Importance of Folklore – Folkloristic in Business Management, Leadership…: Facts, Traditions, Culture… or, Much to Do about Nothing…

Folklore, and things that speak in symbols can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred… folklore is anything that is passed down through generations; myths, legends, stories, customs…

Folklore (or lore) consists of legends, popular beliefs, stories, tall tales, customs… they are the traditions of a culture, subculture, group, or organizations. Folktales is a general term for different varieties of traditional narrative. The telling of stories is universal and folklore is common to basic and complex societies alike. Corporate folklore are abound with stories about the catastrophic failures of famous companies and products; such as the Ford Edsel, New Coke, Japanese Pampers… many iconic stories about hugely successful; companies, products, big deals… many of them live-on as folklore.

Some folklore are statements of a company’s decision-making process, or ‘that’s the way we do things’: Probably one of the most noteworthy examples is the H-P way. Employees [at Hewlett-Packard] would say: What would Bill (Bill Hewlett) have done? What would Dave (Dave Packard) have done? These men represent the company’s culture, conscience, and folklore.

According to A.C. Mike Markkula Jr. writes; when Apple first started, we spent a long time developing Apple values. They were statements everyone could relate to; not integrity, truth, justice or words like that. They were statements like; we want to be good citizen in communities. Although, for some that could be as simple as saying, let’s not put big piles of trash outside our offices… we don’t want to mess up the neighborhood. Markkula goes on to say; at Apple, we wanted to make a company that worked the way we wanted it to work.

A hidden issue, in many companies, is politics; who has what job title and what authority. So at Apple, we made a rule that we would have no job description longer than two paragraphs. We first considered not having job titles at all, but we decided against that because people outside the company wouldn’t know how to relate to us.  Still, we did have an unusual structure. It didn’t really matter who you work for; but it did matter what you did. I suppose the ethical facet is; how you interact with other people… whether they’re the janitor or chairman of board, you treat them with respect and recognize their contributions and their faults. That became part of our company folklore, culture...

In the articleGuru Review: Folklore Of Management by Matthew E. May writes: Timeless wisdom from one of the century’s most celebrated business leaders, Clarence B. Randall. In his book The Folklore of Management, published in 1959, he has a collection of 16 essays, each covering a different business folklore. I was struck by how, over 52 years later, Randall’s savvy insight is every bit as relevant as it was in 1959. I was struck by how this tome fits so well into current emerging trends. They are concise and provocative manifestos. Here at-a-glance are s few of his folklores.

  • Organization chart: If your company is run ‘by the book,’ if the job description is more important than the man, if organization charts take precedence over the realities of personal relationships, your company is in danger of succumbing to an all-too-common form of creeping paralysis.
  • Management committee: Who runs your company– the president or a bevy of committees? Are decisions made in time– or are they continually put off  for ‘further study’ by ‘the group?’ Every business profits from a well-run committee system, but keeping it within bounds is a critical test of management skill.
  • Production wizard: Perpetual motion, split-second decisions, and jet-propelled personality are his hallmarks. He can run any function of  the business better than the man he hired to do the job– and he can’t stop proving it. Sometimes he’s just as good as he thinks he is. But his kind of management can cost a company its future.
  • Almighty dollar: Are we too tolerant of the top man who justifies a swollen salary with the magic word ‘incentive’? Top-heavy executive pay reflects a distorted view of human relations. Worse still, it can dangerously undermine public confidence in our system.
  • Specialist: Unless the danger is seen in time, galloping specialization can bring any company to the brink of chaos. The remedy? Top managers with the breadth of vision only a liberal education can provide.
  • Cost cutter: When profits shrink and prospects for the coming  months look dim, the cry goes up– ‘Slash overhead!’ But that is just the moment when hasty action can do irreparable harm.
  • Overworked executive: Pity the overworked executive! Behind his paperwork ramparts, he struggles bravely with a superhuman load of  responsibilities. Burdened with impossible assignments, beset by constant emergencies, he never has a chance to get organized. Pity him– but  recognize him for the dangerous liability he is.

In the article Management Folklore and Management Science by J. Scott Armstrong and Richard H. Franke write:  Management contains folklore. By folklore, I mean techniques and concepts that managers adopt without any formal evaluation of their effectiveness simply because others use them. Some folklore prove useful, whereas,  others are harmful.

