Whenever I think of mismanagement my mind goes to one of my last managers at the company I retired from. Not my last manager, Sharon, who was my favorite boss of all time, but to a previous one that really was a horrible manager. She was able to destroy the strongest management system at the facility, and replace it with a very weak one (with all due respect to those individuals who report to her now). At a larger scale, I will usually think about Enron, or maybe the big three automakers for their inability to see the future. But something I read this morning opened my eyes to just how important a balanced management strategy is in the long run. No manager is perfect and we will at times make dumb decisions in the short run, but in the long run, if the manager does not learn from the crucible of a bad decision, poor decisions are destined to destroy whatever the thing is that is being managed.
In the book The Statues That Walked the author describes the events that have shaped the island that was named Easter Island. It really is a fascinating story, and one that should be a lesson to all managers about how important management of resources really is. Easter Island is considered the most isolated location that is populated. It was first discover on Easter day in 1722. Thus its name Easter Island.
Scholars say that the island at is peak had a population of 10,000 to 15,000 people, but at its time of discovery its number of inhabitants was around 3,000. It current population is under 100 people. This 63 square mile island, which is lacking natural resources, was at one point in time, according to the current paradigm, heavily forested. “As the island’s population rose, the popular theory goes, it’s people cut down all trees for slash and burn farming and as rollers to transport statues.” These stone statues are made of up very big heads on little bodies that face away from the ocean, although there are a few that face toward the sea. The island is currently experiencing increased visitation due to the desire to research man’s destruction of an ecosystem. This belief states that Easter Island is an example of Ecocide, or “an image of what may lie ahead for us in our own future.”
The authors of The Statues That Walked actually propose a different theory on what happened. Hunt and Lipo propose that it wasn’t Ecocide that destroyed the island environmental balance, it was “the Polynesian rat, which stowed away on the boats of the first Polynesian settlers.” They go on to state that rat populations can double in 47 days. Thus, without know predators, and a great climate, a “ratpocalypse” could occur. With 2 or 3 million rats, whose favorite food was tree seeds and tree sprouts, deforestation could occur.
In either case though, instead of recognizing the critical nature of deforestation, the inhabitants of Easter Island allowed the ecosystem to be destroyed. Add to this slave raids that would occur occasionally, and you have the reason for the degradation of a paradise to what is today a study in Ecocide. This does not mean the humankind cannot cooperation with ecosystems. It is recognized that “People have done lots of environmentally destructive things, heaven knows. But there are a surprisingly few cases which societies have permanently laid waste to their own subsistence.” Easter Island just may be one of those events.
The question then is what can a manager learn from Easter Island? I think that the modern definition of sustainability is validated. When I first started studying management and leadership the term sustainability meant a business model that would create longevity. In other words, ensure that the company would be around for many years. Now the term sustainability has taken on a new meaning. Typically in my classes when we talk about longevity we look at three pillars of a successful business model. These pillars usually look at the economics of a company. In other words is our business profitable? The second pillar is the social pillar. In other words, how well does the company play with others in the sandbox. Is the company a good citizen, is the company giving back to society, etc. The social responsibility pillar is critical for the reputation of the company with consumers. The third pillar is environmental. How well is our business process treating the planet? Is the way we are making money harming or improving the environment?
The fact is, the modern manager needs to pay attention to all three of these areas of concern. If they don’t their businesses will become an Easter Island.
And that is my thought for the day!