Aristotle on management: Wittiness

dsc_6301_2048leThere are truckloads of books, seminars and courses on the latest and greatest management methods. But is the latest and greatest really what we need or are developments in management theory primarily making the wheels spin for the people who invent them and the institutions that rely on teaching them. Can a man that lived almost 400 years BC teach us anything that is just remotely useful in our fast-paced technological wonder-World?

I sure happen to think he can and I will try to convince you as well. Just because someone lived several hundreds years ago without the technology of today, doesn’t mean that they cannot teach us a thing or two about life. I would almost go as far as to say that exactly because they lived in a world without so much technology fighting for their attention, they will have had way more time for deep thought and contemplation. And lots of our worries, problems and annoyances are the same wine only disguised in new technological bottles.

First let me give a small introduction to who this man actually is. Some of you may have heard his name or learned about him in school, but for those of you who had as high(low) an interest as me in old historical figures during your school years I will just briefly brush up the memory a bit. Of course taken from my deep, deep knowledge and in no way read and paraphrased from Wikipedia…

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher that lived from 384 BC to 322 BC. He was a pupil of Plato (you can look him up as well – I won’t go back through all of these and play Six degrees of separation or popularized as the Kevin Bacon Game to end up linking Aristotle to Kevin Bacon).

Later he tutored Alexander the Great. He spent his life thinking, teaching and writing and in relation to this article, wrote the book The Nicomachean Ethics from which some of the following originates.

Aristotle made a list of virtues listing the mean(virtue) but also either end of the spectrum – too much and to little of each. One of these is represented in the title of this post and is what this piece will be about, namely; wittiness.

Wittiness represents the mean between the bore on one end and the buffoon at the other. But why is this important in relation to management? Yeah, let’s dive into that.

If you have had more than one boss in your working career you have probably already experienced a big difference in management styles, if you have had several years of working you will probably have seen a lot of bad bosses/leaders and a few good ones. We won’t dissect all traits of good and bad leaders, but concentrate on traits related to wittiness.

Let’s start at the buffoon end of the spectrum. Hopefully your boss haven’t been dressed up and acting like a clown, full with red curly hair, nose and large shoes – if so I don’t know what to say. But even without going full retard the buffoon stage is still relevant. Being considered a buffoon as a leader often stems from wanting to be liked and loved too much. People who are not “natural” leaders and has reached the position by seniority rather than merit and skill, will probably easier fall into this “trap”. They will try their best to be liked among their subordinates by acting like “one-of-them”, joking inappropriately in an attempt to get attention, recognition and sympathy. As we will get to, being a leader isn’t about being a total bore either, but being a buffoon inappropriately joking about just about anything, playing one of the guys simply isn’t the way to conduct yourself as a leader.

Moving on to the aforementioned bore. Where the buffoon perhaps more than anything tries to be “one of the guys/girl” the bore perhaps tries to overcompensate in the other direction. The bore sees the role of a leader as very strict and square with absolutely no personality to it. Showing any kind of emotions could be misunderstood as weakness so instead he or she puts up a total facade keeping them from relating to their subordinates in any way. The bore may or may not be qualified as a leader, but is not totally confident in the position and is very afraid to lose it. Being a total bore is probably better than being a total buffoon, but in the end it isn’t optimal either.

As with almost anything in life the sweet spot is in the middle – what Aristotle called being “witty”. With wittiness comes humor in moderation. The ability to make people smile and feel entertained without acting like a clown. Being the person that people want to sit next to at the table without them worrying about either getting totally embarrassed or bored. The kind of person you can have a light easy conversation with as well as come to with your problems and open your heart to them.

A good leader is confident in his or her own abilities and exude authority both from title and action. Not trying too much to be among equals in relation to subordinates but not trying to stand on top of a pedestal either. Being a good leader means managing and shielding your subordinates from troubles and having them do the best work they can, while relating to them in a way that they feel they can come to you if they are in trouble.

Being witty is being human.

Strength training the ultimate supplement for entrepreneurs

There are many views on how you should live and prioritize your life as an entrepreneur. Some find the only way is to dedicate 25 hours of your day towards your company or goal. If you aren’t working all hours of the day, then maybe your competitors are and they are getting ahead. Eating, sleeping, being able to see the sky – useless – you lazy slob!

While this might work for some, primarily robots, computers and others who has the luxury of not being alive, it’s probably not the best way forward most of the time. There can be times where you need to do this because of tight deadlines and in those cases you should of course be willing to put in the work. But if it is your default state then I’ll try my skills as fortune teller and say that it won’t be for long.

One of the hard things with entrepreneurship is not getting recognition for your work. You can work your ass off for days on end without anything to show the outside world. Or perhaps you do have something to show the outside world, but getting traction can then be hit or miss. In other words your work/reward relationship is very non-linear. Over long periods of time this can be very frustrating. Getting acknowledgement for our work is a very basic and natural urge.

