Saturday, 6 June 2009

How to face evil effectively: the story of Boethius and Cassiodorus


The question of how to deal effectively with evil is absent from most management books. Even in advanced business courses, the study of ethics is reduced to little more than avoiding conflicts of interests and ensuring compliance with stock market regulations.

What explains this lack of analysis? What is the reason behind this avoidance of reality? The truth is that executives and employees must frequently deal with evil in their working environment. If you doubt this statement, open the business pages of today's newspaper and take a look.

In the worst companies, abuse, lying, and stealing are the order of the day. Even corporations that devote massive efforts to recruiting the best people will inevitably find themselves with 1% corruption in the factory floor and in the boardroom.

Chances are that, sooner or later, you will have to confront evil and make a difficult decision. In extreme situations, the right answer never comes easy. What will you do when factors outside your control constrain your choices? How will you decide when all alternatives carry negative consequences?

The story of Boethius and Cassiodorus provides a forceful illustration of two strategies for facing evil. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy was taken over by Ostrogoth tribes. In the year 494 C.E., Theodoric became king and ruled the country for the next 30 years.

Boethius was only 25 years old when he moved from Greece to Italy in order to work for Theodoric, the barbarian king. Boethius' own writings reveal that he was conscious of the dangers of accepting the job, but he believed that, somehow, he would be able to survive and prosper.

The initial five years of Boethius in Italy were a resounding success. His intellect and readiness to ethical compromise allowed him to rise quickly through the ranks. On the eve of his 30th birthday, he was promoted to the leading position in Theodoric's bureaucracy.

That was exactly what Boethius had been looking for. The dark aspects of his job were unmistakable, since it involved passing many an arbitrary death sentence. At the same time, the post provided him ample resources to devote to his life's passion: translating Aristotle's work from Greek into Latin.

The tide turned in the year 525 C.E., when Theodoric, on the basis of rumours, had Boethius arrested and charged with treason. Did the sudden loss of freedom and possessions take Boethius by surprise? Had he not witnessed himself many times that, at the court, intrigue often weighs heavier than truth?

After Boethius was put to death, Theodoric appointed Cassiodorus to head his administration. The new job-holder had been a friend of Boethius and knew that, in the barbarian court, success was transient, enemies many, reversals of fortune frequent, and consequences brutal.

Like Boethius, Cassiodorus loved books and had joined Theodoric's bureaucracy in order to be able to study and write. On his first day on the job, Cassiodorus decided that he would not make the same mistake as his predecessor. He would not compromise his principles and give way to evil.

For a while, everything went fine. In trials, Cassiodorus passed mild sentences. In correspondence, he softened the words dictated by the king. In religious disputes, he kept silent and out of trouble. Nevertheless, the time came when he found himself enmeshed in a life-or-death conflict.

After Athalaric succeeded Theodoric, the Ostrogoth court split into factions, each possessing equal forces. When Cassiodorus was put to choose between the camps, he did something that no one had done until that time. Instead of deciding for the lesser evil, he quit.

Seen in retrospective, it is obvious that Cassiodorus had spent years preparing himself for that moment. Within weeks, he sold everything he had with exception of his 600 books. He said farewell to the court, loaded his volumes on a ship, and vanished.

The ship circumvented Italy, traversed the Adriatic Sea, and headed to a secluded Greek province. There, Cassiodorus purchased a modest farm, founded a monastery, and devoted the next decades to studying and writing, as he had planned from the very beginning.

Had Cassiodorus stayed longer in Italy, he might have accumulated immense riches. His decision to leave evil behind led him to a life of relative poverty. We don't know if Cassiodorus lived happily ever after, but records show that he became 100 years old.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by carulmare under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Overcoming the fundamental obstacle to entrepreneurship

Starting anything new entails risks and demands dedication. Whether you decide to take up playing piano, learning French, or building model aeroplanes, it is going to cost you money, time, and a fair amount of frustration due to inevitable beginner's mistakes.

Irrespective of the technical difficulties of your chosen endeavour, nothing can be compared to the level of commitment required to get a new business off the ground. The sheer number of different tasks that entrepreneurs must perform, from product development to marketing, is overwhelming.

