  Only a fool or a slob would try to assert otherwise.

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But the problem lies in the human tendency to take good things too far to the extreme.  Left unchecked, our organizational impulses can become a neurotic obsession.  Organization becomes a goal in itself rather than a means to an end; pedantic quibbling about irrelevant details replaces genuine innovation, and the organization as a whole suffers.  I suspect that many readers have seen this principle in action:  too much organization produces nothing but a dead machine.

It may be wiser in this respect to adhere to general rules than to rigid tables of organization, flow-charts, and bean-counting studies.  I am a firm believer in the rule that people make organizations, and not the other way around.  We should try to seek out the best people, give them instructions on what we want done, and leave them alone to do it.  There may even be some “overlapping” of responsibility when assigning tasks.  In other words, it is not always a bad thing to have more than one person or organization responsible for the same task.  Redundancy is not always bad.  Fostering a spirit of healthy competition in an organization is not necessarily bad.

Not Every Problem Needs To Be Solved Immediately

Have you ever noticed that some problems take care of themselves?  That if you simply put the troublesome folder in your desk drawer for the moment, some future intervening event allows you to solve it better than if you tried to deal with it right away?  I have.  For people who are action-oriented, this can be a difficult concept to understand.  When we are facing a problem, our first impulse is to solve the problem.  This may end up producing the exact opposite of what we intended.

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When faced with a new and nascent problem, sometimes the best solution is to temporize.  What does temporize mean?  Its dictionary definition is to “temporarily adopt a particular course of action that conforms with the circumstances.”  This means that we should seek temporary measures rather than ultimate solutions at certain times.  There are good reasons why we should do this:  (1) trying to deal with a problem too decisively can produce serious blowback; and (2) sometimes it is not even clear that the issue in question is an actual problem.

A good historical example of this comes from early Roman history.  As Rome began to grow in power as a city-state, it ran into the competing interests of other local powers on the Italic peninsula.  There were Etruscans, Samnites, and many other peoples in Italy at that time, and all of them watched in alarm as Rome began to consolidate its hold on Latium and project power outwards.

But instead of seeking a reasonable accommodation with young Rome, the other states of the Italic peninsula grew fearful and jealous.  They sought out alliances with each other and tried to find underhanded ways to block Rome’s progress as a political entity.  This was natural and expected; but perhaps a better course of action would have been not to attack Rome.  Rome’s Italic neighbors tried many times to destroy it, but every time they did so, it only made Rome stronger.  Rome’s leaders developed new institutions, civil offices, and military innovations in response to its external challenges.  It might not have done so had it not been so threatened by its neighbors.

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Another reason why we should not try to deal too decisively with new problems is because it is not always easy even to identify new problems.  The human mind tends to be optimistic in the sense that, once it embarks on a course of action, it does not like to be reminded of obstacles or pitfalls in the way.  Some things that look like problems are not, in fact, problems.  We need time to sort things out.  Temporizing problems that appear can be the best solution.  We deal with the problem on a temporary basis until it becomes clear that it must be dealt with in a more decisive way.  Letting things just “marinate” for a while can allow these imaginary problems to work themselves out without outside intervention.

These are two points of management I had occasion to think about recently.  Like anything, they should not be taken too far; they should not be taken as excuses to sit down and do nothing.  But they should at least be kept in mind.

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