What we “know” about business now will be different than what we “know” ten years from now. What Taylor and Ford knew was that people should specialize in monotonous jobs so that they can get really good at them. Sounds logical, right?
In the middle of the past century, we “knew” that corporations should grow and move into additional, diverse markets so that if one area was particularly hard hit by an economic downturn, others would pick up the slack. Then we decided that was wrong, and that it was simply cheaper and easier for investors to diversify their personal (or institutional) portfolios. Besides, management should focus on what they are good at, right?
Now, all sorts of divestitures are rationalized by saying “we are going back to our core business.” The definition of core has grown faster than Brittany Spears’ mid-section in recent years. Something is “core” one day and presumably extraneous the next. The Wall Street Journal and others are happy to go along with this narrative, which has the effect of turning these justifications into conventional wisdom. Currently, the side of the diversify vs. stick to the core debate we are on depends on our personal motivations.
Carneades, in 155 B.C, infamously convinced a Roman audience of opposite sides of the same argument. We can draw a lesson here…what we know now could make us obsolete in the (near) future – avoiding the temptation to be married to any particular idea or belief is the only defense.
Stay tuned to the blog for a special treat tomorrow…that is if the real job doesn’t get in the way, or I’m overcome by a bout of laziness, or a couple pints during the Everton-Bolton match kills the flow.