Stoppard on strategy

June 20, 2008

Playwright Tom Stoppard gave a public interview at this year’s Dublin Writers’ Festival in which he waxed lyrical about the tyranny of Beckett’s stage directions – referring at one point to them as ‘control freakery’. The witty and erudite writer described Beckett’s fastidious stage directions as an attempt to control a future event that has yet to happen.
And of course he is right. But it’s not just Beckett. All of us who work in and with organisations (and particularly those of us involved in strategic planning processes) are up to our own Beckettian activities. All plans are about trying to control a future event that has yet to happen or at least to create some context in which the future will be manageable and controllable. It’s doubtful as to whether we can succeed in that endeavour or not and many a planning process is really about creating a context in the present to imagine and re-imagine the future in a safe way.
Stoppard went on to talk about wanting to be present for first productions of his new work but after that he sends it out into the world for directors to do as they wish. So of course he’s really talking about succession and our willingness to pass on the torch for reinvention by a new generation as distinct from passing on an artefact that needs to be taken into custodial care. It got me thinking – I wonder what Beckett would have been like as CEO of an organisation; what kind of management style would he have had? and I wonder if Stoppard will go on the management lecturing route any of these days to pass on his wisdom in that context?