George Since our last talk you seem less skeptical of the Tao Te Ching. Are you?
Michael Well any book that anticipated management problems by that many centuries (and isn't even a book about management) can't be all bad.
George Do you think all books for managers should be about management?
Michael No. I guess managing is part of life, and you said before that the Tao was about living. It just seems that most of my reading lately has been about management.

You see, I want to know all I can because success is very important to me. I want to be recognized by those above me as competent, knowledgeable, and dependable. Reading the latest management books is just one way to keep informed.
George That's why you use footnotes in conversation.
Michael I what?
George You refer to things you have read as you speak. You know, the one-minute manager, the third wave, Theory Z, Theory X and Y. You're not aware of that?
Michael Not really. It just seems normal. Do you find it offensive or pretentious. I wouldn't want to appear that way.
George It's not a problem. I just wonder why you, and a lot of other people, find it necessary to document the source of your ideas all the time as though that gave them more weight. Can't an idea just exist without having its origin made known? Why not just understand what you know?
Michael I don't know. Years of college, I guess. They make you so aware of where the ideas come from that you just continue to think that way when you leave school. I can tell you an interesting story about that, by the way.

When I was a little boy my mother would listen to the opera every Saturday afternoon - real loud too. I used to love the full orchestra, the choruses, and the applause - how exciting!
George You really got into that experience, didn't you. It sounds like you acquired a real appreciation for music.
Michael Yes, but when I went to college, I had to take a course in music appreciation. I was really expecting a wonderful course where we could sit around and appreciate music.

Well, we spent all our time in class hearing about music - composer's names and dates, analysis of styles and periods - and barely heard any music. What a disappointment. I felt the same way in botany. The endless classification schemes for plants did little for my appreciation of nature itself.
George That's an interesting story. We're so intellectual that we forget about our direct involvement with things. The Tao has many nice passages to confirm your point:

When wisdom and intelligence are born,
The great pretense begins.
Michael George, it is pretentious to speak using footnotes. It shows off your intellectual heritage, but I'm not sure it makes one a more effective person or manager. But on the other hand, we do have to name things just so we can identify them and communicate with one another.
George Don't be so sure. An understanding of the Tao does not depend on knowing who Lao Tsu was or when he lived, or what caused him to write it. The Tao just is - more complete whole, and without footnotes:

The Tao is forever undefined.
Once the whole is divided, the parts need names.

There are already enough names.
One must know when to stop.
Michael That's one of the things Robert Pirsig was trying to say in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Great book that I read in college. Did you read it?
George Yes, Mike, and you just used another footnote.
Michael Sorry.
George No, you've no need to apologize. We are what we are, and it's unnecessary to change to fit the Tao's prescription for your life.
Michael But aren't you saying that the Tao is a guide to effective management? Shouldn't I read it and learn to go with the flow?
George What the Tao means to me is greater awareness of who I am, how I fit into the world around me, and how my choices of action or inaction affect the whole. Somehow, that awareness seems very important to me, not just because I'm a manager, but because I'm a human being.

The Tao is not one of your management techniques or faddish tools. It's an outlook on living, one that calls for a little introspection and one which honors a balance between acting and not acting. I hope your awareness of this grows, but you won't find the Tao to be a cookbook for effective managing.
Michael I can dig that. Oh my God, look at the time. I've got to run now. Are you free for lunch on Thursday?
George I'11 stop by at noon. Great.

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