“EXCELLENT!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he. (The Crooked Man)
The manager is a detective. He is tasked to discover the culprits or ‘criminals’ behind the problems of the organization. The storyline and plot is no different from that of a detective story.
There is always a “seemingly obvious symptom that lies in the heart of a non-obvious problem.” Something is wrong, but it is neither clear nor obvious. There are many false clues. Leads may turn out to be dead ends. The problem must be diagnosed. The crime must be explained.
At times, the detective has to explain how the crime was solved. The manager has to prescribe a way of solving the problem.
At least one research showed the usefulness of framing management problems as detective stories. The focus is on identifying the problem, solving it and explaining the solution for the benefit of an audience. To achieve this, management research has been trying to prescribe the rational rules that managers could follow. Frederick Taylor introduced scientific techniques as a panacea for managerial conundrums. Kepner and Tregoe’s The Rational Manager pushed rationality as a requisite for managers.
Rationality is seen as a one-dimensional logic. The sole objective is to enable managers to make the best decision.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (The Sign of Four)
Sherlock Holmes astounds the reader by his ability to arrive at the truth by careful examination of seemingly irrelevant details and scientific analysis of available data. Holmes describes this method as deduction. Although incomprehensible to most, they are left to believe that “there is method in this madness.”
Similar to Holmes, managers are expected to arrive at solutions that are built on analytical logic. This consists of following procedures, methods, and reasoning. It requires the right or scientific set of procedures adopted in a right sequence. However, this is rare in practice.
According to Max Weber, rationality is affected by one’s objectives, values and beliefs, emotional state, and one’s training. Courses of action are influenced by these variables.
Although crucial and central in the role of a manager, rationality is elusive. Despite following the prescribed procedures, the manager will only be able to know, after the fact, if the actions were indeed rational.
“It is capital mistake to theorize in advance of facts. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” (A Scandal in Bohemia)
Primarily because of the use of theories, methods, and frameworks, managers often claim that deduction and induction were used in solving the problem. However, these insights can be attributed to abduction, “the logic of discovery.”
Abduction is attributed to Sherlock Holmes. The detective “collects observations of which he produces a conjecture, a hypotheses, and then experiments, which sometimes lead to refutation of certain elements or the whole hypothesis.”
There have been suggestions that Holmes never verified his hypotheses. Most criticize his failure to follow strict logic. However, if his method is abduction, then there is no need to verify. The case has been solved.
“You know my methods, Watson. There was not one of them which I did not apply to the inquiry. And it ended by my discovering traces, but very different ones from those which I had expected.” (The Crooked Man)
Real Carpio So lectures on strategic and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.