Many have pointed out that the word to manage comes from the Italian maneggiare, and originally refers to the training of horses and riders in the arena, or manege. The classical metaphorical use is this: the rider is the king, or governor, the horse is the people, and both learn. On a slightly different note, the image reminds me of a situation when we brought our daughter to a public horse training session at the Circus. The trainer had a microphone, and commented on his moves. The horses were in a queue, and he invited one after the other to do a trick, and then join the end of the queue again. Not every horse did the same trick, though. For each horse, the trainer chose the one level which was the next possible step, the mental barrier the horse had to work at, and overcome. Whether the horse succeeded or not, it inevitably joined the back of the queue again. For each horse, the trainer chose a rhythm between attempts and little corrections. If a horse failed, it got an easier trick next turn round, to regain self-esteem. Keeping an eye on that balance of self-esteem as a condition for competence, was key to the trainer’s success. What was important – and here’s the nudging in the story – is that the horses were able so see each other. On the one hand, they were stimulated by watching the others. There was a certain competitiveness, although it was very important to accept that the degree of competitiveness was different with each horse, and there was no point in trying to coerce an uninterested horse into becoming more competitive, e.g. by some kind of carrot-and-stick method. On the other hand, by witnessing their fellow’s exploits, the horses learnt from each other.

What I like about this analogy is the notion of the next possible step, and the intricate conditioning of the individual succession of tricks, and the group, that created a progress of performance. These lessons remain useful even if you take away the superiority of the trainer in terms of knowledge and purpose orientation, and replace the figure by an agent in the system, who can sometimes modulate the architecture, and otherwise influence with intent.