I was invited to speak to MBA students last Monday, 3 December. I was invited by Paul Roman, who teaches the course in Operations Management. I enjoyed giving this talk, as it was an opportunity to present to students in the full-time MBA program, to answer their questions, and to interact before and after my speech. One of the noteworthy things about the group of 90 or so students is that at least half seem to be foreign students. This is no doubt an excellent opportunity for these students to open their minds and to network, something that will be of great benefit to them throughout their lives.

Naturally, my topic was related to my book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles. I spoke about how critical it is to keep the human factor front and center, especially leadership and decision-making, as we try to manage increasingly complex undertakings. Whether it is global networks of supply chains and logistics, demand forecasting, production management, structuring and organizing companies, we need to take into consideration the facts of fundamental uncertainty, a certain level of unpredictability, and the need for humans in the loop to build in resilience and robustness. I also gave a quick overview of the links between strategy, operations, and tactics, as well as mission command and mission analysis as ways of managing complexity, change, chaotic conditions, etc.

In other words, we strive for predictability, efficiency and effectiveness, but they are only ideals to which we must strive. What is critical is our ability to lead and adapt to change with speed and flexibility, using influence and intuitive decision-making strategies and heuristics to complement the rational, “engineering” based approaches of operations and production management. Nothing wrong with the latter, as long as we realize that both approaches are complementary and not exclusive.

I argued, convincingly I hope, that military wisdom has a key role to play in enabling a transformation toward more flexibility, humanity, and adaptability in decision-making and leadership.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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