Long live idiocy! Principle of life for use by entrepreneurs and managers
A famous entrepreneur was giving a conference in a business school to testify about his experience. During the question and answer session, no doubt impressed by her energy, one of the students asked her: “How do you keep the balance between private and professional life?” “. The entrepreneur, very surprised by the question, reflected for a good twenty seconds, a time which seemed infinite to the professor who had invited him and who was very embarrassed, before finally answering: “You know that this is the time.” life, isn’t it? “
Indeed it is life, but life has, it seems, been eradicated from our modern organizations to such an extent that it seems so obvious to distinguish between work and life: Life without work on one side , the lifeless work of the other. But there is no reason that this should be so. Saras Sarasvathy, a researcher of Indian origin who developed the theory of effectuation, bringing together five principles of entrepreneurial action, recently confided to me that the beauty of entrepreneurship is that for the entrepreneur this distinction does not exist, or should not exist.
However, this distinction has very ancient roots, very deep and much broader than simply related to work. These are to be found in the metaphysical thought taken up by romanticism and finally most modern philosophical currents, and quite naturally in modern management which is only an expression of it. This is what the recently deceased philosopher Clément Rosset explains in a magnificent little book entitled The real and its double.
Rosset explains that metaphysical thought is based on a refusal, as instinctive, of the immediate, of the real. The immediate is admitted and understood only insofar as it can be considered as the expression of another real, which alone gives it its meaning and reality. This other real, which of course has nothing real, is a double that we create, an ideal image that we would like to achieve, and in the light of which we judge our true real. Metaphysics, which still governs all our thought today, is therefore fundamentally a dialectic of here and there, of a here which we doubt or reject and of an elsewhere whose salvation we expect. .
Montaigne was already astonished at this duality. He wrote thus in his Testing: “A remarkable example of the frenzied curiosity of our nature, having fun worrying about future things, as if it did not have enough to do to digest the present. »Putting immediacy aside, bringing it back to another world which has the key to it, both from the point of view of its meaning and from the point of view of its reality, such is the metaphysical enterprise par excellence. .
We see this attitude in all actions of life, including management: we spend more time planning for the future than trying to understand the real. We advocate for large companies to think like Google and design like Apple without asking them to first understand who they really are. We teach entrepreneurs that a project begins with an idea and must develop a vision as it begins with themselves; we learn to cry over what we don’t have rather than from what we have. We learn to deny life and we are surprised that it disappears from our daily life.
At the origin of this duality is, according to Rosset, a disgust for the simple. This disgust only expresses a taste for complication: to the simple attitude, we prefer a complicated maneuver, even if the aim is the same, and we are moreover preparing to miss it by this excess of complication. The disgust of the simple designates in fact a fear in the face of the unique, a distancing in the face of the thing itself, in the face of reality. It is a logic of flight from reality. This unique reality is thefoolish of the Greeks, the particular situation which does not fit into any standard, into any box and which is resistant to generalizations and which is the nightmare of textbook authors. Rosset’s work is a celebration of theidiocy in the first sense of the term: starting from what is and what makes it something unique. He also notes that the refusal of the unique is moreover only one of the most general forms of the refusal of life.
The creation of a double has one goal: to protect ourselves from the real that frightens us so much by allowing us to escape it. But by protecting yourself, you end up dying. Despairing of ever being yourself, one thus becomes a man of paper. This is why so many modern organizations are populated by the living dead. As Céline said: “Most people don’t die until the last moment; others start and do it twenty years in advance and sometimes more. They are the poor of the earth. Because reality is always right in the end. As Rosset notes, “the doubles dissipate on the verge of reality. “You have to be reconciled with yourself and the sooner the better if you don’t want to be” unhappy of the earth. ” “
Any “reasonable” thought, in which we have been formed from an early age, makes, according to Rosset, an obligatory stop in the conduct of reasoning from the moment we reach the thing itself, by distinguishing what we are talking about from what we are talking about. who is. It comes up against reality, and from there arises the famous caesura between thought and action, between idea and reality, between professional and personal life; in short, it is from there that all the destructive dualities dear to Plato and Descartes are born. However, there is one area where the argument does not cease, because the thing never shows itself: and that is precisely my area; the me, my singularity.
Reconciliation of oneself with oneself requires the exorcism of the double, its destruction. This necessarily implies renouncing the spectacle of one’s own image. It is obviously difficult because this double has very often taken the place of the real; it has become our mental reference model through which we understand the world. We live in an image of ourselves like the humans in the movie The Matrix: The exit is necessarily painful; you have to take the red pill, suffer a lot, and above all say goodbye to the taste of steak. The anguish of seeing one’s reflection, one’s double, disappear is in fact linked to the anguish of knowing that one is incapable of establishing one’s existence by oneself.
However, establishing one’s existence by oneself is what is at stake in the modern world, for entrepreneurs as well as for employees. As Rosset underlines in an essential passage, “the self must therefore suffice, however meager it seems or indeed it is: for the choice is limited to the unique, which is very little, and to its double, which is nothing. The unique, that is to say ourselves, may be very little, but it is what, entrepreneur or manager, we have on hand; this is what we can act on. The rest is for us to cry.
We must follow Clément Rosset and suppress this double ideal which suffocates us in order to start from the real immediate, of who we are, however imperfect it seems to us. We find in this the first principle of the realization, “Do with what you have at hand” which I often translate with the adage “One yours is better than two you will have it”. The real is better than the double because only the real allows action. As soon as we start with what we have at hand, it can become infinite, just as life is infinite.
Philippe Silberzahn is professor of entrepreneurship, strategy and innovation at EMLYON Business School and associate researcher at thePolytechnic School (CRG), where he received his doctorate. His work focuses on how organizations manage situations of radical uncertainty and complexity, from an entrepreneurial perspective with the study of the creation of new markets and new products, and from a managerial perspective with the study management of disruptions, strategic surprises (black swans) and complex problems (“wicked problems”) by large organizations.