Some years ago I was introduced to Francis Bacon's Essays (published in their final form in 1625) while a Sloan fellow at MIT. They are brief, precise, and timeless. As one of the world's epoch-making books, Bacon's Essays has influenced many individuals. The following excerpts from two are accompanied by a few of my own comments.
Youth and age. "A man that is young in years may be old in hours, if he has lost no time. But that happeneth rarely…and yet the invention of young men is more likely than the old; and imaginations stream into their minds better, and, as it were, more divinely. Young men are fitter to invent than to judge; fitter for execution than for counsel; and fitter for new projects than for settled business. For the experience of age, in things that fall within the compass of it, directeth them; but in new things abuseth them…
"Young men, in the conduct and management of actions, embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end, without consideration of the means and degrees; pursue some few principles which they have chanced upon absurdly; care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniences; use extreme remedies at first; and, that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them; like an unready horse, that will neither stop nor turn. Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success."
With the substitution of "men or women" for Bacon's use of the term "men," the essay seems contemporary.
The ideal situation would be to combine the strengths of youth with education, experience, and maturity. Youth must be careful not to introduce change without good reason. On the other hand, age must be careful to introduce change as soon as it is appropriate, and not stick with the old way too long.
Whether young or old in years, a person can still be either young or old in experience and education. Age should not be the important criterion, but rather how the person has invested the years he or she has been given. We must be careful not to repeat the same job year after year. To be successful, we must manage our careers to achieve whatever goals we have set for ourselves. Otherwise we could end up old in years and young in experience.
Negotiating."It is better to deal by speech than by letter; and by the mediation of a third than by man's self. To deal in person is good, where a man's eye upon the countenance of him with whom he speaketh may give him direction how far to go."
Perhaps every interaction with another person should be viewed as a negotiation, and we should pay particular attention to feedback, especially non-verbal feedback, when the other person's countenance or actions do not fit with what he or she is saying. A good example of this is the current trend towards rapid product development, which often comes up against people reluctant to change the organizational culture and climate. Many people say they want the change, but do not back that up with their actions.
Francis Bacon's Essays: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, NY (1955 printing).
Ask the Manager
Q: A few years ago, a book titled The Icarus Paradox was published. Would you summarize its basic message?
A: Danny Miller wrote the book you mention. Harper Business published it (1990).
According to Greek mythology, Icarus escaped from prison on wings his father, Dedalus, crafted out of wax and feathers. Unfortunately, Icarus kept flying higher and higher until he got too close to the sun. The wax melted, and he plunged into the Aegean Sea and perished. The power of Icarus' wings which enabled him to fly gave rise to the complacency that doomed him. The paradox is that his greatest asset led to his death.
Miller suggests that this paradox applies to many successful companies today. Their victories lead them into a complacency that can cause their downfall. The very factors that can lead to success--focused tried-and-true strategies, confident leadership, focused corporate cultures, and the interplay among them all--can also cause decline.
Such companies extend and amplify the strategies to which they credit their success. Productive attention to detail can turn into micromanagement; rewarding innovation can escalate into gratuitous invention; measured growth can become uncontrolled expansion.
Q: How can I learn about the newest technologies resulting from the federal government's R&D programs?
A: Contact the National Technology Transfer Center through their electronic bulletin board, Business Gold. The McKinley Internet Directory has given the site a four-star rating, and all information is free of charge without connect or download charges. Web address: http:www.nttc.edu.