This month I have been trolling around the urban centres of Europe in a pinstripe debating the important things in life: why are we so dependent on smartphones? Why do I feel awkward and unsettled around HR departments? Why do accountants always attract the most beautiful women? Is that young waitress looking at me expectantly for a tip or does she think I'm an accountant? What is the point of Basingstoke? Did I lock the car? Where is the car? Where am I? Etcetera.
There has, however, been a big change this month. I've been asked to give the odd lecture to business groups about managing supply chains and sales channels across countries. This scares me, primarily because it makes me very close to being a teacher and a consultant, and I was rather hoping to maintain a legitimate career to the day I retire. Also, I'm not entirely sure it is a subject that can be taught — it has to be learnt through experience. At least this is what I tell my boss when he mentions how much cheaper a young replacement for my role would be.
Whether or not I'm helping people is not too important, and while I've yet to receive a standing ovation, or indeed any form of congratulation, the cheques have been clearing reliably. Overall this has been a very satisfying experience, for it is clear that these young corporate hotshots have been taught business as a science, with acronyms and systems, rather than as an art. As a consequence, they pose no threat to us old-timers. Even a diploma student could formulate a supply chain diagram superior to mine, with more three-letter acronyms (TLAs) and fractionalised fixed-cost absorption rates. But put the same student in the real world and they sound like looping audio books on operations management.
This problem is pandemic across industries, markets, and countries. I spent two hours with marketing students in Italy, supposedly the aorta of business creativity, and frankly, I've met more imaginative book-keepers in Basingstoke.
If you are a young business hotshot, I apologise for not structuring my musings alpha-numerically, and failing to make a PowerPoint presentation available online. But let me give you one piece of advice you won't find in Slack, Hughes, Grant or Mintzberg textbooks: for every formula, factor diagram you commit to your vast intellect, try to counter it with some real world experience of anything that makes you more interesting, cultured or wise. In 20 years you may find humanity is the most prized USP that sets you apart from all those bipedal machines around you.
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