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The Eponymous Principles of Management

The Eponymous Principles of Management – Putt’s Law

The Putt’s Law, formulated by Archibald Putt, in 1981, apparently can be seen as applicable to the technology world. But if one can see beyond the obvious, it is as universally applicable as two other laws – The Peter Principle and The Dilbert Principle- that we have looked into in so far as the issue competence (or incompetence) is concerned! Like such laws and the books that contain these full-grown discussions on the concerned eponymous management principles, the first reading is a matter of sheer joy of a reading humorous satirical book. However, more of what is written sinks in, one starts feeling more serene, as one starts realizing that what is being discussed there is right here, all around, each one of us.

Archibald Putt himself is an accomplished technocrat in a high-technology company. During his work, he has got opportunity to closely analyze the hierarchical intricacies of the high-technology or R& D or advance project management fields. In the first of a series of papers[1] published in Research & Development journal, in 1976, his tenet was that only way to avoid Peter’s level of incompetence syndrome was to create creative incompetence – a high level of incompetence in some area that does not affect one’s present performance but does assure there will be no further offers of promotion. Unlike hierarchies in other fields, creative incompetence is the rule rather than the exception in hierarchies in science and technology. As a result, many low-level positions remain staffed by competent persons who never reach their level of incompetence. However, as is the case in general, successful technocrat would not like to be chained down by the limited ambitions and vision. Any normal (successful) person would aspire for the position of eminence in a technical hierarchy.

The matter is further compounded by the real-life situations when frequently there is no way to judge whether individual is competent or incompetent to hold a given position. In other words, there is no adequate competence criterion for technical managers. In complex technological projects, the outcome of the project is most strongly affected by preexisting but unknown technological factors over which the project manager has no control. In many a case, the goals or objectives are set even before a manager is chosen.

The lack of an adequate competence criterion combined with the frequent practice of creative incompetence in technical hierarchies results in a competence inversion, with the most competent people remaining near the bottom while persons of lesser talent rise to the top. It also provides the basis for Putt’s Law, which can be stated in an intuitive and non-mathematical form as follows:

Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.

Archibald Putt put his observation in these papers in more detailed and organised form in a book ‘Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrats’ in the year 1981.  The book presented more than one law and more than one corollary to each law. The book was revised in 2006 as ‘Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrats – How to Win in the Information Age [ISBN: 978-0-471-78893-5; February 2006; Wiley-IEEE Press; 184 Pages].  Since all the laws and the ensuing corollaries were still valid, none these was dropped in the new addition. However there several more additions. The most significant additions relate to advances in information technologies that have changed forever the way people work and interact with each other. New analyses, first revealed in this edition, will be valuable to all who aspire to win in the Information Age. The new revision also includes recently developed Method of Rational Exuberance, which practically guarantees a rapid rise in management. The revised edition also answers the often-asked question, “Can Putt’s Law be broken?”

The book is divided into five parts[2]

  • Part One, “Putt’s Primer,” is an introduction to the guidelines needed to succeed in technological hierarchies.
  • Part Two, “The Successful Technocrat,” consists of 11 chapters that present the tale of I. M. Sharp, who went from being an average high school student to being a successful technocrat.
  • Part Three, “Basic Putt,” consists of seven chapters that introduce a methodology that technologists can use in the management of high technology projects.
  • Part Four, “Advanced Topics,” consists of six chapters that explain how to select projects, evaluate ideas, and thrive in a technological organization.
  • Part Five, “Putt’s Canon,” consists of three chapters that summarize all the laws, corollaries, rules, and precepts presented in the book, serving as an excellent reference.

The author also states in his Preface to the book that ‘some scholarly types have suggested that the writings in this book should be viewed merely as humorous satire. Holding that view can inhibit the success of an otherwise competent technocrat. It is not the view of many successful technocrats who studied and used the lessons of the book. While winning the game, they laughed just as often as others, especially on the way to the bank.’

