Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor's column appears in the weekend editions of The Penticton Herald and Kelowna Daily Courier.

There’s something about a season of peace and goodwill, a season marked by glad tidings of comfort and joy, that throws into stark contrast the operating systems we take for granted all the rest of the year.

I imagine that’s what prompted Eli Sopow of University Canada West to write an article for The Conversation Canada on Elon Musk.

I don’t know what you think of Musk most of the year. Envy of his wealth — even if he’s no longer the world’s richest person? Admiration for his achievements, such as Tesla and SpaceX? Loathing? Disgust?

Whatever your feeling, I’m sure it didn’t involve comparisons with Santa Claus.

Imagine Christmas Eve. The stockings have been hung by the chimney with care. And up above the rooftops rises a bright red Tesla, soaring into orbit with a trunkful of toys and goodies for eager boys and girls.

Hardly likely, is it?

Elon Musk resembles a holly jolly Santa about as much as Vladimir Putin resembles Winnie the Pooh.

Eli Sopow’s recent article analyzed Musk’s management strategies. “Musk’s cold, impersonal approach to management and leadership is antithetical to what we have learned about kinder, more humanistic approaches to work,” Sopow wrote

Sopow focussed specifically on Musk’s most recent moves in acquiring Twitter. “Since taking over the company, Musk has made a number of changes to the platform, resulting in widespread chaos and turmoil within the company.

“Musk fired top executives and half of the company’s 7,500 employees, ignored advice [against] firing employees representing diversity and inclusion, and has likely

violated employment labour laws and breached employee contracts.

“In November, Musk sent an email to remaining workers with an ultimatum:

commit to being ‘extremely hardcore’ or leave the company.”

“None of this is new for Musk,” Sopow concluded. “He already had a history of dismissing executives on a whim and committing mass layoffs at Tesla.”

Sopow is clearly not unbiassed.

Let’s give Musk the credit he’s due. He did, almost single-handedly, launch the American electric car industry.

But despite his technological achievements, he’s a throwback.

Sopowtraces the principles of Musk’s management pratice approach to an American engineer named Frederick Taylor (who is not, I hope, a relative).

In a 1910 essay The Principles of Scientific Management, Taylor wrote, “In the past man has been first. In the future the system must be first.”

Read that line again. Employees, says Taylor, are expendable. They have only one purpose — to make the system run efficiently.

Taylor goes on, in the male-gendered language of his time: “We do not ask for the initiative of our men. We do not want any initiative… We want them to do what we say, and do it quick.”

Twitter, to a T.

And no doubt dozens, hundreds, thousands of other companies who have bought into the same lie.

Eli Sopow writes, “Musk’s cold, impersonal approach to management and leadership is antithetical to what we have learned about kinder, more humanistic approaches to work… (It) treats employees like cogs in a machine, rather than human beings. It… sacrifices employee well-being for the sake of profit.”

“As it turns out, workers are indeed emotional, sentient beings with minds of their own. They are better at their jobs when they are treated as such.”

Particularly at this time of the year, Musk’s philosophy stands out as an anachronism, starkly silhouetted against the season’s colours of kindness and compassion, of sacrifice for the sake of others, of love and generosity.

And since the focus of the season is on the child who was born in a stable and laid in a manger, I wonder how management strategists would define Jesus’ management style?

He summarized his own credentials to John the Baptist, languishing in King Herod’s dungeons: “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

Definitely not Elon Musk.

Jesus refused to be single-minded. He allowed himself to be distracted by a woman considered a social pariah; by a dying girl; by a dead friend.

He preached friendship –wherever two or three are gathered -- which builds bonds and creates a kin-dom.

Most of all, he repeatedly refused to be elevated to any position of power and leadership.

Every aspect of his life repudiates Musk’s machine model.

Perhaps only at a few rare times of the year are we able to perceive the striking contrasts between Jesus’ operating values and those of, say, Elon Musk.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca

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