Organizational transformation

Management as Creative

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • "Everybody is creative and everybody is talented. I just don't think that everyone is disciplined."
  • Management is, in the end, the most creative of all the arts – for its medium is human talent itself.
  • Successful management organizes the enterprise so that process can best take place. It is a mechanism whereby free men can most efficiently exercise their reason, initiative, creativity, and personal responsibility.

When talking about creative, especially working in the design field, it is usually pretty clear that most people are not talking about management. Coming from a business background and having worked for organizations that are driven by ideas, innovation and communications, I think this is sometimes unfortunate. As the great caricaturist Al Hirshfield said, “Everybody is creative and everybody is talented. I just don't think that everyone is disciplined. I think that is a rare commodity.”

What got me thinking of this is Robert McNamara (link to HBR – requires paid account for full access). Called “one of the best secretaries ever, an IBM machine with legs” by Barry Goldwater, McNamara was famed as an analytical whiz. He was the youngest assistant professor at Harvard Business School and went on to a number of prestigious posts: first non-family president at Ford, Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, President of the World Bank. And while his legacy will remain tainted because of his failed strategy in Vietnam (one that he went on to acknowledge openly), his expertise and idealism can still serve as a useful guide for those dealing with the question of what is means to manage. This convocation address by McNamara was given in 1967 at Millsaps College in Jackson Mississippi.

Management is, in the end, the most creative of all the arts – for its medium is human talent itself.

What, in the end, is management’s most fundamental task? It is to deal with change.

"Management is the gate through which social, political, economic, technological change-indeed change in every dimension-is rationally and effectively spread through society.

Some critics, today, keep worrying that our democratic, free societies are becoming overmanaged. The real truth is precisely the opposite. As paradoxical as it may sound, the real threat to democracy comes from under management, not from overmanagement.

To undermanage reality is not to keep it free. It is simply to let some force other than reason shape reality. That force may be unbridled emotion; it may be greed; it may be aggressiveness; it may be hatred; it may be ignorance; it may be inertia; it may be anything other than reason.

But whatever it is , if it is not reason that rules man, then man falls short of his potential…

[R]ational decisions making depends of having a full range of rational options from which to choose. Successful management organizes the enterprise so that process can best take place. It is a mechanism whereby free men can most efficiently exercise their reason, initiative, creativity, and personal responsibility.

It is the adventurous and immensely self-satisfying task of an efficient organization to formulate and analyze those options. It is true enough that not every conceivable complex human situation can be fully reduced to lines on a graph, or to percentage points on a chat, or to figures on a balance sheet. But all reality can be reasoned about. And not to quantify what can be quantified is only to be content with something less than the full range of reason…

But to argue that some phenomena transcend precise measurement-which is true enough-is no excuse for neglecting the arduous task of carefully analyzing what can be measured. A computer does not substitute for judgment any more than a pencil substitutes for literacy. But writing ability without a pencil is no particular advantage.

Modern, creative management of huge, complex phenomena is impossible without both the technical equipment and technical skills which the advance of human knowledge has brought us."

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