Research that tests management folklore is valuable… consider an analogy to medical science. Folklore (e.g., do not sit in a draft, get lots of rest, or eat an apple a day) is tested along with new treatments, and the testing is replicated and extended. Ideally, those who do the replications and extensions strive for objectivity. Such a process helps to determine which treatments are useful. Management folklore probably developed as a way of recognizing certain– beliefs, customs…; what seem to be obvious.

In research by J. A. Lee; he examined popular management techniques and concluded that much folklore are simply; common beliefs. An example of folklore used in management is Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, which was adopted based mainly on the argument that it made sense.  Another example of management folklore is the ‘experience curve’, which states; ‘costs decrease as cumulative production volume increases’. Here, advocates advise managers to increase production to gain economies of scale and, in cases, that can prove to be harmful to the company.  

Many researchers have successful careers by doing research that supports folklore. For example, the 1995 Nobel in economics recognizes the claim that people have rational expectations about the future (some are folklore). Similarly, many findings in psychology appear to be based on common sense.

In research by W. Mischel; he asked fourth and sixth-grade students to predict the outcome of 17 classic experiments in psychology…  the students correctly predicted the outcome for 12 of them (suggesting that much folklore is just common sense). Folklore is probably the most important and well-acclaimed component of the cultural heritage of a nation, people, company… as such, the truthfulness in folklore must be supported, but also, the falsehood in folklore must be exposed…

In the article “Business Folklore: Origin of the Expression– You are Fired!” by Nagesh Belludi writes: The term ‘fired’ is a colloquial expression for dismissing a person from employment. It became more popular owing to the TV reality show ‘The Apprentice’ where the host, Donald Trump, eliminates contestants for a high-level management job by ‘firing’ them successively. Indeed, in 2004, Donald Trump filed a trademark application for the catchphrase– You’re fired!

Some sources suggest that the term may have originated from the expression ‘fire a gun’ as in ‘discharge a gun’. However, legend has it that the term ‘you’re fired’ originated, in the 1910s, at the National Cash Register (NCR) Company by John Henry Patterson (1844–1922) who was widely recognized as the pioneer of sales management and for developing formal methods for training and assessing sales persons. Nevertheless, Patterson, for all his genius, was quirky. He often dismissed employees for trivial reasons just to break their self-confidence and recruited them back soon after.

John Patterson’s employees and customers branded him abusive and confrontational. Patterson once dismissed an executive by asking him to visit a customer then when the executive returned, to NCR headquarters, he observed his desk tossed out onto the lawn. Where upon, at the right time, his desk burst-out into flames: He was ‘fired’. Famously, NCR’s star sales executive,

Thomas Watson Sr. met a similar fate. In 1914, Watson argued that NCR’s dominant product, mechanical cash registers, would soon go obsolete and proposed that NCR develop electric cash registers. Peterson resisted the idea and demanded that Watson focus on sales and not worry about innovation.

Following an argument, Patterson  in a fit of anger, had workers carry Watson’s desk outside and had it lit on ‘fire’, thus Thomas Watson Sr. was ‘fired’. Thomas Watson Sr. then joined a smaller competitor, named IBM… there Watson led IBM for forty years and turned IBM into the world’s leading technology company. The stories of being ‘fired’ at NCR by Patterson became folklore.

Folkloristic is the term preferred by academic folklorists for the formal, academic discipline devoted to the study of folklore. The term itself derives from the nineteenth-century German designation folkloristik (i.e., folklore). In scholarly usage, folkloristic represents an emphasis on the contemporary, social aspects of expressive culture, in contrast to the more literary or historical study of cultural texts.

According to Dundes, folkloristic work will continue to be important in the future and writes, ‘folklore is universal: there has always been folklore, and in all likelihood there will always be folklore.’ According William A. Wilson, the study of folklore is not just a pleasant pastime for whiling away idle moments. Rather, it is centrally and crucially important in our attempts to understand our behavior and that of our fellow human beings.

According to Patrick Jory; while the study of folklore is important for full understanding of ‘humanity’, I have to admit that I have no idea what it has to do with ‘management’ and why we should study folklore in order to ‘manage’ people. Peter Drucker says, management; in the last analysis, means the substitution of ‘thought’ for brawn and muscle, ‘knowledge’ for folklore and superstition, and ‘cooperation’ for force.

Folklore and myths are cultural. Ethnic groups of every country have their beliefs and views and they are gradually changing as societies evolve…