Haley’s comets (sabbaticals for the rest of the world)

DSC00014 I spend the day in a room with the senior managers of a mid size company. 

It was interesting to see how many of their problems are not paradigmatic problems: issues you can get to the bottom of with due diligence, the right data, the application of hard thinking, and the customary approach.   

No, many of the problems these people are dealing with have an air of indeterminacy.  This is pre or post paradigmatic thinking.  It's hard to know exactly what the problem is.  It's tough to know which terms apply, how best to frame the issues, what the best perspective is.  In other words, this is not processual thinking.  This is developmentl, demanding, and entirely intellectual.

And poof, goes that favorite distinction between theory and application.   This work in industry is abstract, self scrutinizing, reflexive and foundational.  And this says, I think, that industry thinkers have an urgent need to the calm and resources of an academic setting.  They need moments of problem solving when they don't need to have an answer by the end of the business day.  They need to practice a little more intellectual "catch and release," when you form ideas and throw them back to see if they will ever return as plausible solutions.  They need to canvass their options more widely.

What they need is a sabbatical.  If youth is wasted on the young, sabbaticals are wasted on the academic.  I don't doubt that academics need them.  But I do think that industry types need them just as much, perhaps more.  The university needs to see these executives as their own Haley's comets, people who pass through the university world every 3 or 5 or 7 years before setting off again for another lap in the deep space of managerial experience. 

When does some university step up and make this possible?  This is a huge opportunity to change the fundamentals of executive education.  It is also a possibility to recruit a new group of alums. 

When does some corporation step up and make this possible?  As it is, every corporation is dangerously close to burning through its human capital as a result of over use and the failure to give respite.  When you think about how expensive it is to find the right person, to make them a full and useful member of the corporation, surely a sabbatical investment is merely good sense. 

But this is about something more than just protecting the resources of corporation.  It is also part of the process of equipping the corporation with people who have the resources and presence of mind to wrestle well with the most pressing problems at hand.  What's it worth when senior managers making their most important distinctions better?

2 thoughts on “Haley’s comets (sabbaticals for the rest of the world)”

  1. One reflection – companies in a way have off-loaded the reflexive and deliberative way of thinking to academy. In common perception academy is for the long term knowledge creation and companies are more for ‘acting’ according to that knowledge. There is a lot of this ‘active’ culture in companies – deliberation is not really valued there. Now it seems that the increasing complexity of the world around us calls for more of this deliberative way of thinking inside companies – but first the first step for this is that they start value it.

  2. I have this fantasy of setting up shop in a different major city around the global for a month a year. I’m not sure how my business would keep running and how I could do paid work in a different place each month without spending all of the preceding 11 months setting it up (not a good cost/benefit ratio), but the idea is really tantalizing.

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