As we end this discourse, it would be interesting to note that ‘Archibald Putt’ is a pseudonym, whose actual identity is still not revealed. He has served on government advisory committees, managed basic and applied research, and held executive positions in a large multinational corporation. He received his PhD degree from a leading institute of technology and has served as president of an international technical society.

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For such a talented person, we cannot expect that he has adopted this pseudonym without any purpose. Therefore, some more search is called for.

The Archibald of Archibald Putt can be seen to yield different meanings. The dictionary meaning of Archibald is ‘distinguished and bold.’ And Putt is a gentle stroke that hits a golf ball across the green towards the hole. So, one meaning of Archibald Putt is a gentle push by a distinguished and bold noble man! It is clearly redundant to say that such a gentle push by distinguished and bold person can resonate many times more effectively than any amount of roof-top shouting.

References in English Language and Usage give more interesting insights[3] :

The Online Etymology Dictionary explains: – British World War I military slang for “German anti-aircraft fire” (1915) supposedly is from black humor of airmen dodging hostile fire and thinking of the refrain of a popular music hall song, “Archibald, certainly not!

This source quotes Ernest Weekly’s An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921) with an alternative explanation: – “It was at once noticed at Brooklands [where much aviation development and testing was carried out prior to 1914, and portrayed in the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines] that in the vicinity of, or over, water or damp ground, there were disturbances in the air causing bumps or drops to these early pioneers. Some of these ‘remous’ were found to be permanent, one over the Wey river, and another at the corner of the aerodrome next to the sewage-farm. Youth being fond of giving proper names to inanimate objects, the bump near the sewage-farm was called by them Archibald. As subsequently, when war broke out, the effect of having shell bursting near an aeroplane was to produce a ‘remous’ reminding the Brookland trained pilots of their old friend Archibald, they called being shelled ‘being Archied’ for short. Any flying-man who trained at Brooklands before the war will confirm the above statement”.

Aside: If interested in this matter more, please read “Archibald, Certainly Not!”:  Words and Weapons no.4

If we take this background of ‘Archibald’ then, Archibald Putt would mean a gentle push by an anti-aircraft gun, which is marvelous tongue-in-cheek oxymoron. In the present case, it serves the purpose of the author who also putts the fire power of his tenets like the famed accuracy of German anti-aircraft fire.

[1] ‘The Successful Technocrat’ – a series of papers by Archibald Putt in Research and Development journal in 1976

[2] Putt’s Law – A book review

[3] Why is German anti-aircraft fire called “Archibald”?

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The Eponymous Principles of Management

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The Dilbert Principle

Scott Adams launched his Dilbert comic strips in 1989 in a handful newspapers. The immediate fad of ‘downsizing’ fueled the success of the strip. As result, Scott Adams left his job and took up Dilbert comic strip as his full-time cartoonist occupation. Dilbert is that beloved engineer in Scott Adam’s wry observations, of managerial blunders, oversights, and plain weird behaviour. at the modern workplace in his comic strip of the same name. Dilbert is a typical, trapped in a cubicle cog, working for an unnamed tech company. Dilbert and his coterie of co-workers are tormented by the bottom-line blindness of accounting, the cruelty of human resources, the vacuity of marketing, and, above all, the clueless whims of management, personified by a nameless “pointy-haired” boss.

With such an unflattering view of business, Adams is often deemed an “anti-management guru.” But he has struck a powerful chord in the business world.

In the Dilbert strip of February 5, 1995, Dogbert states that “leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow”. This is the cornerstone of Scott Adams Dilbert Principle, which is derived from the huge fan-mail emanating from the real-life experiences of his large fan-following.

Scott Adams explained his principle in a 1995 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article[1]. Scott Adams then expanded his study of the Dilbert principle in the form of a book,  Dilbert Principle, The: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions.[2]

The principle is stated as “companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.”

The Dilbert Principle is related to the Peter Principle. In the case of Peter Principle, Peters promoted because of their competence in the present roles, find themselves, ultimately, in a situation where they are no more competent in the new role. Instead, the Dilbert Principle seems to promote incompetent employees (though it works toward the employees’ detriment), to a position where they are no longer blocking the productive workflow of the company.

