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A Skeptic’s Guide to IMT 580

by on March 12, 2010

Let me be honest about this: I’ve always hated business. Heck; for that matter, I’ve always hated managers. Every job I’ve ever had has followed the same rough guidelines: managers are the people who get to work less for more money and get you in trouble if they’re feeling surly. My general ill will was long ago spiked with a dose of General Liberal Hatred  for The Man. Business? Clearly the man. Thus, bad. Right?

Amid the bluster and strong statements that heralded the start of IMT 580, Kevin took the stage and began teaching. “Write me a paper,” he said. “Alright,” I thought. “I’ll write about how much I hate business.”

My first paper was going to be titled, “Established Businesses Cannot Become Green and Stay Competitive.” Except, I was horrified to find out, they can and do. For the first time, I was caused to apply carefully done research to the field of Business and Businesses, and I came away startled. Kevin, I realized, was not The Man, nor one of his cronies.

I became more engaged. I had, I realized, indulged in precisely the kind of sloppy, ill-supported prejudice I had often criticized in others. That is, I had it in my mind that business was evil, but I had never stopped to consider why that was my conviction. My interest in 580 rose; I read more carefully, and spent a great deal of time in thought.

But my mind was not yet made up. “Write me another paper,” said Kevin. “Fine,” I said, “But I’m going to be vindicated this time.” The paper topic? “New Green Business Cannot Compete with Established Non-Green Business.”

Wrong again.

This time, the extent to which I was proven wrong stopped me in my tracks. I wrote a paper on making businesses go green, and how desperately important I thought it was that they do so. I wrote strong language about the demand for innovation and necessity of design thinking. “Great stuff,” wrote Kevin in his comments. “I’d like to see you develop your ideas more.”

And finally, I understood two things.

Business is not evil. It isn’t, much though I wanted to prove the opposite. Business is a way to organize and motivate people. Frequently, Business and Management are used to serve ends I don’t agree with, sure, but it’s the ends that are a problem, or the people, but not Business itself. Business is a tool, and if mastered, an excellent one. Business is a lever.

That’s the second thing: business is a lever… and so is Kevin. Management leverages people towards an end; Kevin leverages us towards realizing our ideas, enacting our plans, trusting in our own excellence.

I don’t much hate Business anymore — or management, for that matter. Managers, I’ve come to realize, have incredibly difficult jobs. True, many of them never should have been made managers, and that’s a shame. But I’ve come to see that if I’m to spend my life doing things that I consider meaningful, I’m going to need tools by which accomplish my ends. Management is a powerful tool, if you’ve been taught how to use it, and to believe in yourself.

Fortunately… I have.

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