Assumptions can be dangerous

I have just finished reading a Financial Times  interview with the now legendary management thinker Gary Hamel[1]. Hamel is probably best known for his work on ‘core competences’, a concept that really did change both management thinking and attitudes to strategy and competitive advantage. Hamel has a new book out – What Matters Now. I must get a copy, but it will have to join the reading queue – there are three books in front of it dealing with the changing global order plus Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature.

Anyhow, back to the article which introduces Hamel’s latest work. The main message is a continuance of Hamel’s call for a revolution in management. In the interview, Hamel makes the point that he feels that change, for managers, is ‘inevitable’ as companies are up against a series of unprecedented challenges. The challenges aren’t described but other drivers of change are mentioned that include:

(i) ‘Knowledge is now a commodity’

(ii) A new generation, brought up on digital media, believes that ‘every idea should compete on an equal footing’ and

(iii) Social media are ‘subverting traditional management’.

This led me to reflect upon what might be Hamel’s underlying or even subliminal assumptions when he made these propositions.

I guess that the assumptions might have embraced the view that we are all on an unstoppable journey to a world that is freer, more open and more democratic. This spread of democracy will power new levels of global growth that can  deliver a ‘win win’ for everyone.

I’m sure we would all agree with these assumptions. They give a great vision for the future.

So where’s the problem?

Hasn’t anyone noticed that the world is becoming more autocratic?

Reflect for a moment upon the implications of a future world dominated by a new great power that believes in another model. Reflect too upon long-term public reactions to the Euro Crisis and how, as part of the crisis management process, leaders and have fallen and the power of national self-determination has been eroded.

And what about democracy as the prime, unrivalled generator of growth? Surely its track record is unquestionable?

Well, not so I’m afraid. Research on the topic has not produced a definite answer [2]. The best we can assume is that democracy does not impede growth.

The message here is that in a complex and unpredictable world be terribly careful about what you assume is a certainty.

It probably isn’t.

[1] A. Hill, “Still on the cusp of a revolution,” Financial Times, 04-Mar-2012.
[2] J. Williamson, “Is the ‘Beijing Consensus’ Now Dominant?,” Asia Policy, no. 13, pp. 1–16, 2012.

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