In the Land of Two-Eyed Men, What Does Michael Porter Think?

The Economist has a review of Michael Porter’s latest contribution. I skimmed it long enough to satisfyingly affirm my revulsion to ‘business’ as an intellectual discipline.*

A couple of years ago, I was considering opening a retail store and emailed a former marketing prof for a textbook recommendation.

He came through and, for the first time in my life, I genuinely read a damn textbook.

My god, what a load of crap.

Because I was looking for insight on, you know, how to actually manage a retail business, the book was useless. I read the thing in an hour – it was about 40% explicit filler (summaries, Q&A, indexes, case studies and graphics), 50% stealth filler (fluff  ‘filling ideas out’) and 10% real content.

Not much to actually learn but lots of useless junk you can memorize and immediately forget.

This is the classic High School BS Method. First you need  some idea, as fine-spun a thread as it may be. Then grimly stuff  it with the largest, foulest payload of BS you have time to get down. Gotta fill the page!

And it’s not just marketing – marvel at the bounty the ‘science’ of finance has reaped for the world!

For me, business education (hell, maybe ALL education) works like this: find a problem and try to solve it.

Your solution will probably fail, but try again. Maximize your chance at success  by asking people who have some relevant experience for advice.

Best case: work in teams and punish freeloading.

‘Ideas’ and ‘intelligence” are red herrings. Social intelligence matters (can you play with others?). Drive matters. Experience matters, but that’s only a function of social intelligence, drive and time.

I know that execution is boring, seems easy and doesn’t get people excited, but that’s actually the whole game.

Perhaps ironically, the version of this argument for the softest part of execution, people management, draws on Google’s experience:

Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

Social intelligence and work ethic. The end.

*Drucker is excused from all this, of course.

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