In effect, The Dilbert Principle assumes that “the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder”. In the WSJ article referred here before, Scott Adams remarks that “Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. …That principle was literally happening everywhere.” (😐)

The Peter Principle realizes that someone particularly competent in one role may not necessarily be s competent in another role, particularly at higher positions. Fully recognising that requirements for each role is extremely specific, one can not be expected to have natural or previously acquired skills to be competent in the new role. The Dilbert Principle seems to recognise such situations and seeks to move such ‘incompetent’ people to a place where they can do the least possible harm to the organization’s interests. In other words, rather than ‘promoting’ them as a reward for the meritorious work, they are quietly placed in the least damaging roles. An earlier formulation of this effect was known as Putt’s Law (which we take up next).

Fortunately, all organizations are not necessarily similar to the Dilbert-workplace, as can be seen in the case of one documented exception of Malden Mills[3]. However, we do not want to enter into a debate whether ‘modern’ workplaces indeed reflect these “laws” truly. But the as one reads these books, whatever be his (or her) position, one does identify oneself with (good or bad or ugly) effects of these ‘laws’.

On the whole, these book(s) have always turned out be good reading, and quite insightful (if you can see through beyond the veil of satire).

[1] Reprinted without permission from The Wall Street Journal, 5/22/95@ The Humor Library

[2] Book Review – The Dilbert Principle by The Amateur Financier

[3] They Call Their Boss a Hero

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The Eponymous Principles of Management

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The MacLeod Model of Hierarchy

The hierarchy is one of the oldest social institution of the civilized world. More capable, and more fortunate, – All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others – people ultimately have more control over the available resources. This enables them to exercise influence over the ones who have less resources (under their control). This influence gained the form of power over the time.

In 2004 car­too­nist Hugh Mac­Leod published a very simple cartoon entitled “Company Hierarchy”.

On the face of it appears to be one more jargonistic model. So, first we take help of another article[1] wherein these terms have been explained–

Corporate Sociopath (noun) – A person whose professional behavior lacks morality, and whose actions use manipulation and game-planning in order to achieve money, power, and prestige.

The Sociopath is like an athlete on performance enhancing drugs, determined to win at any cost – and willing to do whatever it takes.  The Sociopath is willing to use manipulation and undermining techniques to gain control and is persistent with his intents. He considers himself larger than the cause – the organization – he is working for.

Corporate Loser (noun) – A person who is competent with their work and shows professional morality and integrity and is aware of the lacking morality in corporate leadership (Corporate Sociopaths). Corporate losers do not have loyalty to their company since they are aware of how disloyal the company is to them, however they rarely leave soul-crushing employment because of self-instilled fear, laziness, or lack of creativity.

No wonder they slog at the bottom the pyramid. However, the real world this does not continue for ever. About that, a little later…

Corporate Clueless (noun) – A person who is loyal to their company, completely unaware of how disloyal the company is to them. The corporate clueless person will always follow management directions, honoured to even get the attention of their sociopathic leadership. The Clueless create a communication and hierarchical gap between the sociopaths and the losers, and also can be easily manipulated to be the fall guy for the sociopath when things go wrong.

The Corporate Clueless are enablers for the sociopaths on two fronts:

First, as the loyal ones, they are easy scapegoats.  They allow the sociopaths to take risks for the business while incurring no personal risk because they have a corporate clueless person to act as the fall guy.

Second, the Corporate Clueless create an important shield between the Losers and the Sociopaths. The Sociopaths always want more (e.g. ideas, designs, efficiency, hours logged, etc) for less. The Losers are aware of this, and it makes them angry The Losers are angry, but all they can do is complain to the Clueless – who the Losers know to be incompetent.  And how long the Losers remain angry at someone who is doing their best but is inherently clueless. Thus, they will simply keep absorbing the pressures. They will keep doing the thankless job of calming up the losers, but rarely communicate the real situation to the sociopaths.

