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January 19, 2022



Here's a theory of business theories: all of these should be, indeed can be, condensed to limericks. Or haiku. Or expanded to the dimensions of those art forms, and not a syllable beyond. Surely "thinking outside the box" lends itself to that. Where it shouldn't be, of course, is inside a whole book. Was it? Probably.

The only such books I've ever read are Up The Organization and The Peter Principle. I read the former only because I saw it in a Johannesburg bookshop window decades after, and what felt like a million miles from, its debut. I read the latter only because it was mentioned in The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubblegum Book. Oh, and then there was the time I was bicycling near the University of Nebraska and it started to rain so I took shelter in the bookstore, and while there decided to inspect the required and optional texts for Marketing classes. I cannot imagine coming to any business book via less tortuous routes. Such as, "There's something I need to know about business right now."

Not to be contemptuous of it, or of any scholarship that might be brought to bear on it. But what could that scholarship concentrate on? Management theory doesn't yet have enough doggerel and it may not have any historiography. At least I don't think it is the custom in any one such book to acknowledge the existence of any other such book. (Giving your competition free advertising would be bad business, no?)


Most of the business truisms I value were accidental discoveries, whether divine nudges or simple serendipity I know not. I don’t recall learning anything about business from a book I purposefully sat down to read. So I guess it’s not so much a matter of learning to think outside “the box” as waiting for the box to be delivered as a surprise package and then deciding what to make of the contents. Frankly, these days, I think we operate in a world of strategic magical thinking rather than hard won experience. People are more inclined to listen to the showman-wizard wearing business casual than the pinstriped yeoman. Perhaps that’s all for the best. I guess it depends on what you’re selling and to whom you are selling it.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment

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