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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Art of Warning (2)—Petty Quarrels

[a] Turf RF
We're ready to get underway in earnest with the actual "case studies" that will give you at least a hint of what reading the Comprehensive Mirror is like. When the book is out, a companion volume of case studies (like these, but expanded) will give readers not only the argument, but something to chew on from the actual text, as well. And let's not kid ourselves. A full translation of the Comprehensive Mirror is not just around the corner. These "cases" will be straightforward and rather unadorned in terms of explanation. I am interested in comments about how the actual memorials quoted in the Comprehensive Mirror connect with your understanding of the key lessons—roles, hierarchy, and remonstrance. Think of them as the emperor. These writers were "the emperor's teacher(s)." 

In this series, I will do most of my own translations, but with one twist. In many posts, I plan to quote from the fabulous partial translation by the peerless scholar Achilles Fang (1910-1995). It "only" covers about fifty years of the Comprehensive Mirror's 1,362-year narrative, but it is a brilliant work of historiography, and I want to honor Professor Fang. I will include references for those translations, because at least that book is available in some college and university libraries. I will also quote from translations done by Rafe de Crespigny (1936-) about thirty years ago (covering another fifty or so years of the text). Those are even harder to find, but at least they are "out there." After some time acknowledging and quoting from the work of these venerable scholars, we will set our little boat out onto the full text of the Comprehensive Mirror, and I will show you some of the fascinating caves and inlets from Chinese history along the way. 

2—Petty People, Petty Quarrels
[b] Quarrel RF
Office politics. Ever heard of that? How about the late Gore Vidal's observation that the reason academic squabbles are so fierce and so lasting is precisely because...the stakes are so small? Today's Comprehensive Mirror memorial (think "memo") addresses all of this pettiness in a familiar tone, even though this quotation was written almost 1,800 years ago. 

"Kids these days," it seems to say. Well, all I know is that some of the most lasting of petty feuds have been instigated by people a great deal older than quarreling young'uns. I have seen a lot of this (even quite recently), and this author misses the age group, even as he nails the main point.

Big kids fight and cry in the sandbox, too. It's called "turf," and it often isn't pretty at all.

          The Acting situ, Tong Zhao, memorialized the throne:

          "Of all those who have ruled over the empire there has been none who 
          did not appreciate men of simplicity and truthfulness, and profoundly dislike 
          those who were false and untruthful. This is because the latter would 
          demolish good teachings, disturb good rule, destroy good custom, and 
          injure good transformation...

          "I presume to observe that young men of our times do not consider study 
          as their fundamental duty but make it their exclusive business to form 
          associations. These gentlemen of the land do not take filiality, brotherly 
          affections, and the cultivation of character as the paramount matter, but 
          put first running after the powerful and associating with those who might 
          give them profit. They form groups and associate into parties, mutually 
          praising and eulogizing; calumny and defamation are considered as 
          capital punishment, partisan commendation and praise as rank and reward. 

          Those who follow they praise vociferously; those who do not, they find
          fault with.[1]
[c] Dynamic RF

So what is it about factions and pettiness, and just-plain-dumb-as-a-rock-inability-to-work-together...ness? What is it?

Well, there is something in here for all managers, but I would suggest a hidden gem that might have slipped by if you were only skimming the first paragraph. It isn't the "quarreling" that is bad for the group (that happens). What is truly problematic (this is my reading of it) is the "how it takes place" dynamic. In the second paragraph we see how looking for advantage (I think of short-term gain) leads, in turn, to privileging individuals and groups that do nothing for long-term individual goals or the organization itself. One set of social choices, in other words, leads to all sorts of organizational ills. 

And one more reminder. Whether the individual observations seem trenchant or somewhat obvious, the key to reading the Comprehensive Mirror lies in putting them together—considering them side-by-side. This is, in short, not just another way of putting little maxims together into a slender red, yellow, black, or brown book. It is a way of considering case studies...and this is only the first taste of the Popsicle.

Petty fightin'. More management tomorrow.
[d] Stakes RF

[1] Achilles Fang, editor, The Chronicle of Three Kingdoms I (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 314-315.

Fang, Achilles, editor. The Chronicle of Three Kingdoms I. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952.
Sima Guang 司馬光. Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑑 [The Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Ruling]. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 北京: 中华书局, 1956. 

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