By the way, if we want to do away with remembering these negative-sounding jargons, we can replace these three terms with “confident leader”, “extreme loyalist”, and “moral hard worker” respectively. 

MacLeod’s company hierarchy is mostly true, despite it being such a sad and hopeless picture.  But, there is an alternative and it starts with people who are willing to escape the unconsciousness of the three positions within the hierarchy and transcend into Consciousness.

Corporate Conscious (noun) – A person capable of leadership and ingenuity, capable of taking risks with the awareness and acceptance of the potential failure, compassionate towards superiors, peers, and underlings. This person is aware and conscious of the business and politics of the world around them, and capable of using this awareness when the outcome is profitable and moral. Most important, this person is conscious of the fact that the company needs him (or her) more than he (or she) needs the company.

Daniel Miessler[2] calls these terms as Kings, Sages and the Cogs.

In the real life, if one has enough competence to generate the required escape velocity, one can move up the layers. However, those who dot have such velocities of continuing competence, the inevitable force of gravity of incompetence will usually lead to the lower layer.

If you are in the leadership position or aspire to be in the one, you need to be what famous British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, says, be a good butcher while becoming good empathetic person to the people as well.[3] Seems to be a task as impossible as riding two horses. task, isn’t it? That is why the position at the top is very ‘lonely’. There, you are like that trapeze artists who is trundling along a sizzling hot tope, delicately balancing between being ‘transcendental people leader’ and the non-emotional goal-oriented slave driver.

As can be expected, the MacLeod Model of Hierarchy too has inspired a lot of meaningful, or academically worthwhile and of course, humorous discussions..

[1] MacLeod’s Company Hierarchy And The Corporate Conscious

[2] Three Types of Employees

[3] Who are you, anyway?

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The Eponymous Principles of Management

The Eponymous Principles of Management – Realities at The Other End of The Peter Principle Spectrum

The major impact of publication of the Peter Principle, in the form of a book and it subsequent wider acceptance, was that people started looking at the individual behaviour at a job and the related competence paradigm in very different light.

If there are legions of people who have risen to their level of ‘incompetence’ on one end of the Peter Principle spectrum, at the other end there are as many people who have been stuck in their present groove because they are ‘too competent’.

We will first take up the typical cases which are the outcomes of either the criteria for advancement – laterally or vertically – in a typical organization or the way human ambition tends to satisfy his higher needs of recognition or self-actualization.

  • Some are afflicted by the fear – either of senior management or of the peers – that promoting them vertically or transferring laterally will cause an ‘irreplaceable’ loss of the required competence to handle the complexities of the job. No one would like a ‘necessarily and important’ task to be mishandled by someone who may a be a novice for that job.
  • There could be some who may have chosen to get stuck there, because of their disinclination to leave their comfort zone. Here too, there are different flavours. Some may have become very proficient in handling the tasks and now are not inclined to let go the perquisite of being fortunate to have a job which has now either all ‘known knowns’, or a few ‘known unknowns’.
  • There could be some others whose need for being regarded as ‘such an important person’ would cause them to create situations(s) where they can maintain the status quo. Or, there could be situations wherein the peers or seniors would so strongly feel these persons to be ‘so important’ that they would ensure these persons remain ensconced in their present positions. The people in the older generation may remember the case of great thespian Dilip Kumar, who was ‘typecast’ by the film industry as ‘tragedy king. Playing the tragic role day in and day out in the reel life led to a state of depression in his real life. He was medically advised to ‘plan’ for a mix of ‘light’ films, which then had resulted in the films like Azad (1955) or Kohinoor (1960) or Ram Aur Shyam (1967).

These ‘irreplaceable ones’, or ‘comfort zone seekers’ or ‘very important’ persons would continue to get rewarded (since they do contribute value in that position) till a point is reached where they become ‘too costly’ for the worth of that position in the overall value chain of the business process. That is the time when the luckier ones may be offered an honourable ‘golden handshake (by way of premature ‘voluntary retirement’) and the unluckier ones may get the axe of the downsizing. In the previous century, the external factor that caused such downsizing was the increasing level of automation and now it is the digital technology that has made fast inroads into the (so called) repetitive jobs.