But as I have written before and will elaborate more on in the future you should not derive all your identity from one source. Meaning that if you get all your sense of identity from being an entrepreneur then your mood, sense of worth and general well-being is pretty much tied to the highly unpredictable rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship. You should of course be very proud of your accomplishments but if you are only “The entrepreneur” then you are very one-dimensional and may be more negatively impacted by adversity.

What you need is a way to spend your time that is more linear in terms of work/reward. You could of course always turn to drinking. Generally the more you drink the more drunk you get and the more days in a row you drink the more miserable you feel – all very linear. But perhaps an activity where the work/reward curve goes in the opposite direction will be more appropriate.

There are numerous way to go about this, but my personal recommendation would go towards strength training. You get to work with your body, you get to work with your mind, you get to work with your hands, you get to meet people who are not neck deep in the world of entrepreneurship.

Strength training is very linear in terms of work/reward. You can even put all your knowledge about 80/20 analysis etc. to good use both in terms of the training itself and nutrition. You’ll get a good break from whatever your endeavor is and may even find that during your workout you come up with solutions to problems you haven’t been able to solve or new business ideas.

A side effect of getting stronger and in better shape may even be more successful meetings as you standing more proud and erect before any person, will alter his or her perception of you. This may seem shallow but never underestimate the subtle cues of body language.

In other words the only real downside to strength training is really the time you need to allocate for it. And allocate it you should. Otherwise you’ll be very prone to postpone in the beginning and find ways in which working can be seen as more important. But 1-2 hours 2-3 times a week should be manageable for most – even the most prolific and busy entrepreneurs. It might be the best investment you’ll ever do.

The Myth of Sisyphus starring the hopeful entrepreneur

One of the hard parts about entrepreneurship is the lack of acknowledgement and appreciation when starting out. No one really knows what you are doing. A few people may know the hypothesis behind what you are trying to accomplish but for most unproven ideas they start their life as just that – an unproven hypothesis.

If you are a bricklayer building a house your work is very linear. The more you put in the more you get out. The goal of your work is to build a structure. The more hours you spend laying bricks the closer you get to reaching that goal. This is relatively easy to comprehend both for yourself and the people around you. You may find the work boring, but you can see you are getting closer to your goal and so can the people around you. Keep working you are almost there.

Now enter the core of entrepreneurship – prove the unproven hypothesis. This is where work gets anything but linear. The myth of Sisyphus describes meaningless work and therefore isn’t in its original meaning a good description of entrepreneurship, but with a few alterations the picture of one pushing a big rock to the top of a mountain, actually depicts entrepreneurship rather well.

First of all we need more rocks. You may have somewhat of an idea that your end goal should be a rock on top of a mountain, but exactly which rock is not all that apparent – so enter more rocks. You now run from rock to rock trying to push them uphill, spending all your energy pushing one rock only to see another roll back down the mountain, you then sprint to recover this and with herculean effort makes good progress with this one.

Now strolling around comes your good friend whom of course needs pictures for his Instagram profile. He takes a snapshot of you pushing a rock uphill. This of course somewhat shows you are working hard, but it does not show the full truth. It does not show the other rocks, all your sprints and efforts to keep them moving in the right direction. It does not show whether you are halfway, just getting started or near the end goal – and honestly you do not even know that. Your friends can show some sympathy towards your work, but they will never know the full story.

Then one day you can see a summit. You must be getting close now – all your work must have payed of. With endless nights of all out effort you get the rock you are pushing to the summit. You have looked forward to this day for so long and is ready to explode with relief – but then. The rock rolls over the summit and down on the other side. Everything goes downhill and eventually you find yourself in an even lower valley with a steeper hill to climb on the other side. What you thought was the summit was only a small step on the way. You almost had time to celebrate what you thought was your victory, only to find out – it wasn’t. You still have a long way to go – presumably – you don’t really know. You can’t see the summit, you know somewhat the direction, but whether it will take you a day, a year or you’ll never reach the top – you don’t really know. You just have to keep pushing your rocks in the direction you believe in and hope that some day it will all pay off.

This is entrepreneurship. One long education in delayed gratification. You spend all your energy on work you can’t be sure to ever return anything. You can work hard, you can work smart – but in the end you still need a good topping of luck sprinkled on top. You can do everything “right” with the best of intentions and still end up failing or do everything “wrong” with the worst of intentions and still end up succeeding – no one really knows.

This is the beauty of entrepreneurship and the reason why it is a crash course in life it self. Life is full of randomness and adversity, there is no panel of judges keeping score and giving you prices for good effort. Good, bad, lazy effort there is no score. All you can do is live in the moment move towards your goals and enjoy the journey.