It’s not Origami

Dave Wilson discusses how the art of paper folding could potentially reveal how good we are as managers. Or does he?

‘Even a sheet of paper has two sides.’ – Japanese Proverb.

The board of the industrial company weren’t too convinced of the managerial expertise of their middle managers. It seemed to the board, you see, as if the middle managers had lost control of the workforce.

After a bit of head scratching, the board called in a well-known consultant to see what he might be able to recommend. He suggested that the middle managers should all attend a rather expensive two-day course on management skills that, naturally, his company would lay on for the rather parsimonious price of £1000 per head. After listening to his pitch, the board signed all 25 of their middle managers into the course – much to the delight of the consultant.

Derek Williams, a man with a lifetime’s experience in tribology, was drafted into the scheme the very next day, much to his chagrin. After all, he had been a manager for the past ten years. What on earth did these highbrow chaps from Reading think that they could teach him?

He was soon to find out.

On the first day, the managers were assembled into teams. Five teams with five members in each team. Then the teams were taken away into separate rooms where they were all given the same task to complete. The task was simple. A huge roll of paper at one end of the room had to be cut up, folded, and then stapled into little notepads with the scissors, rulers and staplers that were provided.

First though, in the morning, each team had to develop a methodology to optimise the procedure and to allocate resources to ensure that the production of the little books would be as fast and accurate as possible. And then, in the afternoon, they had to execute their plan by actually making the notepads.

The success of each team would be judged by how many little books were produced within a two-hour timeframe and how neatly they had been assembled.

So off they went. And naturally enough, each team had varying degrees of success. While some teams had produced a voluminous number of books, others had produced none – they had spent all their time attempting to decide whether or not to employ a strange sounding Japanese philosophy to the manufacturing procedure!

On the second day, the teams sat around a table while the consultant asked each of them to discuss the approaches to the problem that they had taken. And when they had finished, he coerced them into arguing amongst themselves as to the various pros and cons of each other’s methodologies. I can tell you, even Derek got rather passionate about his stapling prowess at that point!

And then it was all over. And the weary managers made their way back home for a weekend of R and R before going back to work.

Several months later, the board sent around a questionnaire to their managers asking them to rate the course that that they had spent so much of their money on. Like the others, Derek was well aware of the fact that, although he had learnt very little, it was vitally important to write down how he felt his skills as a manager had been enhanced by his attendance. And all the other guys did the same.

After reading the results of the survey, the board were delighted. And guess what? They are planning yet another two-day jaunt for the very same managers six months from now, so as they can hone their origami skills a little more. Much to the delight, I’m sure, of Derek and the rest of the team!