Dr Viktor Dörfler of the University of Strathclyde is lead educator on the free online course, “Understanding Modern Business and Organisations.” He describes how the course will help people in the world of business, who are trying to make sense of complex phenomena such as the financial crisis, conjure up a “big picture.”
Economists tell us that they can calculate how the economy will behave in the future – but they seem to be much more successful “predicting” the past. With hindsight, they can explain the financial crisis. But they weren’t able to predict it. Why not?
According to the renowned academic Henry Mintzberg, the financial crisis is not a crisis of economy but of management. Learners on our course will be able to make their own minds up about this: what I want to do is help you to make up your mind based on understanding rather than conjecture. We should also consider that the financial crisis may not be a crisis of economy – but it is certainly a crisis of economics.
Consider the painting above by Edgar Degas, “The Star”. If you allow yourself to dwell in the picture, you may experience the mood in the theatre, the beauty of the unseen performance – and you can almost hear the audience applauding the star. This encapsulates one type of model we can make about our experience.
Another type of model would be a list of facts, such as the height and the weight of the ballerina, the size of the stage, the colour of her clothes and of the curtains, as well as ticket prices.
The first one focuses on our overall impressions, the second one focuses on the details of what is modelled. Both types of models are missing out on something, and they both have their strengths.
The latter one is accurate, and the details can be used to build another stage, decide about the necessary number of seats and how much putting on such a performance would cost. However, while it favours the details it misses the big picture and does not tell us anything about the experience of the performer or the audience.
The painting, however, lacks all the precision and details of the first one but, perhaps somewhat incomprehensibly; it invokes the mood and the feelings in the room, the experience of the audience applauding the performance, or the joy of the star ballerina being applauded.
When developing this course, I borrowed a brush from the impressionists rather than spreadsheets from the economists. I depict the world of modern business and organisations. This “big picture” lacks many details but through considering it learners will be able to make sense of this world. You will develop your own “big pictures” and, I believe, keep changing this picture subsequently as you keep up with the changing world.