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Best Efforts Are not Enough: Planning for Centuries Later(1999/07)

Years ago late Matsushita was invited to Harvard Business School to deliver a speech. Most people were puzzled with Matsushita's two centuries blue prints for the his organizations.. The key question is that how long does long-term planning means or whether it is meaningful at all?

Another similar examples are that under China ground, there are many tombs or treasures to be discovered. It contains many potential museum collections. But the trouble of 'digging up' is that it is a destructive action and once uncovered, most treasures will be badly damaged. The trained subject matter experts are very limited and over-burdened in their work for reporting and publishing, not to mention the conservation of treasures demands a technology level far beyond their control, so why not wait till people are well-prepared to make the studies needed?.

Nowadays people are getting to be used to 'business at internet speed', how is it possible to think in terms of hundred years? Most business executives consider that decision making at the right moment is a key success factor of running business. Most people for so-called strategic thinking are not concerned with the effects of long term. In most democratic countries, the government or president changes every several years to please their people.

Indeed the average life span of company is less than two decades. The books The Living Companies and Building To Last are few exceptions in studying the organizations that lasted more than hundred years. Unfortunately, both best-selling business books are all ignorant with the core learning of most dynamic studies of business history. For organizations, some decisions are of the types of unfailing investment I mentioned in another article, such as technology infrastructure building and distribution channels. Their values are important for a evergreen enterprise.

We need to learn from human history. Chinese people are aware that political and economical forces will change a lot but family trees are the key. So the trees cultivated this generation are mainly for the benefits of next generations. Dyson told us stories of one Germany family and Cambridge University cut down trees and replant them for the benefits of future generations. Indeed, to plant oaks trees takes around one hundred years. Chinese people know that it take decades to grow a tree and a century to build a person.

We rarely and really know the benefit of our investments. So we need to decide and act based on the theory for the good of our generations later. We need to understand the profound meaning of our efforts to the system. Dr. Hu Shih was quite disappointed with the Beijing University ranked around No. 500 Oldest Universities worldwide when he was invited to celebrate the 300 Anniversary for Harvard University around 50 years ago. If a country with more than 1000 years tradition of University cannot build a strong and living University, it is really a shame for us.

Dr. Deming taught us to overcome various destructive forces of systems during our life. We can extend the thinking to the other generations and to the world called earth. Indeed this kind of old wisdom shared by most profound thinkers. For example, the concluding remarks by Rachel Carlson in Silent Spring as follows.

Through all these new, imaginative, and creative approaches to the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures there run a constant theme, the awareness that we are dealing with life--with living populations and with all their pressures and counter pressures, their surges and recessions…



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