Management as a Liberal Art (MLA) is not just for Business Management*

December'19 | William A. Cohen, Ph.D., Major General, USAF, Ret.

leadership2.jpgIf you’ve read my articles on MLA concerning Peter Drucker’s insights and theories, the practical courses at McGill University in Canada developed and taught by Henry Mintzberg, the work promoting and introducing the MLA concept as an ethical and socially responsible philosophy from Minglo Shao, Joseph Maciariello and others you already know of the power of MLA in business management, but the fact is that MLA is amazingly powerful for success in many fields and was used by Einstein in developing the Theory of Relativity, Steve Jobs in producing the personal computer, military leaders over the millennia and is how politicians including both Obama and Trump win elections against impossible odds. Jack Welch, given the title of Manager of the Century by Fortune Magazine, used it in winning the largest retirement package ever awarded - $417 million dollars when he retired from GE.

Jack Welch Wins $417 million by Abandoning Profitable Businesses

21 years of hard work and smarts made Welch GE’s youngest Chairman and CEO in 1981. During the next nine years at the head of GE, GE’s value increased an amazing 4000%. He did not accomplish this by quantitative analysis and seeking maximum profitability. Helped by Peter Drucker’s advice as a consultant, he used MLA theory instead and abandoned GE-owned companies, even if they were profitable, if they were not No. 1 or No. 2 in their market and there was little chance of their attaining that position. In this way he had the financial, personnel and other resources available to deploy these resources where they could be most effective for growth and bring the greatest return on his investment. Other companies seeking to grow simply by analysis seeking greater profitability lay stagnant and floundered. They inevitably lacked the resources for further growth. Welch and Drucker both realized that to grow, resources had to be available and utilized.  Welch took the resources from areas that were less productive and moved them where they would be more productive. Drucker called this abandonment theory.

The Most Decisive Battle in the History was Won by the Smallest Army

Hannibal was a Carthaginian General who lived 2000 years ago during the period that the Roman Republic emerged as the world’s superpower after conquering all of Italy, building a superior navy, and conquering and controlling other countries around the Mediterranean. Carthage was where Tunisia is today on the northeast coast of Africa and refused to submit. You may have heard about Hannibal crossing the Alps with his army while bringing across war elephants from Africa at the same time, thus avoiding the superior Roman navy. Having recovered from earlier losses against Hannibal, the Roman superpower decided to get rid of the upstart Carthaginian once and for all, with a mostly Roman Army numbering about 80,000, although some historians say as many as 100,000 troops. Hannibal had about half that number and a much higher percentage from different African countries with different customs, different arms, and tactical methods. Even modern commanders will tell you that high percentage of allies are likely to make command, control, and coordination of the entire army more difficult. When we consider that Hannibal was also in his enemy’s country, a simple numerical analysis would have suggested a withdrawal to fight another day. Instead, Hannibal attacked.  Overcoming the Roman cavalry at the rear of the Roman’s formation, he encouraged the Roman infantry to advance against his weak center as the weaker Carthaginian center executed a  controlled retreat. This huge attacking Roman force was encircled by the strong African tribes he had placed on either flank, while his cavalry attacked from the rear. This  completely surrounded his enemy, trapping the bulk of the Roman army, who could not maneuver and crowed together could not wield their weapons. They were slaughtered. The loss of life on the Roman side was one of the most lethal single day's fighting in history;  80% of the larger Roman army was left dead on the battlefield. The main factor in Hannibal’s victory was his leadership of diverse units and his strategy which made Roman strength a weakness, as once encircled, they were trapped. Roman numerical superiority was made irrelevant. Applied MLA!

Degreeless, Steve Jobs Builds a Multi-Billion Dollar Company

Steve Jobs had an unusual background for building aa major corporation and becoming the prime mover behind a multibillion-dollar industry. He adopted. He even referred to his biological parents as his “sperm and egg bank.” Jobs was a difficult child, and at first his adoptive parents thought that they had made a mistake in adopting him. Neither had gone to college. He entered college but left during his first year. His adoptive father defended him on leaving, blaming the college for not sufficiently challenging his brilliant son. Jobs went off to India and became a Zen Buddhist. Although gaining a love of mechanics from his father and practical knowledge of electronics through the friendship of engineers living near his home in silicone valley, it was not he that built or invented the Apple Computer, but rather his friend, Steve Wozniak who had earlier given Jobs a computer board which Wozniak had designed. This gift got Jobs hired as a technician by Atari and was typical of other accomplishments for which Jobs was given the credit. It wasn’t that Jobs wasn’t brilliant, he was, and if he didn’t practice the ethical standards Drucker insisted was a part of MLA, he had a genius for understanding persuasion and motivation. If he lacked the ability to invent things on his own, he seemed to be able to get others to create ideas that he visualized and finding the just the right words to so every time. When he grew Apple company to the size that it needed a top executive with Fortune 500 marketing experience, the 20 something Jobs persuaded the far more experienced and older John Sculley, President of Pepsi Cola to become CEO of Apple with the line “Do you want to keep selling sugar-sweetened water, or do you want to change the world?” During Sculley’s 10-year tenure running Apple, sales went from $800 million to $8 billion. After Sculley left the company, Jobs became CEO as Apple introduced and sold the iPhone, iPad, and other revolutionary and successful products.

Developing Scientific Theories while Working as a Patent Office Clerk

Many consider Albert Einstein to be one of the greatest geniuses of all time. He was a theoretical physicist. Among his accomplishments were the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics and the mass–energy equivalence formula E=mc², which has been called "the world's most famous equation by those in the business. Many stories about Einstein are told to this day. For example, one story is that he was a poor student in math, one time given a grade of “F” for the year. That’s false. The truth is his school had changed the grading system so that a numerical grade of “1” corresponded to a grade of “F” rather than “A” as it had formerly. However, one legendary tale is true. As a Jew his options were limited. The only job he could get with his new PhD was as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. Neither computers, grad assistants, nor other facilities for research were provided. It didn’t stop Einstein. He used inductive reasoning based on something observed rather than use of a hypothesis to be proved or disproved as taught in most research schools. While working at the patent office, Einstein did some of the most creative work of his life, producing no fewer than four groundbreaking articles in one year alone.

In his first paper that year, he applied the quantum theory to light which explained the phenomenon known as the photoelectric effect, by which a material will emit electrically charged particles when struck by light. In his next article that year he gave experimental proof of the existence of atoms.

In Einstein’s third and most famous article that year, he explained the apparent contradiction between two principal theories of physics: Isaac Newton’s concepts of absolute space and time and James Clerk Maxwell’s concept that the speed of light was a constant. To do this, Einstein introduced his famous theory of relativity, which explained that the laws of physics are the same at constant speeds relative to each other, and that the speed of light is a constant in all inertial frames, He didn’t a real use a real observation. Instead, he used his imagination and saw himself standing next to a moving beam of light in his mind and reasoned the results. Finally, that year of 1905, he published his paper on the fundamental relationship between mass and energy, concepts viewed previously as completely separate. The famous equation which Einstein came up with was E equals mc² where the first letter E stood for energy, m for mass and c represented the speed of light. Both his Theory of Relativity, and E=mc² were derived not in a scientific laboratory from computer calculations or mathematical analysis, but through right-brained, MLA – thinking. The Swiss Patent Office was never the same. And you will as amazed as Drucker and Mintzberg if you apply MLA right-brained thinking to your decision-making in any field.

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William A. Cohen, PhD
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