Cambridge Days

James Bond, Napoleon, and Organizational Management

Unintended consequence of the Cambridge MBA: Bond movies won’t be the same, anymore.

Actually, 007 hasn’t mixed the martinis quite right for some time now. IMHO, the franchise slipped from ‘tired’ to ‘exhausted’ with The World Is Not Enough. But that’s beside the point.

No, what happened is this: I hung out with Britian’s previous ’M’ (James Bond’s boss, remember?) for the better part of an hour, chatting about his old job and present-day geopolitics. The requisite dash of intrigue was provided early on, when our MBA class was told to show up for a guest lecture – but wasn’t told who’d be speaking, for ‘security reasons’.

The former ’M’ has a name, of course: Sir Richard Dearlove. (And, in reality, apparently the title was ‘C’, not ’M’.) Sir Richard spoke about leadership and organizational management – from the perspective of somebody who’s managed and led a very unique organization. The core topics he discussed – training, development, managing culture – are standard fare in B-schools; I suppose the trick lies in adjusting those ideas to fit your own corporation, or Secret Intelligence Service, what have you.

Anyhow, the regular guest-speaker rigamarole followed the lecture: mingling, chatting, and a few glasses of hey-not-bad-given-that-it’s-free wine on the 2nd floor of the Judge. And that’s where I wound up having a real, actual conversation with Sir Richard and four or five others; much of it centered on the Middle East. To craft an SAT analogy out of the whole experience, I suppose it was like talking about meditation with the Dalai Lama – the key relationship being that the other guy is operating with some insight that’s very much unavailable to you. Or so you’d imagine.

Of course, if you read the Judge Institute’s press release, it’s also clear that this went down in early February. So, yes, I’m behind on the blogging…

Speaking of managing organizational behavior: ever wonder why those useless buttons are on the sleeves of men’s suits? You know, the ones sewn by the cuff, without a buttonhole, even?

This cropped up in Strategy, of all classes. Turns out the sartorial invention is credited to Napoleon, who’d observed his lieutenants nastily wipe their snotty noses with their jacket sleeves. Disliking this vulgar habit, Napoleon immediately mandated that sharp copper buttons be sewn along the sleeves of his uniforms – serving as a visible (and tactile) reminder not to rub your jacket across your face.

Design is not what it looks like, it’s how it works.

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