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Lets Be Realists, Lets Demand the Impossible Published: Sunday, September 6, 1998 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible said the great theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. Needless to say, his words have tremendous merit within organizational contexts. Given the chaos created by breakthroughs in such areas as global development, information management, technology, genetics and other sciences, the terms absurd and impossible are well relative. Coming from the sixties these reflections reminds me the interesting expression of lets be realists, lets demand the impossible.

Einstein`s opinions on business issues ranged from the practical to the sublime. Once asked to comment on what he learned about succeeding in civil service from his stint at the Swiss patent office in the early 1900`s, he replied that success is represented by a very practical formula A as success= X+Y+Z, where X represents work, Y represents play, and Z represents keeping your mouth shut.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, he wrote in a note to himself, but not simpler. He was the ultimate believer in the potential of the individual, describing "the herd" as "dull in thought and dull in feeling". He also believed that the system from the macro to the micro has the responsibility to facilitate and maximize each member`s contribution. This is to embrace with imagination both the organizational division of labor and development. His word of alert was not to deprived the individual of a broad horizon or a general grasp of reality, because this could degrade the person to the level of "a mechanic". Similar to the management thinker Frederick Herzberg, Einstein felt that the mere satisfaction of material and physical needs, although indispensable, was not sufficient to keep a human being content. Only the possibility to develop one`s intellectual and artistic powers could ensure that.

Though protecting always individualism, Einstein strongly made the case for the value of team as organized efforts. He credited such cooperation, the smooth executing of the division of labor by putting the We over the I, along with certain uniformity of vision and outlook. The point was that in any complex undertaking people should think, direct and take collective responsibility.

He wrote a great deal about education which could just as well apply to training and to motivation. He felt that the most important motivation for work should be the pleasure in the result and knowledge of its value to the community. The best learning takes place where the individual is urged to actual performance, and that what is learned from performing the same job is greatly influenced by the motivation for the activity, whether it be fear, passion or a desire for satisfaction and enjoyment. But fear forces an artificial authority that has to be avoided, since it destroys the sincerity, self-confidence, and sounds sentiments of the subject. He appreciated the human and intellectual qualities of the teacher as the only basis of the student respect. The teacher, manager or leader should also guard against the easy path of encouraging performance by inducing one individual to perform better than the another. Such ambition leads to excessively egoistic psychological adjustment.

Einstein constantly expressed that "the only sure way to avoid mistakes is to have no ideas".


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