Sunday, January 12, 2014

Management & Leadership (M&L) at the Cost of Science & Technology (S&T): Time for the Former to Cease Piggybacking and Commence Standing Alone

From being a staid domain a few decades ago to becoming a fancied domain, management & leadership (M&L) have emerged as gateways to career progress and organizational ascendancy, even to scientists and technologists. Despite any number of achievements in science & technology (S&T), such as the successful launch of indigenous cryogenic space rocket by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the national pride and international recognition such scientific and technological achievements bring to India, there is no let up in the preference for management and leadership courses, both in pre-career and in in-career stages. While the educational and course preferences tend to be a matter of supply and demand as well as job potential, an emerging economy such as India cannot afford to leave the knowledge dynamics entirely to market fancies. A nation will have a true meritocracy when domains are geared to continuously develop new knowledge, and to continuously expand the body of the overall knowledge base, in the process integrating the new knowledge and making the existing knowledge contemporaneously relevant.

 The craze of sorts for M&L, which essentially meant students and professionals moving away from further specialization in S&T courses (at post-graduate or research levels) to M&L courses (at post-graduate or fellow levels), has made advanced countries lose their some of the competitive edge.  It has prompted some of such countries to welcome overseas students and professionals from S&T streams into their nations. Emerging countries such as India and China benefitted from the importance given to S&T in their curricula. Amongst all the Asian countries, including China, Japan and Korea, only India has favored the growth of M&L streams to a great extent, essentially as an offshoot of adopting the Western education model. While this need not be disparaged, movement of top-flight talent from S&T to M&L needs to be discouraged. S&T, rightly so, have higher entry barriers for learning and mastery, compared to M&L. Lower entry barriers to learning coupled with higher job opportunities could lead to distortions in India’s talent pool and industrial endeavors, particularly at a time India requires the ultimate push to become an economic superpower.  To restore S&T to pride of place, the proud facets of being an S&T professional need to be understood by students and educational institutions, and recognized and rewarded by industrial organizations.
Touchstone of solidity
Any knowledge domain that raises expectations has to eventually live up to the expectations of contributions to society in terms of the domain knowledge and its technological applicability.  S&T undoubtedly qualifies as a critical knowledge domain under this criterion. The body of knowledge under S&T continually grows, oftentimes in exponential spurts, transforming society and quality of life. The S&T knowledge is an eclectic combination of principles, laws, logic and mathematics, leading to quantification of physical, chemical and biological models.  There is a true and sustainable correlation between publications, patents, theory and practice in S&T, making them truly holistic knowledge domains. Science creates theory out of experiments and uses experiments to validate theory. Technology applies science to design, manufacture and deliver products or services.  In contrast, the body of knowledge under M&L seems to increase at best once in a decade, and the total body of knowledge of the last several decades of organized M&L can be summarized under a handful of concepts. The M&L knowledge is predominantly based on behaviors and couched in linguistic expressions. The real expansion of knowledge in M&L, which is very low relative to S&T, is magnified by rather creative expressions and sporadic case analyses; very little is based on statistically representative research. Management creates repetitive theories on age old principles like planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordination, controlling and budgeting. Leadership looks at personalities to weave modeling theories around stylistic syndromes.
S&T requires M&L for optimized commercialization but not necessarily always. Without S&T, however, M&L is completely superfluous; in fact, M&L is purposeless without S&T. Whether companies that wade through financial management or countries that are resurrected after economic collapse, they are dependent on science and technology. If New Delhi’s T3 airport of yesterday or Mumbai’s T2 airport of today received rave reviews, despite managerial delays, the technological concept and execution grandeur are responsible in no small measure. It is somewhat of a misrepresentation that S&T and M&L are distinct, and it is an even more of misrepresentation that S&T requires M&L to optimize itself. S&T approach which is based on review of current knowledge, logic of new hypothesis and validation through experiments has the basic managerial principles integral to the approach. S&T, once established, accepts no ambiguity. The basic principles of S&T whether it is the Periodic Table of Elements, the Boyle’s Law or the Iron-Carbon Diagram, do not change over time. S&T is absolute in a universal sense. A deep sense of review and a tremendous level of experimentation make the principles rock-solid. In contrast, all M&L principles are contextually flexible and iteratively reversible and merely firm-specific or person-influenced (for example, integration is good for some, integration is bad for some; conglomeration is good in the 1950s, bad in the 1980s, again great in 2010s, and so on).
Linear versus circular
