Induction: Unit 1: Welcome to the Induction

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Personal Introduction

Hello everyone,

I am Lev Lafayette, from Australia. I work as the Senior HPC Support and Training Officer at the University of Melbourne, and will doing the MSc in Information Systems Management here. My role at the University of Melbourne consists of building and maintaining our general purpose high performance computing system, and training postgraduate researchers on how to use the system. Previously I have worked for the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in East Timor, and the Parliament of Victoria.

I have a few degrees from other institutions, including a Master of Business Administration (Technology Management) from Chifley Business School, along with graduate degrees in Adult and Tertiary Education, and Project Management. My undergraduate degree is in Politics, Philosophy, and Sociology.

In what exists of my spare time I like engage in political and economic theory, simulation and roleplaying games, and languages.

Hope you are all well and good luck with the course!

Reading Notes (Managing Oneself, by Peter F. Drucker, Best of Harvard Business Review, 1999)

"We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: If you’ve got ambition, drive, and smarts, you can rise to the top of your chosen profession—regardless of where you started out."

This first line is an empirical question, and it's curious that the Harvard Business Review doesn't pick up on this right away. Drucker, of course, has made empirical observations that were kind of obvious (Daniel Bell is another) and not particularly exciting their predictions; some of his predictions (such as the US financial centre moving from NY to Washington) are obviously wrong.

I have my doubts whether we live in an age of unprecedented opportunity. After all, in the Roman Empire people an African native (Septimius Severus) and his son (Caracalla) both served as emperor. I am yet to see the equivalent since then.

(c.f,. Asante, Molefi K., Shaza, Ismail (2016). "Interrogating the African Roman Emperor Caracalla: Claiming and Reclaiming an African Leader". Journal of Black Studies. 47: 41–52)

A second empirical claim: "History’s great achievers—a Napoléon, a da Vinci, a Mozart—have always managed themselves". Did they? Mozart was born in to a musical family, he was tutored by his father from the earliest age (and as a result had compositions when he was around 4 to 5) and was taken on tours by his parents throughout Europe in his early 'teens to advertise his abilities, where he was introduced to other musicians (including Bach). He was employed by the Salzburg court (on two occasions), then for Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor. It sounds less of a case of him "managing himself" but rather being employed. I do note one particular and important exception; the last year of his life did produce without any financial compensation or promise, work of his own initiative, including 'The Magic Flute', which could be used as an example in the division between "high" and "commodity" art (c.f., Marcuse, Arendt).

(I confess I haven't checked the background of Napoleon or da Vinci)

This aside, the recommendation from the Drucker paper for a bit of self-reflection is handy in its own right.

What Are My Strengths?

Others tell me I'm highly motivated, with a wide range of knowledge and skills, gregarious, and capable at explaining and teaching. If only they knew that internally I curse myself for not getting enough done, I discover every day that there is so much I don't know, and that I'm full of doubt! The recommendation of feedback analysis is sound, and I have practiced it for years. Each year I document a review of the previous years and plans for the following year with documentation. The implications that Drucker proposes lead to interesting conclusions; concentrate on strengths, improve strengths, avoid disabling ignorance, remedy bad habits etc.

How Do I Perform?

This section skirts around the popular conceptions of learning-styles, the hypothesis that studies should be tailored according to the individual learning style to maximise performance. Despite the popularity of such an idea, it is completely wrong. Individuals may have learning style preferences but it is not related to performance. It is disciplines themselves that have better or worse learning styles in terms of outcomes. Again, another instance of surprise at what gets in the HBR without proper investigation.

c.f., Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological science in the public interest, 9(3), 105–119.

As an example how the wrong assumptions can lead to (almost) the right conclusions, Drucker suggests "Do not try to change yourself—you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform." This is almost the right conclusion. Rather, if we have learning style preferences, and different learning styles are appropriate for different disciplines according to discipline, then one should select the discipline that matches their preference (e.g., if you're deeply analytical for purposes of efficiency and effectiveness, sociable among peers, and have a very low tolerance for things that are wrong,consider a career in computer science).

I should also point out that Drucker's claim that Churchill did poorly at school is not entirely true either. Churchill did do poorly at a primary school where he was boarded at St. George's, receiving much better grades at Brunswick School, excelled at the elite Harrow School (especially in history), but then declined again in the final years as he was in army form, in preparation for a career in the military. It had nothing to do with learning styles or even preferences, but rather it was situational.

What Are My Values?

Drucker's differentiation between values and ethics is an interesting one, mainly because it is an inversion of what is actually more commonly expressed by contemporary moral philosophy. The "mirror test" that he proposes is actually one of universal moral principles ( c.f., Habermas, Otto-Apel) as a motivational foundation, whereas ethics are typically framed in terms of whether an act was appropriate in context (c.f., Fletcher) in view of its outcomes (consequentialist utilitarianism, c.f., GEM Moore, Petit, Singer).

This aside, Drucker's remark "To be effective in an organization, a person’s values must be compatible with the organization's values", is largely correct. Unless of course one has enormous dedication and inner strength and believes that they can change the organisation (in which case, they'd better find allies - and many of them - within). Or, if they have allegiance to a different organisation and both the competence and capability to keep their true intentions secret, in which case they'd make a very effective spy.

Where Do I Belong?

On this questions Drucker I believe correctly identifies that this answer is contingent on the previous three questions, and one can take a via negativa approach, i.e., determine where they don't belong. I've been very fortunate in the past twenty years to have largely worked with and in organisations that I felt I could make a difference in terms of both policies and skills. In a handful of situations where this was not the case I didn't stay long. It would be better if the article showed some sympathy to those who, by necessity, are in employment that they don't particularly like, where they don't belong, but must do so for practical reasons of living. Another point that this not mentioned is that one's strengths, performance, and values can change over time. Hence where one "belongs" can do so as well.

What Should I Contribute?

Another question which acts as a subcategory of the first three questions, and makes the sound recommendation of providing challenging planning to oneself with a medium (12-18 month) focus. This is sensible enough, and my tendency to overcommit is, in part, a conscious decision to have stretch goals (Excelsior! Labor omnia vincit!). One danger (to which I am particularly prone) is volunteering to carry out tasks which I don't need to and are costly in that most precious of resources - time. The law of comparative advantage is extremely important within any organisation and not just between countries.

Responsibility for Relationships

Drucker again repeats the myth of "learning styles" in considering how an employer should consider how a particular boss performs, with the additional component of incorporating the argument of "managing upwards". There is, of course, a conflict here with the prior matter of being attentive to strengths and values. It is the role of the manager to have both technical understanding and social relationship skills. Management is, after all, the ability to get things done through other people (c.f., Mintzberg, Stewart), which certainly involves taking on their professional advice. It actually is not the role of the professional who provides reports for a manager; they should be analytical, factual, and sincere. If a manager doesn't like the answers they receive and tries to massage reality to a something palatable among their peers, then they will make expensive mistakes (which can lead to the unemployment of the person they didn't pay attention to).

The Second Half of Your Life

The observation that individuals, often at the peak of their career, seek either a new or alternative role is well-established, and the advice of either change or parallel (e.g., nonprofit) is relatively sound. The examples of positional setbacks that Drucker provides, however, are really those for a particular outlook; if one doesn't particularly care for positional success, then not receiving such a title is a minor setback, not a major one. I take the opportunity here to mention that Drucker has overlooked one of the advantages of the increasingly common approach of "lifelong learning" - one always has the opportunity to learn something new and different, and for that reason, education, and continuing education will always provide opportunities for 'success'.