On the other hand, entrepreneurship possesses three characteristics that render it uniquely inviting and reassuring. No other human activity offers these advantages to its practitioners. It is regrettable that many men and women graduate from their studies without knowledge of these facts:

1.- UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES: If you spend some time doing research, you will find areas of enterprise that require little or no formal education and negligible start-up investment. By combining elements of your background, knowledge, and personal circumstances, you can come up with innovative business models. In today's global market, you can subcontract most routine tasks and concentrate on what you do best.

2.- UNLIMITED SCOPE: While many areas of human action impose strict rules to be followed, entrepreneurs remain free to choose their path. North or south, right or left, the business owner can follow his intuition without need to ask for permission. His only arbiters are his cash flow and his customers' satisfaction. Each entrepreneur determines his own speed and
how he will break the barriers to his growth.

3.- UNLIMITED LEARNING: Business is the ideal field for the active mind. No discipline is foreign to the committed entrepreneur. The man who manages his own enterprise is a practical philosopher and a street intellectual. Entrepreneurs' tolerance of mistakes comes from their experience of dealing with all kinds of people. Creativity and resiliency are skills that entrepreneurs develop by facing daily challenges.

If the great potential of
entrepreneurship is so well established, what explains that it is only able to attract a small part of the population? There is one reason, one major obstacle that prevents many from crossing the line. You can name it marketing, distribution, income generation, or simply sales.

The fear of being unable to achieve enough sales is what blocks 99% of those who entertain the idea of becoming entrepreneurs. Other obstacles pale in comparison to this one. If you succeed in getting over this initial hurdle, chances are that your business will be able to face whatever problems might come your way.

Compared with previous centuries, our digital era has not essentially changed the answer to the sales problem. In the field of commerce, like in any other area of life, action is the best antidote against paralysing fear.

Start small, try different things, see what works and what doesn't. Learn from mistakes, don't be discouraged, and ignore malevolent criticism. Take limited risks, follow market signals, be persistent, and you will eventually get it right.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by neilh205 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Overcoming the fundamental obstacle to entrepreneurship

Starting anything new entails risks and demands dedication. Whether you decide to take up playing piano, learning French, or building model aeroplanes, it is going to cost you money, time, and a fair amount of frustration due to inevitable beginner's mistakes.

Irrespective of the technical difficulties of your chosen endeavour, nothing can be compared to the level of commitment required to get a new business off the ground. The sheer number of different tasks that entrepreneurs must perform, from product development to marketing, is overwhelming.

On the other hand, entrepreneurship possesses three characteristics that render it uniquely inviting and reassuring. No other human activity offers these advantages to its practitioners. It is regrettable that many men and women graduate from their studies without knowledge of these facts:

1.- UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES: If you spend some time doing research, you will find areas of enterprise that require little or no formal education and negligible start-up investment. By combining elements of your background, knowledge, and personal circumstances, you can come up with innovative business models. In today's global market, you can subcontract most routine tasks and concentrate on what you do best.

2.- UNLIMITED SCOPE: While many areas of human action impose strict rules to be followed, entrepreneurs remain free to choose their path. North or south, right or left, the business owner can follow his intuition without need to ask for permission. His only arbiters are his cash flow and his customers' satisfaction. Each entrepreneur determines his own speed and
how he will break the barriers to his growth.

3.- UNLIMITED LEARNING: Business is the ideal field for the active mind. No discipline is foreign to the committed entrepreneur. The man who manages his own enterprise is a practical philosopher and a street intellectual. Entrepreneurs' tolerance of mistakes comes from their experience of dealing with all kinds of people. Creativity and resiliency are skills that entrepreneurs develop by facing daily challenges.

If the great potential of
entrepreneurship is so well established, what explains that it is only able to attract a small part of the population? There is one reason, one major obstacle that prevents many from crossing the line. You can name it marketing, distribution, income generation, or simply sales.

The fear of being unable to achieve enough sales is what blocks 99% of those who entertain the idea of becoming entrepreneurs. Other obstacles pale in comparison to this one. If you succeed in getting over this initial hurdle, chances are that your business will be able to face whatever problems might come your way.

Compared with previous centuries, our digital era has not essentially changed the answer to the sales problem. In the field of commerce, like in any other area of life, action is the best antidote against paralysing fear.

Start small, try different things, see what works and what doesn't. Learn from mistakes, don't be discouraged, and ignore malevolent criticism. Take limited risks, follow market signals, be persistent, and you will eventually get it right.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by neilh205 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]