Science and technology have a linear (and exponential) development track. Each S&T development builds on the past for a new future, rather than revert to the past. Management and leadership, in contrast, are steeped in rediscovery.  From time to time, old M&L concepts are simply refurbished and repositioned, from time to time. The flight of talent to such refurbishment and repositioning of management and leadership instead of staying with science and technology is a matter of concern. Having attracted such S&T talent, the inability of the M&L domains to become linear and exponential in genuine knowledge accretion is a matter of greater concern. The question that dispassionate analysts face is whether M&L streams contribute materially relevant value or just add some transient flamboyance to basic S&T. The first two decades of independent India had no institutes of management or even business management courses, yet the country saw significant industrialization. The best of India’s talent went into the graduate engineer schemes of technological giants. The strength of these industrial undertakings today is based on these talented scientific and engineering corps which grew the companies and grew with the companies. Officers of the Indian Administrative Services were some of the best managers and leaders then. One would like to see better value addition from the proliferation of M&L streams.
This phenomenon of early stage fundamental development on the base of science and technology is common to technology leaders of America, Inc as also to several Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea and China. From the early Toyota Production System that originated on the automobile shop floor to the Minimalist Design Philosophy that emerged from classy electronic devices, it is science and technology of design, manufacture and delivery that has been presumptively positioned as management and leadership models. From time to time, newer phraseology such as lean, six-sigma is used to reposition the philosophy of ‘minimal input-maximal value’ that is inherent at each level of S&T through the ages. Even the interpersonal facets of M&L are just simple principles of balanced living that are ingrained in the spiritual and philosophical treatises of various religions from times immemorial. The relative paucity of new M&L thoughts is due to the limited nature of enquiry, which is confined to the four types of human-machine interfaces; human-machine, machine-machine, human-machine and human-human. S&T, on the other hand, is in an endless pursuit of seemingly inexplicable and indeterminate natural phenomena, in terms of physical, chemical and biological models of the universe. The greater the talent concentration on S&T, as opposed to M&L, the greater could be the value generation and wealth creation in a nation through the unraveling of the natural mysteries and discovery, and subsequent perfection of solutions for them.
Rediscovering M&L  
To be fundamentally value-accretive and practically effective, M&L have to be considered as subservient adjuncts to S&T domains rather than as substitute or revisionist superior domains. The key M&L learning factors need to be integrated into S&T curricula. As part of several decades of practical experience, the author of the blog post has had the occasion to interact with hundreds of management graduates, managers and leaders employed in industry or services sectors; not one has admitted to have implemented the courses taught in the two year management programs, be it, for example, advanced statistics, operations research, portfolio theory, signaling theory, reliability models, and the like. Given that the engineering degree program in India is of four years durations, it makes little sense to unlearn the core S&T and spend another two years in learning fancied M&L, most of which it is never applied in any case. Given that good management and leadership is an integral part of science and technology, it would make better sense to integrate certain core management and leadership subjects, not exceeding eight in number (one in each of the eight semesters), as part of S&T domain learning. These could be statistics, economics, accounting and finance as the four core subjects, and operations, marketing, strategy   and responsibility as the four application subjects.    
Those who are committed to M&L as their life’s passion must be prepared to go through the full five year professional certification programs in management and leadership, as economists, mathematicians and accountants go through. Only then, the exponents of management and leadership, whether in academics or industry, will be challenged to develop and grow as a self-sustaining discipline rather than as a discipline that piggybacks on other disciplines, and unwittingly makes the core disciplines ignored. M&L as a stand-alone discipline will have its own research and self-development paradigms, to be relevant to the nation as a separate knowledge continuum. This, coupled with the earlier proposed strategy of graduate and post-graduate S&T programs being self-sufficient with their basic M&L knowledge, would ensure that the investments made in S&T are preserved and flight of talent from S&T is avoided. Many institutes and universities making hay on capstan management programs will be disappointed with this approach but India, as an emerging nation, will immensely benefit from S&T investments, in both education and industry, fulfilling their potential. Probably, the famed IIMs can take the lead by stopping piggybacking on the IITs for the core talent with their two year MBA programs, and start standing alone in the fields of management and leadership through new five year integrated MBA programs.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on January 12, 2014





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