From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (45)—Kramer Gets a Job

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.

[a] Workin' RF
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party
George's Friend        Jerry's Haircut          Face Paint             Mustachioed       Smoking              East River
Pool Man                   Dunkin' Joe              Life Lessons          Reckoning          Dog Medicine      Shower Heads
Looking Busy            George Tips             Kramer's Job          Empty Tank
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
[b] Manual RF
Kramer's working. It all started in the bathroom before Kramer stumbled into the board room. It takes a while, but Kramer's relationships and career end up back in the toilet, so to speak. Take a look at Kramer's career. It is breathless, to be sure.

The "relationship" angle is almost too well-played. The Seinfeld writers have been a little too cute with this sort of theme, I think. Still, the flurry of Kramer's work career (even if we expand our thoughts to assume a thirty-minute show—twenty two minutes after commercials) speaks to many of the hopes and worries harbored by all of us in the workplace. Most of us have several decades of planning and analyzing, though. Kramer is different. He hasn't had a workplace...and the one he gained in this episode didn't last very long.

Let's think about the nature of work and what it means in "our" society (you should know by now that Round and Square has readers in a hundred of "our" societies, and that comparison is our whole point).

[c] Respite RF
So how do we resolve "work" and "Kramer?" Never the twain shall meet, right? You can't have a round square (Kant, St. Anselm); east and west (Kipling)... Kramer in a suit, tie, and preparing reports (even if only for seventy-two hours)? This is something that Kramer watchers will find befuddling, at the least, since we associate him with Swimming in the East River, hitting golf balls into the ocean, and power-showering.

Let's take a look at a range of readings that go just a little bit beyond our usual anthropological frame. This has a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I am at home in our nation's capital these days, but my home-library is back in Beloit, Wisconsin. This is not a bad thing. It forces me to find things in books that might not otherwise have been my first choices. Any practicing cultural anthropologist could come up with a list linked to "Kramer" and "work," and probably fifty-percent of them would overlap. Not so much with this week's readings. That is part of the fun. I am engaging in a kind of editorial bricolage by looking at the thirty or so books sitting on my shelves in northern Virginia.
[d] Workrest RF

The first reading is from Jim Collins's management book Built to Last. The second is from Peter Drucker's Management Cases, a book related to his classic management text. Our final example comes from a compilation of Song dynasty (CE 960-1279) anecdotes that is one of the most interesting sources I have ever encountered, and has influenced a great deal of my own research over the years.

Built to Last
Jim Collins (1994)

[e] Last ADV
Contrary to business school doctrine, we do not find "maximizing shareholder wealth" or "profit maximization" as the dominant driving force or primary objective through the history of most of the visionary companies. They have tended to purse a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one. Indeed, for many of the visionary companies, business has historically been more than an economic activity, more than just a way to make money. Through the history of money. Through the history of most of the visionary companies we saw a core ideology that transcended purely economic considerations. And—this is the key point—they have had core ideology to a greater degree than the comparison companies in our study...

Of course, we're not saying that the visionary companies have been uninterested in profitability or long-term shareholder wealth (notice that we say that they are "more than" economic entities, not "other than"). Yes, they pursue profits. And, yes, they pursue broader, more meaningful ideals. Profit maximization does not rule, but the visionary companies pursue their aims profitably. They do both.[1]

[f] Managing ADV
Management Cases
Peter Drucker (2009)

Rarely has a chief executive of an American corporation been as respected and as revered as Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., was at General Motors during his long tenure at the top—for 1920 until 1955. Many GM managers, especially those who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, felt a deep personal gratitude to him for his quiet but decisive acts of kindness, of help, of advice, or just of warm sympathy when they were in trouble. At the same time, however, Sloan kept aloof from the entire managerial group in GM. That he never called anyone by his or first name and was "Mr. Sloan" even to top executives may have been a a reflection of his heritage and upbringing—he had been born, after all, in the 1870s and was a senior executive, running his own business, before 1900...

Above all, Sloan had no friends within the GM group. He was a warm and had been a gregarious man until deafness cut him off from easy human contact. Although he had had close friends, he outlived them all—he lived well into his nineties. All these friends had been outside General Motors. Indeed, the one friend who had been in GM, Walter P. Chrysler, did not become a personal friend until after he had left GM and had, upon Sloan's advice and with strong support from Sloan, started his own competing automobile company...

"It is the duty or the chief executive officer to be objective and impartial," Sloan said, explaining his management style. "He must be absolutely tolerant and pay no attention to how a man does his work, let alone whether he likes a man or not. The only criteria must be performance and character. And that is incompatible with friendship and social relations. A chief executive officer, who has 'friendships' within the company, has 'social relations' with colleagues or discusses anything with them except the job, cannot remain impartial—or at least, which is equally damaging, he will not appear as such. Loneliness, distance, and formality may be contrary to his temperament—they have always been contrary to mine—but they are his duty."[2]
[g] Anecdotes ADV
A Compilation of Sung Personalities
Chu Djang (1989)

When Ouyang Xiu was in the government, he heard about the name of Shao Yong, but never had a chance to meet him. His son Ouyang Fei (1047-1113), who was about to leave for his official post, would pass through Luoyang. Ouyang told his son to visit Shao Yong on his way to convey his admiration and added that if Shao should invite the latter to stay for a few days, he should accept the invitation and report back the conversation.

When Ouyang Fei arrived in Luoyang, Shao Yong welcomed him with great enthusiasm. He talked to his guest for a whole day about the people he had met, the studies he had pursued, and the activities he had accomplished throughout his whole life in great detail. Upon finishing, he asked again and again: "Can you remember it all?"

Although Ouyang Fei listened with great attention, he did not know why he was told such things. He wrote back to report everything to his father. His father did not understand either.

During the Yuanfeng period (1078-1085), Shao Yong died. The local authorities reported the life history of Shao to the court, requesting the grant of a posthumous title. Ouyang Fei who was serving as the Erudite of the Chamberlain for Ceremonials at that time was given the responsibility for drafting the patent of the posthumous title. Only then did he realize why Shao had recounted his life history to him.[3]

[1] James Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: Harper 
      Business, 1994), 55.
[2] Peter Drucker, Management Cases [Revised and Updated by Joseph Maciariello] (New York: Collins Business, 
      2009), 125-127.
[3] Chu Djang,  A Compilation of Sung Personalities (New York: St. John's University Press, 1989), 407-408.

Chu Djang.  A Compilation of Sung Personalities. New York: St. John's University Press, 1989. 
Collins, James and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
     New York: Harper Business, 1994.
Drucker, Peter. Management Cases [Revised and Updated by Joseph Maciariello]. New York: 
    Collins Business, 2009.

Wednesday, April 4th
Needle's on Empty
Kramer drives the dealership car down to the bottom of the tank...and discovers new dimensions of culture, personality, and willpower.

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