Interview with Ichak Kalderon Adizes

Question 1: The first sentence of your latest book, How to Manage in Times of Crisis, reads: “Right now in 2009, the world is in a deep financial crisis.” The rest of the book, however, provides strong arguments that the crisis is not only financial, but also economic, institutional, social, moral, and ethical. In this respect it would be interesting if you could elaborate a bit more on the very nature of the current global crisis, particularly in terms of its main causes as well as in terms of its repercussions. Related to this is the question on whether or not this crisis is different from those the world has witnessed in the past.

Answer:

Yes, you are right. There is more to it than a financial crisis. The financial crisis will pass but, as I say in my book, since the causes have not been addressed, and cannot be addressed until our political values change, there will be more financial and economic crises in the future. And they will be worse.

We have social, ecological, and political crises, too. The major cause common to all of them is change. What is feeding the rate of change is technology in the widest sense of the word: hardware, software, knowledge, as it applies to all disciplines from medicine to art.

Today, more scientists are alive than accumulatively throughout the history of mankind. And no one can, nor should, stop innovation. But we do not know how to manage constructively or survive under such a rate of change.

Our values are in a spin: when does life start? When does it end? What do the boundaries of countries mean when TV and radio and air and water pollution do not respect them? How do we raise children when they mature faster than past generations?

And the crises are erupting faster and are increasingly more acute because the rate of change is accelerating.

The capitalist system needs reengineering, like what was done in the 1930s. The solution has to be different , not more government or less government. The system needs a paradigm shift in the relationship between government, labor, and capital.

We need to teach future generations how to manage change constructively, starting in kindergarten. Business schools (forget the word “business”) should be schools of leadership. They should teach students how to lead change successfully, effectively, and efficiently without causing destructive conflict.

We have not done that.

Question 2: If the world is changing faster and faster, the disintegration tendencies will follow the pace. Consequently the (re)integration efforts and actions, as the remedy, will need to be done more frequently and also more pro actively. You suggest each of the four sub-systems to be integrated internally, and more or less synchronized with the changing environment and with each other. Easy to say and much more challenging to do. What are the main leadership challenges related to achieving the integration in each of the four sub-systems and ensuring the synchronization to be longer lasting and more sustainable?

Answer:

There is a major difference between how one behaves on solid land and how one behaves when scuba diving. On solid land you can be inactive and then you can change direction. When scuba diving, if you stop moving you will start to sink. You need to continuously make small but nevertheless continuous moves.

I am using this analogy to explain that businesses behave today as if they are on solid land: Every three years or so they make a major reengineering effort. (Those that don’t do this usually “age” and die.)

But making major strategic changes periodically like this is very costly, disruptive, and thus often prohibitive. We need to teach and practice continuous change that parallels the continuous change “out there.”

What does that mean?

In a company, what a person is responsible for can, and does, change whenever needed. What does not change is the person’s title, salary, and fringe benefits. In companies that practice the Adizes Methodology, a person can be someone’s boss for a while, then as the situation changes, he might report to his previous subordinate, and the reporting hierarchy could reverse again as needed. The structure is fluid. That requires absolute teamwork, openness, and transparency. Otherwise such flexibility will not work.

People learn not to step on another’s toes because they could be attached to a rear end they might have to kiss later on.

Integration is continuous because change is continuous. Companies need small continuous changes. Not big periodic changes.

Question 3: The current crisis is also a leadership crisis. One of the quotes of Albert Einstein in the prologue of your book reads: “The true crisis is the crisis of incompetence.” To what extent are business schools responsible for what seems to incompetent leadership in anticipating the crisis and act proactively?

Answer:

My observation is that business schools, or management schools, do not teach management at all. They teach almost exclusively subsystem disciplines: accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, operations, etc. General Management does not exist, by and large. Some schools teach strategic planning or organizational behavior, and claim that these are management. But, again, it is teaching a single part of the total field. That is a partial solution claiming to be a total solution.

Integrative disciplines—how to manage the totality, how to change without falling apart, without disintegrating—I have not seen being taught at a single school.

This integration used to exist during Peter Drucker’s time. But he was criticized by the academia, which claimed that his writings were journalism, not science.

The research methodologies of natural sciences colonized the social sciences, and that includes business schools. Young faculty members cannot get promoted by just writing about the art of management. There are not even peer review magazines where they can publish material that has no tables or statistical or mathematical rigor.

We do not teach wisdom, the philosophy of what it takes to manage. We are training staff people, consultants who know how to write great reports, but do we teach experientially how to lead? No. We do not teach any of that, although we have courses on the subject. We teach the head but very little about the heart.

Question 4: Business schools teach others about managing and leading change, while there is a growing criticism that they themselves are rather conservative and adherent to the success factors of the past. How would you describe the current “disintegration” in management education and what would you suggest business schools change and/or innovate in their own sub-systems to make them better synchronized with each other and with the “fish-scale” environment in which business schools operate?

Answer:

Imagine a medical school without an attached hospital in which students intern and practice. And in this medical school there is no field research, either. All they do is research what is being already practiced in the field. It will be a pretty bad school, no?

But that is what is happening in business school. Research done is to find out what the field is doing without the students and faculty actually developing new experiences.

To me business schools are more of a museum telling people what has been done rather than art studios where the student is exploring and pushing the envelope of knowledge.

Show me a school that developed a new theory and experience, new management protocol. There are very, very few, and what they develop is infrequently tested, but nevertheless promoted as if it descended from Mount Sinai with Moses and the tablets. Most business school faculty research and writings are about what is happening in the market, what others are doing.

Our graduates know books and cases by heart but have not experienced the problems of implementing what they learned. They are doctors who practice medicine, but all they learned is chemistry, biology, anatomy, and pharmacology. They have never touched patients nor had blood on their hands.

Question 5: If crisis is disaster for the weak, but an opportunity for the strong, how would you position schools from the transition and emerging economies, whose experience and tradition is lagging behind those from established economies? What could be the major sources of their strength and how to best exploit them?

Answer:

Free yourself from feeling inferior to the so-called “leading” schools. They are prisoners of their past.

Skip Harvard. Do not copy their success because it might not apply to you. Start your own theory and practice. Develop a program that makes sense to you. Let them come to study you now.

Build a school with an attached consulting center. Every faculty member must do consulting, thus testing what they preach. Have a journal where they publish their research applied and tested by others, like medical journals do.

Walk your talk. Be a leader and not a follower. And that is just the beginning….