Thoughts On Trusting Your Instincts

This is a guest post by Archan Mehta.

Reading Mike's Life, I came across an interesting post written by our host. Mike made it clear that he sometimes talks himself out of making the "right" decisions.

It seems the left hemisphere of his brain (logical) is sometimes in conflict with the right hemisphere of his brain (creative). Since I have also faced this challenge throughout my life, I thought it would be wise to share a few ideas espoused by a leading management guru, Henry Mintzberg. If it's any consolation, Mintzberg's work only goes to show there are millions sailing in the same boat and we are in good company.


Born in 1939, Mintzberg was educated at McGill University and MIT. Mintzberg is a well-known writer, speaker and consultant and has been a professor at McGill University in Canada since 1968.

For his first publication, The Nature of Managerial Work, Mintzberg challenged orthodoxy. He has argued the case for a more intuitive and humane approach to business and management. In fact, Mintzberg exposed many of the myths surrounding senior managers, revealing them to be creatures of the moment rather than farsighted strategists who carefully plan their next move.

Mintzberg argues that intuition is "the soft underbelly of management" and that strategy has set out to provide uniformity and formality when none can be created. Mintzberg has to his credit a series of highly important and influential books. Plus, he has a teaching appointment at the world's leading business school, namely, INSEAD in France. Despite these accomplishments, Henry Mintzberg remains an outsider in the world of management thinking.

Although his books are scholarly rather than populist, he emphasizes the creative and spontaneous, that is, the right side of the brain rather than the left side. The left side tends to have a predilection for analysis and rationality. Due to his iconoclastic ideas, Tom Peters calls Mintzberg "perhaps the world's premier management thinker."

There is a dose of cynicism in Mintzberg's world view. To keep hold of reality, he eschews the management guru merry-go-round. In his research, he got close to managers actually managing rather than pontificating from a distance. His research involved spending time with five companies and analyzing how their chief executives spent their time. By contrast, previous studies were more concerned with the people managed by managers and the structure of companies rather than the day to day reality of managerial behaviour and performance.

Mintzberg's work revealed managers to be hostages to interruptions, moving from topic to topic and rarely giving undivided attention to anything. "The pressure of the managerial environment does not encourage the development of reflective planners," observed Mintzberg. "The job breeds adaptive information-manipulators who prefer the live, concrete situation. The manager works in an environment of stimulus-response, and he develops in his work a clear preference for live action."

Thus, instead of being isolated figureheads analyzing and generating carefully thought-out strategy, managers were suddenly exposed as fallible and human. In his own life, Mintzberg does not like to be organised. "I am a voyeur," he says. He has little time for formalities. "We have become prisoners of cerebral management. I'm sympathetic to the management process which is intuitive, based on immediate responses."

Mintzberg regards full-time MBA programs as perpetuating the obsession with "cerebral management." In fact, he no longer teaches on MBA program. "Regular MBA programs should be closed down. It's a wrong way to train people who weren't managers to become managers. MBA programs are confused between training leaders and specialists. At the moment, we train financial analysts and then expect them to become leaders. If accountants were forbidden to be chief executives, it would probably be an enormous benefit."

Arguing that "strategy is not the consequence of planning but the opposite: its starting point," Mintzberg exposes the fallacies and failings at the root of management and business:


A fascination with elaborate process creates bureaucracy and strangles innovation.


Mintzberg argues that "hard" data is a source of information. By contrast, "soft" data provides wisdom. "Hard information can be no better and is often at times far worse than soft information." Similarly, he observed that managers relied on "soft information" rather than exhaustive written reports.


Mintzberg refutes the notion of the ivory tower intellectual. In fact, effective executives don't live there. By contrast, effective executives roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty: they immerse themselves in the daily details of work. At the same time, however, such executives are able to abstract the strategic messages from daily work.


Do you agree or disagree with Mintzberg's assessment? What have been your experiences as a manager or executive in a company? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

Archan Mehta is a freelancer and hobbyist and can be contacted at

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