R. Gopalakrishnan (2007): The Case of the Bonsai Manager-Lessons from Nature on Growing.
The Case of the Bonsai Manager-Lessons
from Nature on Growing, Penguin Portfolio, New Delhi
Pages: 264, Price: Rs. 450.00
Gopalakrishnan has gained a wealth of practical managerial experience during his tenure as the CEO of Arabia unit of Unilever, managing director of Brooke Bond Lipton India, vice chairman of Hindustan Level and, currently, as executive director of Tata Sons. In this book, he focuses on how to become a leader, and shares with the reader his personal anecdotes and stories on the subject. The author recognizes that there is a shift in the leadership skill set from analytical, aggressive and directive to humane, participative and intuitive. During decision making, complete information is rarely available to the leader to arrive at a decision; successful managers or leaders complement knowledge with their intuition.
Bonsai is a Japanese art of creating beautiful ornamental plants. Bonsai are stunted plants grown in artificial conditions. In this book, the author refers 'Bonsai Manager' as one who has not run his course, so he has not been able to flourish by drawing sustenance from his natural environment. Just as no plant is created by Nature to be bonsai, no one sets out to become a bonsai manager. The growth of bonsai managers gets stunted through their own act of omission and commission. The absence of intuition results in constricting a manager.
Effective leadership is the result of integration of knowledge and intuition. Knowledge and intuition can be acquired and developed by aspiring manager or young leaders in contrasting ways. Knowledge can be taught and can be acquired from external resources. It is what the managers already know they possess. However, intuition cannot be taught, but, has to be learnt by your own. It is a set of understandings that the owner does not know about. When there is a lack of information, intuition plays a significant role in filling that gap. Successful and effective leaders use both - knowledge and intuition, in their decision-making process. Knowledge being pre-requisite, senior leaders are valued for their intuition. In this book, the author focuses on development of 'intuition' to become a successful manager. In the problems and solutions that are technical in nature, knowledge based on analysis works well. Intuition plays a key role where 'human' factors are involved.
Gopalakrishnan emphasizes that there is no magic formula to develop intuition. However, intuitive leadership can be developed. In the practical world of the manager, human ambition, motivation and social relations play a very important role. The nature of human beings such as good conduct, character, honesty, sincerity and the complexity of employee behavior in an organization are difficult-to-teach subjects. Anecdotes, parables and evocative stories can help managers learn about human nature and reflect on it. Such stories with Nature as a theme, appeal to most people. People are inspired by Nature - animals, insects, geology and plants around them. The author integrates 'management' and 'lessons from Nature on Growing' for development of intuition. The author refers intuition as 'gut feel' which is developed through keen listening, reflection, contemplation and mentoring. To familiarize the readers with the situations in which intuition plays a key role in decision making, the author narrates several personal anecdotes.
The book is organized in five sections. The first and the second section are a discussion about analysis and intuition, and, a view about how the leader's intuition works, respectively. The last three sections focus on building intuition.
In the first section of the book, the author narrates an incident from his own experience to highlight the importance of intuition along with analysis. Section two is a discussion about the science underneath the working of intuition and the importance of storytelling to learn the untaught. Author explains that human brain has three inter-connected evolutionary levels that are wired together. The multiple wiring causes human responses to be instinctive or analytical. Strong intuition is developed when the Brain's Remote Implicit Memory (BRIM) is accessed and enhanced through practice and immersion. Practice means doing the same things so often that practice embeds processes into the implicit memory. Immersion means experiencing emotions and involvement so deeply that they stay in the memory forever. Storytelling is an important way of teaching and imparting knowledge on fuzzy subjects. Storytelling is re related to management because an idea is united with emotion. Nature has caused emotions and wonderment in man's mind and leaves him with memorable impressions.
In the next section, author says that the 'space' in which the manager grows is extremely important for the development of intuition. He draws a comparison of a stunted manager with a stunted crocodile. Growth of crocodiles is stunted by restricting and constricting their space and the manager gets stunted when he operates and works at a level which is well below his potential. Growth of crocodile depends on diet and space available; manager's mental food (reading, training, people challenges) and his experience (new experiences, tough assignments) matter to him. Varied experiences with multiple challenges, multiple geographies spread over multiple domains and varied relationships help in building the intuition of manager. In Nature, threats cause adaptation, for example, fish stay fresh in a tank when threatened by sharks, African gazelle needs to run faster than next gazelle to survive from leopard, and, butterflies and moths have colors and textures that make them indistinguishable from a leaf or a tree bark. Similarly, threats provide a positive balance and are essential for healthy business because when threatened, the hidden resources get stirred. Managers can acquire knowledge and intuition through social events in an organization like seminars, conferences, workshops and conventions. Coaching or mentoring is another powerful way through which top-class leaders can be built.
According to the author, managers must find their own ways of creating enough mental space so that the chance of enhancing their intuition is increased several fold. They need to reflect on and contemplate the surrounds of an issue, not merely the issue itself. Author explores three contemporary management themes: increased resources are good or counter-productive, how to synthesize diverse opinions and get the best out of teams, and lastly, whether there is a way to transform while minimizing pain. Gopalakrishnan says that scarcity promotes cooperation. In a resource-rich environment there is no incentive to compete. Also, conditions have to be created consciously in organizations for tapping the power of collective decision making. Change should be effective and efficient. Steps have to be taken to reduce the pain of change, understand the code of change, and rearrange the existing pieces and slowing down to reach quickly. Organizations need to have a process for leadership development and succession planning just like Nature has a system of protecting, nurturing and pacing. Intuition can also be built by sensing and perceiving beyond the obvious. For this, it is important to have some way to develop feelers that are 'four times larger than the body' antennae and stick out into the marketplace. Leaders need to sense, feel, touch and hear the barely audible echoes in the organization. Leaders are trained to be efficient but efficiency and effectiveness may require different approaches. Organizations have their own unique infra-sound and leaders must listen to this infrasound in their organization to avoid losing their orientation.
Doing things effectively is the natural way of doing things and requires less effort. Doing things efficiently requires an effort- a skill or an approach which has to be developed. Nature's intelligence functions effortlessly, frictionlessly and spontaneously. It is non-linear, intuitive and nourishing. In a similar way when one is in harmony with the Nature, his actions are motivated by values, as a result, his energy multiplies and accumulates.
As stated by the author, there are six simple messages of the book-
* Intuition does exist and it is very important for the manager, especially at the more senior levels of leadership
* Analysis and intuition are not substitutes of each other, they are complementary
* A manager can develop intuition through viewing issues holistically, with the 'surrounds' of the issues, and not in isolation. He should observe and learn from the peripherals of his vision, hearing, experiences and relationships
* The manager's intuition is enhanced through varied experiences and relationships, contemplation and reflection
* A manager can develop his intuition by exploring and sensing beyond what is visible and audible
* The leader needs to think about issues at the 'edges of the spectrum of the obvious(1).
This book about effective leadership is narrated with anecdotes from the author's personal life which makes it interesting and engrossing. I feel management students, young and old managers, budding and aspiring entrepreneurs, todays and tomorrow leaders must read this book.
Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi, New Delhi