It is easy to teach a simple idea. It is easy to teach a complex idea in a complex way. It is hard to teach a complex idea in a simple way.
This axiom applies to The Vice Chairman’s Doctrine: A Guide to Rocking the Top in Industry 4.0 by Ian Domowitz. Unfortunately, it applies in the negative. The Vice Chairman’s Doctrine attempts to be both entertaining and insightful, but it succeeds at neither.
The basic premise is a series of loosely-connected leadership practices, shared from the perspective of “The Vice Chairman”. I wish I could capture this persona’s voice, which is somehow a cross between a robot and an overbearing business-school professor, but it ends up being drowned in the river of platitudes and axioms. Never the less, the voice in which most of this book is written is an impediment to understanding. Leadership is complex, and adding a layer of abstraction and metaphor does not help the learner.
Back to the river: the work is, effectively, a series of business school standards wrapped in the fancy voice. The Vice Chairman sings all the latest hits: design thinking, systems theory, metacognition, cognitive neuroscience, and so on. Each one gets its turn, highlighted in a brief moment, and then on to the next. Actual application – you know, using the idea in the real world – is limited. If you want to learn and apply any of these in detail, pick up the representative work that focuses on the topic. It’ll be less effort for you as a reader, and more useful for you as a practitioner.
One of the more straightforward chapters is “The Vice Chairman’s Dog,” in which Dr. Domowitz applies principles of canine training to organizational behavior. He isn’t wrong in his application, and this chapter has useful lessons: leaders eat last, people like to explore and play, don’t punish in public, be persistent. And there are useful recommendations: mentoring is good, punishment is less effective than rewards, new things are interesting. But this is as deep into application as the book gets. The dog-training framing gets in the way of useful knowledge, which is the consistent problem with this book.
As the topics move to more complex challenges, the framing becomes even more difficult. Exploring culture without clarity is a ride down a waterfall. Dr. Domowitz introduces a number of complex approaches, but never explains them or turns them into useful lessons. Take the chapter on badging, or what is normally called “roles”: the chapter opens by swirling around practical insight, then turns to high-frequency trading and borkerages and dives into the rapids. As I paged through the last third of the book, I found myself thinking: “Will any reader remember a page from this book six months after they read it?” The answer is likely no, because no page has the clarity to be memorable.
To return to the opening axiom, the lesson for readers is: if you see a complex idea, you can almost always assume the teacher is not good. It doesn’t matter how complex the idea, a good teacher would have found a way to make it simple.