Looking a gift book in its binding is, no doubt, an impolite act. Yet am I so pig-ignorant that that was my first response when friend Kenji very kindly sent me a copy of his latest book. As you can see it is all in kanje and kana. As I mentioned earlier, Japanese is one of the languages I can be misunderstood in. That is a silly way of saying I don't it speak well. At all. But my speech is fluent -- not to say mellifluent -- compared to my undeftness at reading the characters. I did, after much searching, Identify the glyph for Yama or 'mountain' which forms part of Kenji's surname. It is in the line closest to the devil at about the height of his belly button. It is three upright stokes joined by a horizontal stroke at the bottom, rather like a letter 'E' on its back. That made me pretty sure that Kenji had something to do with making the book because the yama was in the right place for the translator's name. On the reverse of the title page are the only words that appear in Roman characters, and very informative they are, to. They announce that "Les Decisions Absurdes by Christian Morel" is copyright 2002 by Editiones Gaulliard and is published in Japan by permission. Okay. That checks out.But ... What's it about?
The picture on the front is suggestive ... Of all the wrong things, no doubt. Is the Devil hectoring that poor maid because she loved her man and he done her wrong? i.e. the usual sex and violence artistic types are always shoving in our faces while claiming it's cultural uplift? That sorta fits with the title.
Alas! Inside there are diagrams. One looks like two boats with their courses plotted as they collide and lots of explanatory remarks
Not so much of the sex. Just the violence.
So I turn to a more academic pursuit. Look at the marvelous economy of design in the making of this paperback book. The front cover consists of the title, author, translator and attention grabber image. Standard paper back layout. Then there is the bottom section which appears to be marketing. A teaser, perhaps, or a handful of rationalizations for purchasing the book.
Now it gets interesting.
Now it gets elegant.
All that glossy cover is a dust jacket. Slip it off to reveal a very sober, not to say plain, cover.
Turns out Christian Morel is a PhD in Poli Sci who directs Renault's Commercial Vehicles Division HR. He researches negotiation and decision making in a sociological context. "Les Decisions Absurdes" is one result of that research.
Suppose you rejoice in the bosom of your family group when a suggestion is made: "let's go to X" X happens to be an unpleasant journey away, but, no matter, it is a place that some members enjoyed in the past. So, having discussed the plan, off you go, across a dessert in a car without air conditioning to X. Well, conversation gets to this point:
"Hope you enjoy this."
"Why? Don't you?"
But you said ..."
"I only said because you said"
"But I just went along with everybody else. I didn't want to come here today."
An absurd decision. But one which the group agreed to after discussion.
It could be worse: Two oil tankers on a passing course. One decides there is no need for action and continues. The other decides to divert but goes the "correct" way (which is irrational in this case) causing a collision.
Absurd decisions are those made through errors of reasoning, group think, or loss of direction.
Everybody at NASA knew that the joint seals would degrade in freezing temperatures. Everybody at NASA knew their part of Florida rarely if ever froze. So when it did freeze nobody thought to take the responsibility to check the seals before launch. The result was the Challenger disaster.
A jetliner was on final approach into Portland in 1978 when the Captain became suspicious of the landing gear. They made several tests and circled the tower for some time. They were still trying to get the gear down when they run out of fuel and crashed. Nobody took responsibility to monitor the fuel level. There was lots at the start of the landing.
Or here is Kenji's favorite head shaker. A Swiss pilot was landing in New York after crossing the Atlantic. I imagine the radio conversation as something like the following:
"GCA, this is Swiss pilot requesting landing instructions." Spoken in a hyper professional calm voice.
"Swiss pilot please wait."
"GCA, This is Swiss Pilot. Our fuel is low." Spoken in a very cool, hyper professional calm voice.
"We hear you Swiss pilot. Maintain."
"GCA This is Swiss pilot. Our fuel is exhausted.' Spoken in a superbly cool, way hyper professional calm voice.
"Roger, Swiss pilot. Maintain."
"Swiss pilot? Swiss pilot? Where are you? You are off our scope. Swiss pilot?"
The pilot was so professionally laconic that the tower failed to understand what he told them.
This analysis of how absurdities creep into decisions is fascinating to a story teller like me. Lots of potential scenes to show character and move plot. But it is essential for any manager who wishes to avoid such absurdity in his bailiwick.
Christian Morel published his book in France in 2002. Kenji translated it into Japanese in 2005. But there is no notice of an English translation that I could find. Distressing.
Here's what I did find:
The French Publishers Agency
Le Journal du Management (in French)
But the most extensive is a talk Christian Morel gave to L'Ecole de Paris
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