Britain today suffers a condition similar to that which afflicts one of her most famous sons.
Stephen Hawking, the Oxford-born cosmologist and author of A Brief History of Time, is confined to a wheelchair by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. While his mind is still among the sharpest on the planet, his body is in dreadful shape and beyond repair.
So, too, England, which continues to produce world-class brains in science and industry but is itself a wreck. The country's infrastructure is a derelict remnant of Victorian ingenuity: narrow roads choked with vehicles, trains that routinely derail or crash into stations, a water system that hearkens back to the Dark Ages. And riding the London Underground is an experience that -- well, let's just say I'd sooner chew glass.
Despite its descent into physical dissolution, however, the Nation of Shopkeepers can still provide worthwhile business insights for the modern manager. Indeed, superb lessons in strategic and tactical thinking can even be found in its literary canon.
I refer specifically to The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by one W. Shakespeare.
For our purposes, Hamlet himself -- a chronic ditherer prone to severe errors of judgment -- should be ignored. Far wiser to focus instead on the advice offered by the royal councillor Polonius to his son, Laertes.
The relevant portions of Polonius' soliloquy are reproduced below, along with a modern, management-oriented take for each:
Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfletched courage.
Make every effort to maintain the loyalty of valued customers, suppliers, colleagues, and employees. Don't be beguiled by newcomers who talk a good game but have yet to prove themselves.
Beware of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
Try your best to achieve consensus, but if disagreements arise, argue your case with force, conviction and finality.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Listen more than you talk. Keep negative opinions of others to yourself.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
Dress for success.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry.
Getting too comfortable with other people's money leads to spendthrift ways, inattention to costs and, ultimately, ever-increasing profligate borrowing.
This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
A line that requires no further explication -- unless your name is Bernard Ebbers, Dennis Kozlowski, John Rigas or Andrew Fastow.