Lessons From The Pandora School Of Business

Dec. 21, 2004

I'm a guy who has spent more time in art museums than most Egyptian mummies. While browsing in the Cleveland Museum of Art last weekend, I created a mini-flurry. Three artifact collectors tried to buy me. Anyone who has been around as long as I have, they reasoned, has to have some value. So they called in an antique dealer. The artifact expert checked my teeth, hemmed and hawed knowingly, and then boldly advised them that there is no current market for secondhand chief executives. "Why not?" someone asked. "Because few chief executives are originals. Most of them are copies," the expert said. Unperturbed, I continued my examination of the museum's displays. A vase of unusual beauty caught my attention. It was ebony in color. Embossed in gold around its middle was a picture story about Pandora, the first mortal woman, according to Greek mythology. According to Greek myth, Pandora was designed by Zeus, the chief executive of all gods. He specified that she was to be made of clay and be possessed of the beauty of an immortal goddess. She was designed specifically to play the key role in Zeus' deceitful scheme to bring eternal misfortune to mankind. "Why," one might ask, "would Zeus do such a terrible thing?" The answer is, of course, that it's exactly what most CEOs do when they are outwitted by a subordinate. The culprit was Prometheus, the god who supposedly created humankind. Prometheus' management error (according to Zeus) was to give humans the gift of thought. He also gave them the gifts of crafts and skill to help them survive in their new worldly environment. However, in allowing Prometheus to give these gifts, Zeus ordered that one special gift, the gift of fire, be withheld. Whereupon Prometheus, the humanitarian, stole some fire from the sun and taught his mortals how to use it to keep warm and to cook. Zeus demanded immediate revenge for this indiscretion. Until this time, mankind had no womankind. So Zeus created Pandora. Then, with an Olympian smirk, he sent her to Prometheus' naive brother Epimetheus, who, stricken with her beauty, immediately married her. The happy couple soon received a mysterious wedding gift from Zeus. It was a box in which Zeus had collected all the ills of disease and vice that Prometheus had hidden from mankind. Although Pandora had been warned by Prometheus not to open any gift boxes from Zeus, her curiosity overwhelmed her. She opened the box and out flew all the curses of humankind that now fill our lives with suffering, including misfortune, mismanagement, and meddlesome chief executives. My purpose in telling this tale is not to deride chief executives. It is, rather, to help you learn from their mistakes. These are some of the more useful management principles taught at the Pandora School of Business. The Pandora Principle: Don't open any gift boxes sent to you by any chief executive professing to be a god. The Prometheus Principle: Don't steal fire unless you like getting burned. The Poseidon Principle I: Don't swim in water over your head or under your knees. The Perseus Principle: Don't promise your board you will deliver Medusa's head unless you own the shield of Athena and the winged sandals of Hermes. The Pegasus Principle: Don't ride into trouble on a white horse unless the horse has wings. The Polydectes Principle: Don't try to cut off the heads of those who oppose your opinions unless you don't mind being turned into stone. The Pantheon Principle: Don't build a temple in your own image. If your wish is to become an ancient CEO with value, remember these Pandora Principles. They're right out of the box! Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc. and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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