Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The arcane art of leadership gestation

Today I will lift a bit the kimono to give you a glimpse on this aspect of governance. I barely have enough time to stay alive, so I apologize to use a compact European writing style instead of the more eloquent American style I am supposed to use in this blog. The occasion is today's Nobel Prize announcement.

When I used to have work assignments in corporate governance, the only business book that really helped me was Gordon Bell's book High-Tech Companies. Of course the most important lesson was on how to organically grow a balanced company, but there was also the lesson on the pygmy principle and how to build the company's leadership team.

In most herd animals, leaders are selected in duels. However, early on humans have developed the art of gestating — or grooming, in Silicon Valley lingo — leaders. It probably started with shamans, but by the time of Egypt's first dynasties it was already a well developed structured and formal process assigned to the monasteries, an institution the Pharaohs most likely invented for this specific purpose.

In Far Eastern cultures the main contributor to this art was Confucius, who coined the term naming names for what here in the Silicon Valley today we call pygmy hiring when it is done poorly (see for example Ryûichi Abé's The Weaving of Mantra — Kûkai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse for a detailed historical analysis of how the specific method used for naming names profoundly influenced the Japanese culture and was the germinating event for the formation of Shingon). The reason I mention this specific book is that it always was — and in good part still is — an art beyond the reach of the general population, i.e. it is esoteric.

If in the past it was esoteric, today it is mostly based on wisdom and implicit knowledge, which allow the leader gestator to extrapolate current trends, assign them as directions to follow, select gifted individuals, nurture them, and finally, when they have achieved, laudate them publicly so society can follow them as examples.

When are the gestators themselves recognized? Quietly, when they have successfully predicted leadership. Today, out of sight, a former HP Labs director and the members of a selection committee in Japan are quietly celebrating their successful early identification of leaders.

Today the event is giant magnetoresistance (GMR). You can read about it and the inventors all over today's press and blogosphere because they just received the Nobel Prize in physics.

Recognition goes to Chuck Moorhouse, who at an early time recognized its merits and had HP pursue research on this theme.

Recognition goes to Koichi Kitazawa, Takehiko Ishiguro, Hidetoshi Fukuyama, Tatsuo Izawa, Tetsuya Osaka, Katsuaki Sato, Junichi Sone, Kohei Tamao for recognizing the importance of this basic research in inspiring innovative devices and giving them the 2007 Japan Prize.

And now let's close the kimono and move over to Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg, and their laudation on Nobelprize.org.