Contrary to the Harvard Business School?

8 June 2016

It’s Friday, June 3rd. Early this morning, I found myself giving a talk at the Harvard Business School. It was an awful experience. I arrived 5 minutes late, and suffered the consequences. The professors there were rude and dismissive; nobody wanted to listen. I was interrupted twice by some weird ritual: a huddle of people chanting and dancing off to one side, like cheerleaders at a college football game.

Suddenly, everybody was gone, except one guy—a visitor, he said, quite pleasant. He confirmed that the rest of them were punishing me because I was 5 minutes late. You don’t do that at the Harvard Business School, he said. 5 minutes!

I wondered what would happen if I was 5 minutes late for an audience with the Pope. Surely he would have been kind and attentive, even curious to know why I was late. Of course, the Pope professes what most Harvard Business School professors do not: he challenges capitalism, and consumption.

Then I woke up.

In actual fact, the last time I spoke at the Harvard Business School it was a wonderful experience, even though the room full of faculty knew how critical I had been of their case study method.  I promised not to talk about that, but to describe what we had been doing instead in our own masters programs. They were attentive, kind and considerate, not unlike the Pope. But then again, I didn’t arrive 5 minutes late,

I discussed this dream with Dulcie, my better half, who comes from a different world yet has been so helpful in improving these TWOGs. It’s just the discomfort you feel by so often being five minutes late for things, she said.

I think it’s something else: I worry that my ideas are not being taken seriously enough, whether they are ignored, or dismissed—with me being labelled a “contrarian.” While I am proud of having passed 10k “followers” on Twitter, some of those Harvard professors have passed 100k. Is it because they are Harvard, or mainstream, or better?

Last year I was on a panel with a prominent Canadian. As he left, he told me that I was a contrarian. I took that to mean he didn’t understand what I had said, or at least didn’t care to entertain ideas than ran counter to his mainstream beliefs. How much easier to dismiss me as a contrarian. (Sadly this guy now sits as a minister in our federal government.)

A contrarian opposes for its own sake. I oppose for the sake of trying to improve things. That I oppose so many mainstream ideas no more makes me a contrarian than does it make the world any less screwed up. And it certainly does not justify people who prefer not to notice what is going on. I am sorry Mr. Lincoln, but these days it is possible to fool most of the people most of the time. Or as Paul Shepheard put it in his book What is Architecture, “the mainstream is a current too strong to think in.” It can also take you over a cliff.

Anyway, thank goodness for you. Having read this far, you are at least attentive, maybe even supportive. I do apologize if this has made you 5 minutes late for something. Do take another 5 and tell your “friends” and “followers” about this.

Henry watching the mainstream going over a cliff. Or is it Lisa, his daughter who takes the photos, warning him about going over that cliff?

Because... Before this was posted, Lisa wrote to him about this TWOG:

·      “It takes a while to build up a following.” [Must I skip the quarterly reports, every 15 minutes?]

·      “People who like your work, like your body of work, not necessarily 140 characters of it.” [Are you trying to say that this is about rousing reflections in pages or 2 beyond pithy pronouncements in sentences or 2?]

·      “Far better to have 10 likes/followers, who you can engage in discussion with… than thousands signed up, who don't even notice that you've posted something…” [You mean it’s about quality, not quantity?]

·       “And you never did care about 'fitting in' for the sake of it, so why start now?”  [I get it; I should be good, not strive to be the best.]

Has Lisa been reading my TWOGs? More to the point, have I??

©Henry Mintzberg 2016. I apologize for delaying the TWOG promised last week, about the old New Public Management. I’m working on it. I just don’t control what I dream. About our own programs, please see the International Masters for Managers (impm.org) and the International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org). Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs,we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.