Three different anniversaries that I stumbled across on the BBC website this month, all with some relevance to the world of business, but not a lot else in common.
One is the death, fifty years ago, of Carl Gustav Jung. His most immediate influence on the world of business, and particlularly on our understanding of teamwork, is through his identification of personality types and particularly through the Myers-Briggs type indicator. Along with various derivatives, this is widely used by employers to analyse different people’s preferences at work and elsewhere. Like many other approaches used in teamwork, the application of Myers-Briggs is most effective when based on the philosophy that an effective team depends on a variety of people with different preferences, and different strengths or weaknesses.
Extraversion or introversion is the first of four dimensions of personality type identified by Jung, and is highly significant in the workplace because it’s about individuals’ interaction with others. I would take issue with the almost throwaway line in the BBC piece that ‘Jung spelt it extravert’. Extrovert, as used in everyday English implies a level of tangibly outgoing and gregarious behaviour. Extravert, in Jung’s terms. has more to do with getting ideas and inspiration from the external world – indeed the Myers Briggs foundation at http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/extraversion-or-introversion.asp cautions the reader not to ‘confuse introversion with shyness or reclusiveness’.
Almost concurrent with Jung’s death, was the launch of the magnificent, if frivolous, Jaguar E-type sports car – there’s a picture that I’ve occasionally used as an avatar, of me aged around four, standing in one of these. The E-type was stylish and technically brilliant, if not the most practical way to get around. In some ways, the subsequent trajectory of Jaguar’s ownership provides a view of the changes in Britain’s manufacturing industry. First it became part of British Motor Holdings, which a couple of years later merged into the sprawling, chaotic, British Leyland group. In the 1970s British Leyland fell into a financial crisis, and Jaguar was subsequently sold of as a separate business. It was then owned by Ford for twenty years, before in turn being sold to the Indian group, Tata.
Since Jaguar, along with Land Rover, was sold to Tata in 2008, Ford have not made any cars in Britain, although they employ people in Britain, they make engines in Britain, and they sell a lot of cars in Britain. Nevertheless, yesterday I did a taster class, aimed at teenagers thinking of studying business or management, where I discussed disruptive innovation, and possible business models for electric cars. I asked if any of them knew which company made more cars in Britain than anybody else (and whether they made an electric car) and surprisingly, somebody immediately suggested that ‘Ford’ might be the answer.
Talk of disruptive innovation brings me to IBM, which is making a lot of its 100th birthday this month. Rory Cellan-Jones on the BBC site does focus on the positives, and perhaps understates the extent to which IBM did struggle to maintain its innovative abilities at some points in its history. But the overall story of IBM is one of a business that has managed to reinvent itself, and to adapt to various disruptive waves of innovation, and to move from being a hardware company to a software and services company, or from a big computer company to a personal computer company. And this sort of innovation is difficult to achieve. It was easy enough in around 1980 to see that the market for golf-ball electric typewriters was in decline, but would have been harder to predict the importance of the personal computer to business, and harder still to predict that a little upstart firm called Microsoft would be a good business partner. The rise and fall of IBM’s PC business remains an interesting vignette of waves of innovation – it was important for IBM to get into that business in the 1980s, but appropriate for them to leave it 20 years later by which time PCs had become commoditised. Lenovo, who bought IBM’s PC business, still uses the name ‘ThinkPad’ inspired by IBM’s ‘Think’ slogan first used in the 1930s.