Business Management Articles / Asian
and Business Management
ZEN AND MANAGEMENT TRAINING
Rene T. Domingo (email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Students eager to learn about Zen are usually
told the following anecdote before they start
training. In the olden days, an aging burglar
decided to teach his son the tricks of the
trade so that when he pass away, the son may
become the breadwinner. So one night, they
both went to the village and broke into a
house. The father saw a huge chest of clothing
and ornaments and thereby instructed his son
to go into it and collect the items. As soon
as he went in, the father closed the lid and
padlocked the chest. Then he made all sort
of noises, banging the door of every house
and shouting "Thief! Thief!". The
whole neighborhood was awakened, and tried
to pursue the burglar who quickly vanished
into the night.
Angry and cursing his father, the son trapped
inside the chest started to think of how he
could get out. A brilliant idea flashed in
his mind. He would scratch the chest and make
gnawing noises like that of a mouse, and maneuver
the resident to open the chest and free him.
The master of house, upon hearing the strange
noises, ordered his maid to open the chest
and free what he thought was a trapped mouse.
Thereupon, the young thief jumped out, blew
out the candle the maid was holding and then
pushed her out of the way. The entire neighborhood
ran after him. While fleeing, he quickly spotted
a well and went in that direction. Upon reaching
his destination, he took a large rock, dropped
it into the well, and continued his escape.
The pursuers, upon hearing the splash, gathered
around the well and relished at the thought
of the thief helplessly drowning.
When he reached home, the son angrily asked
his father why he cruelly abandoned him and
played a dirty trick on his own son. The father
told him to calm down and explain how he was
able to escape. The son related how he got
out of the chest and managed to deceive his
pursuers. The father exclaimed: "There
you are, now you have learned the trade!"
This short anecdote shows that learning an
art or trade goes beyond verbal and written
rules and instructions of do's and don'ts.
An action-oriented approach is much more direct
and effective. A situation of helplessness
arising from a crisis environment tends to
bring out the best out of any neophyte - in
much the same way that a mouse trapped in
a corner can scare away a cat. A crisis can
teach creativity and confidence which no amount
of courses can teach. Lessons and principles
learned in this way are easily internalized
This brings us to the question: "How
must we train managers how to manage?".
How can we teach managers the art of management?
How effective are management courses, in-house
seminars and training, or even the so-called
"on-the-job" training.? These exercises
are usually conducted in a secure and comfortable
atmosphere. And things-to-happen have a large
degree of predictability. They are set up
in such a way that the student has nothing
substantial to lose by making mistakes - he
cannot harm the company nor himself. In the
military on-the -job training, i.e., war games
or exercises, real bullets and bombs are used
to impress on the soldier that he has something
to lose if he does not learn fast. Because
there is no second chance. Predictably, soldiers
learn their job much faster than managers.
The following anecdote shows a modern-day
application of the above principles:
An outstanding fresh college graduate was
planning his career. He was also smart enough
to realize that what he learned and mastered
about management in school will not enable
him to manage a company. An option was open
specially to him: He could join a large multinational
firm, start from the bottom as a management
trainee, learn bits and pieces of management
know-how along the slow-but-sure way, and
hopefully, become vice-president after a decade
or two of grinding and politicking. Worse,
he feared that, everyday for years, he would
be parking his car together with his brain
before going up to the office -- like so many
other bored but highly-paid managers he knew.
He thought that this career path was not only
long wait but also a doubtful way of learning
the tricks and trade of management. He dismissed
the option and decided to look for a more
challenging and less comfortable career: He
would look for a distressed company and negotiate
with the owner to manage, run, and rehabilitate
it. He found one and was able to convince
its board to appoint him as CEO with full
powers. His salary was no only low but also
unsure since the company was on the verge
of foreclosure by 4 creditor-banks anytime.
He knew that the odds were against him and
the company. His future, his reputation, and
maybe even his life, were at stake in case
he fails to turn it around -- but that was
the situation he actually wanted. This company
was going to be his school-of-hard-knocks.
He being the master of his own self - the
teacher and the student combined.
The company was in a mess. Without the knowledge
of the owners, managers and employees were
milking the company of precious cash and other
assets. To stop the internal bleeding, he
has to get information from the very same
people he would prosecute. At the same time,
he knew he could not fire everybody. This
case was his first problem in personnel management
and industrial relations which his school
teacher did not take up. He interviewed all
employees, tried to negotiate for information,
and cross-checked their stories. After a series
of tearful engagements in which several employees
broke up and spilled the beans, he was able
to trace the masterminds whom he immediately
dismissed and sued. Minor cases were made
to sign promissory notes amounting to what
they have embezzled.
learned the other functions of management
in much the same personalized way.
management: To get the much needed cash,
he had to improve and streamline the billing
and collection systems and procedures which
were causing the huge account receivables
and bad debts.
Finance management: He had to learn how
to negotiate and renegotiate for the roll-over
of overdue loans and get new loans, though
more expensive, to pay off the old defaulted
loans and angry suppliers. He successfully
convinced the banks that if they foreclose
now, they get nothing; if they allow him
to improve things, they can get part or
maybe all their money back.
management: He had to talk to lost customers
to convince them of the company's future
and ask them to support his rehabilitation
plan which he is presenting to the banks
and other financiers.
Strategy: He decided that the only way the
company could survive and operate profitably
in the long run was to sell it to a buyer
with huge financial resources. He was able
to find a willing buyer and convince the
owners to sell out.
The company was back on its feet only a year
after he joined it; he knew there was nothing
else to do and learn. He resigned, feeling
that during that short stint, he has earned
a doctorate in management. But he started
looking for bigger challenges - bigger companies
in trouble to manage and learn from. Education
for him should be endless -- and exciting.