  • There are people who have consciously chosen to remain in certain position. There is one class of people are well aware of their strengths, and weaknesses. They know well what kind of job they will not be able to handle competently. However, there also people who get promoted because of their competence in the present position and immediately being placed in the higher position realize that this was not their cup of tea. The luckier ones can get back to the positions they can competently handle. Remember the case of the ‘great master blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar, who voluntarily relinquished the captainship of the Indian cricket team and chose to concentrate on his strength, the batting. And as is it said, the rest is history.
  • There are people who move from a level of incompetence to a level of competence. These are the people who are chosen for their qualifications and /or experience as a specialist. However, for various reasons, they seem not live up to the expectations. So, they are moved, either laterally or vertically up to a different position. If this movement is by a conscious design where person’s strengths and weaknesses have been objectively analysed with reference to the requirements of the new incumbent position, the person not only performs at a level of competence, but he is also satisfied with his job. I recall here the case of Mike Brearley, the captain of England team from 1977 to 1981.He captained England in 31 tests, with 18 wins and 4 losses. However, his record as a batsman was (rather) modest, having averaged 22.88 in 66 Test innings, without a century.
  • Many a times it is observed that people move from a level where their incompetence is glaring to one where it is not so obvious. It is more difficult to prove a generalist wrong than a detail man [sic][1]. If you need to be convinced on this scenario, please recall ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, a famous story by Hans Christian Anderson.

Another situation is related to the way the organization structure functions ‘when it comes to task delegation of managerial leadership. Here, typically, mangers delegate tasks that they themselves should be completing. In real terms, the managers pass on the task down the hierarchy until it cannot be completed by the person in the last pass off the delegation ladder. This has led to the coining of (so called) Reverse Peter Principle, which postulated as “within a hierarchy tasks tend to be delegated until they have descended to the employees level of incompetence”.[2]

[1] The Inverse Peter PrincipleJohn E

[2] Reverse Peter Principle: within a hierarchy tasks tend to be delegated until they have descended to the employees’ level of incompetence.

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The Eponymous Principles of Management

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The Peter’s Principle

Foreword

An eponym is a person, place, or thing after whom or which someone or something is, or is believed to be, named. The adjectives derived from eponym include eponymous and eponymic.

One of the most famous eponyms in Literature is ‘Yahoos’. In Book IV of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the hero Gulliver encounters uncouth and degraded people who he calls ‘Yahoos’. Today one meaning of ‘Yahoo’ still remains ignorant, uncouth or brutish people. However, Americans used it as exclamation of happiness or happiness, which is adopted by the internet company ‘Yahoo!’

Eponym is like an allusion that refers to a famous person. Therefore, it develops a ‘Fevicol-bond’ – one more classic example of a eponym – link between a reference and the thing being referred to, and through this connection, readers can understand the idea easily.

One such case of strong bond with a name its connection with the relevant context is the case of THE famous villain of Hindi films – Pran (a.k.a. Pran Krishan Sikand – B: 12 February 1920 – De: 12 July 2013). A thorough gentleman to the core in his real life, his image as a villain had so strong influence that mothers would not agree to name their sons Pran.

One can find many historical or scientific terms. To name a few like:

  • Fahrenheit (the measure of temperature) – Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit
  • Diesel (Now the common fuel for automobiles)- Rudolf Diesel
  • America (the American continent) – Amerigo Vespucci
  • Gandhism – Mahtma Gandhi or

Reganomics – Ronald Regan or

Thatcherism – Margaret Thatcher or

Modinomics – Narendra Modi

This list of eponymous laws provides links to articles on laws, principles, adages, and other succinct observations or predictions named after a person. In some cases the person named has coined the law – such as Parkinson’s law. In others, the work or publications of the individual have led to the law being so named – as is the case with Moore’s law. There are also laws ascribed to individuals by others, such as Murphy’s law; or given eponymous names despite the absence of the named person.

