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Shackleton as a management example

As management techniques/styles are discussed here from time to time I wondered if people would be interested in this short note. Apparently Ernest Shackleton is now an example of good management, I'd contend that Roald Amundsen is a better choice. Any and all comments towards refining or refuting this thesis would be appreciated.

http://www.zanthan.com/itymbi/archives/000364.html

Thanks for you attention
Alex

Alex Moffat
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

I'm not really qualified to comment, but there are quite a few books and movies about Shackelton now.

I bet more employees feel like Jon Krakauer (author of Into Thin Air).

MarkTAW
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Alex,

An excellent article, thanks.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Good article, however all these men took on challenges with a high probability of failure. In these circumstances chance can never be truly banished. How Shackleton managed to get his men home alive when they all should have died is the remarkable part of the story. Having said this the whole middle managers likeneing themselves and their daily banalities to heroic adventure is quite amusing. Leadership is not the lesson that we office drones should perhaps be focusing on.

Mark
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

It's a plausible argument, but why use Scott's expedition to argue that Amundsen is a better example than Shackleton?

IIRC the 'survival against all odds' expedition for which Shackleton is admired failed before it really started, when his ship became icebound & sank. I believe he took dogs with him on that occasion.

Andy West
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The most edifying thing is one Amazon.com comment by "A reader from a management consultant in Boston," where he mentions that people may know about the qualities of good leadership, but fail to implement them in practice.

This fits very well with an earlier comment about a manager who loved to quote from Mythical Man-Month while completely missing the entire premise of the book.  Actual implementation is what theory depends on.

battle for stalingrad
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I was first introduced to the story of the Endurance and Shackelton while consulting at a company that went from trading at around $300/share  to low teens in one day due to shady accounting practices. After this S#!^ hit the fan the managers were scrambling to keep morale up despite the dismall forecast. One manager sent out an email to the entire company pointing to the book he had just read recalling the story of the  Endurance and how the crew driven by Shackelton survived against the odds.  It was a great motivational move that basically said "We are in the corner, we're gonna have to fight to survive, and I'm gonna get you out of this".

Unfortunately it fell on deaf ears as the employees could see through smoke and mirrors and wanted truth and honesty, not rhetoric from the same people that caused the whole thing.


But the story of the Endurance speaks one truth, when plans go south in life you got two choices: Fight hard to survive or just "go home". We all would like to think we'll fight but only life will tell. You either burn out or shine bright.

Ian Stallings
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Thanks for the comments. I agree that Shackelton's leadership and efforts in getting everyone on his expedition back safely really were amazing. Certainly if you end up in a difficult situation that's the sort of leader you need. I'd argue that trying to avoid those sorts of situations is a better approach.

As to using Scott and Amundsen to argue that Amundsen is a better example than Shackleton I suppose I have to plead guilty as charged. I suppose Shackleton is a hook to hang my nomination of Amundsen as the polar explorer to take management (as much as leadership) lessons from.

Does anyone have anyother nominations for other "management examples" to share. I've certainly seen various Patton or other wartime leader choices. What's the most unusual management icon/example you've seen?

Thanks again.

Alex Moffat
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Interesting article, though I don't see much comparing/contrasting between Shackleton and Amudsen. I guess you assume a familiarity with the material? i.e. What did Shackleton do wrong? Am I to assume he didn't follow your four steps because you state earlier on that he's a bad example and Amundsen is?

In your second point you say "Work Steadily" and point out how Amundsen travelled for 6 hours a day while Scott travelled for 9. Both sound like steady work to me. Perhaps you mean 'work less' or 'work smart' or 'schedule in rest.'

Step three actually flows from step four - how do you pick the right tools if you don't learn about the situation you're going in to? Who's to say ponies are the wrong tools and that dogs are? Only experience, or knowledge gained otherwise, can tell you.

If Amundsen's sledges fell apart and he died, would you be recomending to us that we shouldn't modify our tools for specific tasks and instead rely on tried and true methods and tools?

My 2 cents.

MarkTAW
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Wonderful quote from Napoleon, speaking of military examples, which I did encounter in a tech book actually, though I forget which one:
"Any commander in chief who undertakes to carry out a plan which he considers defective is at fault; he must put forth his reasons, insist on the plan being changed, and finally tender his resignation rather than be the instrument of his army's downfall."

If perhaps not normally inspiring, it has something to say, and I found it so when I was uncertain how important "doing things right" was to me.  It's how I feel and why it grates on me to work with people who don't mind doing the wrong thing so long as someone is still paying for it.  They are quite right that it's easier, but...

Mikayla
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

> What's the most unusual management icon/example you've seen?

Kagemusha, from the eponymous film: his total job was to sit on his chair, and let his people get on with it.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

This big difference in the Shackleton metaphor:

Shackleton's men couldn't say "that's it, I'm outta here" and log on to Monster.com.

Companies that expect employees to "burn out or shine bright" are being just a bit ego-centric.

John
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Re MarkTAW's comment

"If Amundsen's sledges fell apart and he died , would you be recomending to us that we shouldn't modify our tools for specific tasks and instead rely on tried and true methods and tools?"

