Vietnam and the Defeat of the Harvard Business Model

Article / Change and Organization

Vietnam and the Defeat of the Harvard Business Model
Tom Wilson , HR Consultant, United States

A critique of the dominant business paradigm.

Vietnam was a contest between two ideologies, Marxism and the Harvard Business model. Marxism is an ideology of infrastructure and esprit de corps while the Harvard Business model is an ideology of superstructure and strategic conceits. Marxism won.

Vietnam was a battle in the larger Cold War. We lost the battle of Vietnam but won the Cold War. Vietnam did for the Soviet Union (as a proxy for Marxism) what Borodino did for Napoleon: it was a battle it couldn’t afford to fight and had to win. The Soviet Union no longer exists as a direct result of Vietnam and Marxism is being compromised by American free enterprise on literally every front. Communism is being crushed by the profit motive and routed the by pursuit of happiness

.As a result of Vietnam, the US Army undertook a systematic and universal reform. Colin Powell writes about the advent of these reforms in his autobiography. In 1970, the Army was in serious disorder. The senior officers who had tied their careers to the political agenda of Robert McNamara were in considerable disarray due to the moral collapse of the political leadership as a result of Tet 1968.

America came as close to falling apart between Tet ’68 and the election of Nixon as it needs to get, the Army reflected this crises. The thing that kept the Army from falling apart was the NCO corps, who viewed Tet ’68 and its aftermath as just another day in Paradise and continued to March more or less unperturbed by the turmoil of the senior and political leadership.
The senior leadership in the Army recognized this need for reform and in 1970 authorized a review of the situation by subordinate officers, an initiative Colin Powell refers to in his autobiography. I heard rumors of this review, but I essentially dismissed it as scuttlebutt.

It is impossible t overstate the moral confusion of the senior leadership that confronted me as a junior officer. It is useful to remember that Lt. William Calley was being court-martialed for his behavior as a combat platoon leader in Vietnam during the time I was a combat platoon leader in Vietnam. William Calley was my generation’s Breaker Morant as was abundantly manifest to me at the time. From my perspective, it didn’t matter what the senior brass was doing: the problem was bigger than me and I bailed out.

But the Army did reform itself and continues to reform itself. The difference between the Army after Vietnam and Wall Street and the Fortune 500, as the primary practitioners of the Harvard Business Model, is that the commercial and political leadership never got the memo about the victory of Marxism and have never considered undertaking the fundamental reform that the Army has done. A result is the financial crises of 2008 and the collapse of the American middle class.

Conservatism is the current expression of the Harvard Business Model. Marxism and Conservatism are opposite sides of the same coin and, in many ways, complementary. The Harvard Business Model/conservatism represents the vertical superstructures of the instrumental organization in a free enterprise milieu and Marxism represents the horizontal structures of Adam Smith’s cottage social ecology. They each represent a half model of a dynamically sufficient economic ecology, but, of the two, Marxism is the more operationally sustainable model, as demonstrated by Vietnam. McNamara never understood what went wrong in Vietnam, but the short version is that the Harvard Business Model/conservatism, represents the operational fantasy of building castles in the air. As a paradigm of sustainable operational reality, there is no there, there, with the Harvard Business Model.

The Points of Light Program supplies the missing half of the Harvard Business Model, safely and in a timely manner. Currently, the Harvard Business Model represents a performance model that was state of the art when women played half-court basketball. The Points of Light Program will install 5th Wave High Performance in 18 months, safely and in a timely manner.

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Other Views by this Author: The Leader is an enabler2 | The Points of Light Program | The organization is a community | Protocol for Large System Change

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