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The Blog of Nathan St. Pierre


Voodoo Management Sunday, March 21, 2010

This topic has come up a lot of times in conversation, and it just came up again when I was discussing something with my wife. I don't know if this is actually an idea that exists in management training or concepts of leadership, but if it is, it's related to "voodoo economics."

The idea is that, like in voodoo, you experiment by trying a variety of things, mostly at random. For example, you try adding people to a department, or change various things. When you get results that you like, you stop changing, and write down that process, because now, that process is magic. That's a spell (or grisgris, in the terms of voodoo). If you want to duplicate that level of success, you just imitate that process again, and hope the results turn out the way they had before.

The exact terminology is escaping me at the moment, but there's a term for this particular type of thinking. It was observed in the natives of the various islands that the Americans inhabited during World War II. The Americans built their various bases on the islands, and gave them an unprecedented level of prosperity by paying them to use their land, and then at the end of the war they packed up and left. The natives used a variety of implements like native woods and housing materials to build structures very similar to the World War II era aircraft, because they had formed a logical connection between the physical representation of success and the success itself.

In short, I'm trying to make two points:

Just because you drive a really nice car, doesn't mean your company is doing well.

Just because things are going well, doesn't mean you shouldn't think about changing them.

Keep these lessons in mind. A bubble is only formed when no one stands back long enough to say "hey what happens when we put too much air in this thing?"