My point is that the modifications he made contributed to his success. The way I approached it was the way I think some of the management "gurus" seem to go about it. Try and look at the things that contributed to success, bearing in mind my own prejudices, and to derive some general rule/guidelines that I think are useful. The specific examples are then used as illustrations to try to "enliven" the discussion.

I think it fallacious to take the example, turn it round, and use it to argue the opposite position. To do that you need a different counter example where modifications made to a tried and tested method make the whole scheme fail (not hard to find I'm sure :)

Alex Moffat
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Alex aske:

"Does anyone have anyother nominations for other "management examples" to share. I've certainly seen various Patton or other wartime leader choices. What's the most unusual management icon/example you've seen?"

Ever heard of "A Message to Garcia"

Try these links:

http://homeport.usnaweb.org/garcia.html

http://homeport.usnaweb.org/howicarried.html

Marshall Harrison
Friday, April 26, 2002

>My point is that the modifications he made contributed to his success.

Modifications themselves are an object, neither good nor bad. How do you know you're making the right modifications? Your conclusions can be all wrong, the facts you're basing your modifications on themselves can also be wrong.

>I think it fallacious to take the example, turn it round, and use it to argue the opposite position. To do that you need a different counter example where modifications made to a tried and tested method make the whole scheme fail (not hard to find I'm sure :)

I don't think I need an example, I just need to state a logical argument, and it won't be fallacious.

===

If the modifications are good, then they will be benificial.

The modification are good, therefore they are beneficial.

The modifications are not good, therefore you can't draw any conclusions about whether or not they are beneficial.

===

My argument is that it is difficult to measure whether or not your modifications will be successful while making them. That you can't always prove "The modificiations are good" until you know whether or not they succeed.

I believe what you're practicing is called revisionist history. "He was successful, therefore what he was doing was good."

We praise Columbus and his silly motives because he discovered "The New World" and we generally believe this was good.

If Columbus brought a disease back from the New World that killed off most of Europe we would be damning his silly motives, much as the Native Americans do.

The fact is, that at the time there is often no way of knowing whether or not what you're doing is going to succeed, especially on something with so many unknowns like an Antarctic expidition.

A certain amount of research can be done, the odds calculated based on knowns (and the more knowns the better), and decisions made based on those. I believe where Amundsen should be praised is in the amount of research he did, and how he based his decision on facts and not assumptions. He spoke with Eskimos about their environment, possibly did some preliminary extreme cold travel, and was therefore able to make modifications that would increase his chances of survival.

He should not be praised for arbitrarily making modifications, but for doing research that would give him the proper knowledge to make those modifications.

MarkTAW
Saturday, April 27, 2002

MarkTAW "I believe where Amundsen should be praised is in the amount of research he did, and how he based his decision on facts and not assumptions."

I agree completely. He learnt a lot from the Eskimos, especially during his successful trip through the northwest passage. He adopted their clothing for his travels, learnt dog driving from them as well as igloo building and other techniques/skills. This was unusual for a westerner at the time. It was this that let him understand what were successful changes to make and what were not. His success showed that he learnt from this experience and research and could apply it.

"Learn from your experience, embrace other cultures and knowledge" and certainly lessons from Amundsen. I thought that I'd choose to point out the other one, that you can, if you know what your doing, improve your productivity and chances of success by modifying your tools.

It's something wood workers/carpenters do all the time, to a greater or lesser extent, and something that programmers might want to think about relearning. I know that "in the beginning" programmers had to write their own tools but in these days of IDEs for everything we need to think about whether the effort invested in tuning our tools will be repaid. I think it often is.

Alex Moffat
Saturday, April 27, 2002

I have the same complaint about Rock musicians. Folk, Jazz and Classical musicians learn old songs, standards, etc. but in Rock and Roll you don't want to be a 'cover band,' you want to do all originals.

But your article is about neither music nor programming, but about management, and managers do learn from the past and present. The Project Management Institute is always doing case studies, as are business school text books, etc. Perhaps there's a point beyond which they're no longer interested in learning, but that's ok.

MarkTAW
Saturday, April 27, 2002

> Does anyone have any other nominations for other "management examples" to share. I've certainly seen various Patton or other wartime leader choices. What's the most unusual management icon/example you've seen?

Our local Shakespeare Festival (Stratford, Ontario) is running a 'Leadership in Shakespeare' seminar, aimed at senior managers. So who would you rather be managed by, Macbeth or Titus Andronicus?

I've seen a 'Leadership in Star Trek' book
too...

Chapter 1: How to be taken seriously. Start by putting this book down.

David Clayworth
Monday, April 29, 2002

I know, the Shakespeare people really want you to think about Henry V and other such examples but "The  Comedy of Errors" or "The Tempest" from the titles alone suggest many software projects.

If a Management Lessons from Star Trek book can be produced then I think there must be a market for a Management Lessons from the Simpsons book. To quote Mony Burns "Family, religion, friendship: these are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business". Homer's experience with sexual harassment is also a salutary tale :)

Alex Moffat
Monday, April 29, 2002

<i>Companies that expect employees to "burn out or shine bright" are being just a bit ego-centric. </i>


When i stated "burn out or shine bright" I meant it as a personal issue not a motivational statement to rally the troops. Each person must look within themself to do something that seems insurmountable. I don't advise pushing your employees to the point of mutiny.

Ian Stallings
Tuesday, April 30, 2002

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