Wednesday, June 03, 2009

With medium power comes no responsibility

In his celebrated New York Times Magazine piece, The case for working with your hands, Matthew Crawford makes observations about middle managers that apply with full force to those of us who live academia's so-called "life of the mind":

DilbertOften as not, [craftsmen's workplace] crises do not end in redemption. Moments of elation are counterbalanced with failures, and these, too, are vivid, taking place right before your eyes. With stakes that are often high and immediate, the manual trades elicit heedful absorption in work. They are punctuated by moments of pleasure that take place against a darker backdrop: a keen awareness of catastrophe as an always-present possibility. The core experience is one of individual responsibility, supported by face-to-face interactions between tradesman and customer.

Contrast the experience of being a middle manager. This is a stock figure of ridicule, but the sociologist Robert Jackall spent years inhabiting the world of corporate managers, conducting interviews, and he poignantly describes the “moral maze” they feel trapped in. Like the mechanic, the manager faces the possibility of disaster at any time. But in his case these disasters feel arbitrary; they are typically a result of corporate restructurings, not of physics. A manager has to make many decisions for which he is accountable. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business, however, his decisions can be reversed at any time by someone higher up the food chain (and there is always someone higher up the food chain). It’s important for your career that these reversals not look like defeats, and more generally you have to spend a lot of time managing what others think of you. Survival depends on a crucial insight: you can’t back down from an argument that you initially made in straightforward language, with moral conviction, without seeming to lose your integrity. So managers learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. Nothing is set in concrete the way it is when you are, for example, pouring concrete.


Anonymous make money online said...

Hello, to start I would like to say excellent post though I have a small disagreement with this statement:
A manager has to make many decisions for which he is accountable. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business,

Personally I make a living off my online endeavors and have in fact found the consequences of my actions now can result in loss of my livlihood. It is interesting perhaps this is what upper management feels like when there is no one to counter their actions and they are set in concrete. Wow this post really got me thinking thank you I also really liked the dilbert cartoon it definatley promotes the theme of the post. I think I will read a couple more:)

6/16/2009 10:19 PM  

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