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We plan to take up in the present series various known and less-known eponymous principles relating to the field of management.


The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle should be one of the most known principles to find place in most of the academic work of the management schools over the world, even though it has not been conceived for the academic purposes. The principle is published in the form of a book – “The Peter Principle, Why Things Always Go Wrong”, by Dr Peter J Laurence and Raymond Hull,1969 – in the basic premises made in the book remain valid a good fifty years now and, in all probabilities will remain valid fifty years from now. The popularity of the book can be judged by the fact that BBC One aired a 1 pilot + 2 series of 6 episodes each show The Peter Principle between 1995 to 2000.

The Peter Principle is stated as – “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

One of the most common reason for such a phenomenon to occur is that more often than not people were promoted based on their current performance. This measure of competence does not guarantee that that person will necessarily be true for the competence required for the job in the higher position. consideration of their capacity to take on greater responsibility. The result is that that person works out to be less good for the higher job than the previous job.

Moreover, the way hierarchical mind set of the persons at higher levels is also more likely to be similarly conditioned.

In a typical organization, before the real situation becomes known, the person is likely to get, at least,  a couple of more climbs up the organizational stair. This leads to the situation narrated in the Peter’s Corollary: In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.

Another reason why the degree of incompetence remains hidden is that Work is accomplished by those employees (normally at the lower, or the actual operative levels)who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

Since the aim here is not present the whole book or all the relevant related research and treatises, it would be opportune to note that the book, even now, remains a good reading – purely as a work of satirical fiction or a real introduction to the ways of hierarchiology- the study of hierarchies.

It is even more interesting to note that the applicability of The Peter Principle does not simply is limited to the hierarchies in an organization. The same logic applies to other situations caused ether by the nature or by the man, in situations other than the organizational hierarchy. The form and effect may appear to be somewhat different than that in the case of organizational hierarchy. In the real-life situations, in essence, the competence can be perceived as the inability to cope with the given situation effectively.

In nature, only fittest survive the inevitable cycles of change. Those who cannot adapt to the new set of circumstances are destined to be become fossils. Man is susceptible to become incompetent either because of the circumstances of his own creation or those created by the external forces. For example – The most competent archer of his time Arjun suddenly found himself wanting to take on the fight on the first day when he sees his elders, brothers and friends pitted against him on the opposite camp. Or, Bjorn Borg found his motivation lacking to continue his non-stop title winning spree at the Wimbledon when he started finding opponents who were not able to extend his prowess to the newer limits. A great player like Borg had one black dot on his records book  he had never won a US open title.

One may argue that artists or creative people should not be compared with more mundane people in the fields of industry / business or such other professional works. Beginning with Phase 1.0 of the Industrial revolution, the world of the economic activities has been undergoing its own steady-rate changes, each set of the major and related minor changes have posed challenges to the mankind to remain fit enough to survive in the new set of circumstances. At every stage of the Industrial Revolution, the nature changes have been becoming more and more complex and rate of such changes have been more rapid. ‘Change is the only constant’ dictum that was prevalent by the end of previous century is now no more valid. In the present VUCA era, where change is THE destructively dynamic fluid state, “Best Practice was yesterday, Best Thinking is in demand today and tomorrow.”

On a lighter note –

Even before you may get to read the book and several other excellent treatises on how to overcome the Peter Principle, it would be desirable to be forewarned that the reading will only intensify the feeling of what is being said henceforth – it is water-tight fait accompli that everyone reaches to some level of incompetence at some stage of one’s life. Persons who scrape through with less degree of incompetence either have learnt from their lessons consciously or have learnt them by the force of some external stimuli.

Yes, underlined, in capital bold, letters, the message is that if you can remain a learning person- or a learning organization – you have fair chance to maintain your level of competence.

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The Peter Principle trail does not end here. There is An Opposite of Peter Principle, a Dilbert Principle which is more a cause of worry to ‘the management’ and of course there is Gervais Principle and then there is Coase’s Ceiling……