Last week, at a lively Rotary Club of San Juan lunch meeting (which by the way is presided by distinguished Dr. Norman Maldonado), a good friend asked if it was still necessary to study history and theory in order to understand society and institutions of all kinds. What a demanding question to answer in five minutes! Even though my philosophical perspective has always been that we should all prefer the dreams of the future than the stories of the past, my answer was clear. Indeed, we have to study history and theory in order to better approach the future. There is a tremendous and formidable value in studying history and theory. History has an extraordinary relevance to the knowledge society and good theory is very practical for establishing the fundaments of institutional change and transformation in the way to the future.
We always like to give some examples to our students of management and behavioral sciences by way of everyday experiences and observations. (Read Karl E. Weick, Amendments of Organizational Theorizing). The next time you are in Plaza Las America spend a few minutes observing the behavior of the people who ride the escalator. Quite commonly, as an individual gets close to the next floor, he/she starts to walk in order to get there faster. A more formal theory suggests that, as people get closer to their goals, they are increasingly motivated to work harder to reach them. Goals provide directions, focus and clarify the purposes of work systems. Here and everyday observations provides the framework or theory to explain behavior in certain situations.
Almost by definition, management is practiced in the real world, so useful management historical perspective, and good theories help a lot to explain current reality. It is very evident when someone who is very intelligent, but lacks the historical and theoretical perspective comes to an organization. That person comes with the mentality of “discovering the world” in the face of many things that are already well known to others.
History and theory help us organizing information and providing systematic framework for decision-making and action. My good friend said that he clearly understood my case for theory, and my long-term claim that there is nothing more practical than a good theory, but still he exclaimed; why history?
Awareness and understanding of important historical developments are also very important to contemporary professionals, executives and managers. That is why courses in history devote substantial amount of time to business, economic and cultural developments in the society, including, the industrial transformation (now that we are debating taxes and incentives), the early labor movement, the Great Depression, the creation of the government in Puerto Rico, and key actors and leaders during this time. All these historical events paint to different kinds of theoretical perspectives.
So, our point is that in order to prevent the recycling of history and theory, organizations and institutions are slowly recognizing that they can learn from their past, they can understand the theories in use, so as to engage in creating new knowledge and new theories to aid in change and transformation venture. Without new knowledge these is no real change.
In Puerto Rico an increasing number of large scale organizations are interested in history and in theories to help them develop a long term perspective on their roots and on their fresh options for the future. It is like this long-standing customer that I have that asked to provide a historical and theoretical interpretation about what has occur in his organizations who has evolved from a very good place to work into one somewhat contaminated by slow down in productivity and low morale. In this case our research (satisfactorily for him) showed that it was related to and increased management control approach accompanied by a new overload of rules and regulations. Because such a long time had passed, and because a variety of executives had been involved, the company officials were not able to quite solve the problems. But we were able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and suggest a workable solution, which is the purpose of any robust theory.
Let me finalize with a historical and a theoretical proposal. When we address the history of organizational goals we find that everybody loves goals, but not many follow them. At the individual level if you want to work with goals the theory recommends the following: 1) Unlock your potential; 2) Take charge of your life; 3) Create your own future; 4) Clarify your values; 5) Establish true goals; 6) Decide your major purpose; 7) Analyze your beliefs; 8) Start at the beginning; 9) Measure your progress; 10) Remove obstacles; 11) Become an expert in your field (study, study, read and read); 12) Associate with the right people; 13) Make a short action __; 14) Manage your time well; 15) Review you goals daily; 16) Visualize your goals constantly; 17) Activate your mind; 18) Remain flexible at all times; 19) Unlock your creativity; 20) Do something everyday; 21) Persist until you succeed; 22) Search for God, pray and cultivate faith.
History and the empirical theory indicate that if you practice systematically with this system of behaviors you will get what your want and faster than you ever thought possible.
Copyright 2007 QBS, Inc.