The builder of Nord Stream 2 named the main problem of the 21st century
Sergei Serdyukov, the former technical director of Nord Stream 2, believes that the main obstacle to Russia’s progressive development is the lack of quality managers, those who can take responsibility for making important strategic decisions and avoid making mistakes when putting them into practice. Is this really the case? How can we make serious top managers of promising young people with leadership skills? Forpost publishes excerpts from Sergey Serdyukov's commencement lecture “Management as the main problem of the 21st century”, which he delivered in St. Petersburg, at the "Young Leaders of Science-2020” forum.
People and bees
- Humanity is inherently decimal. This is a fundamental tenet. The armies of many countries in the world, for example, have at all times been formed of tens and hundreds. That is, we need 10% of managers. This is the optimum, which has long been proven by research, including the works of Soviet scientists. The problem is that nature itself does not produce such a big number of leaders. It has been established that there are half as many.
So what has to do a society that wants to live as happily as possible, but does not have the foundation necessary for this - a sufficient number of leaders capable of improving the quality of our lives? Before answering this question, let’s take a look at how similar problems are solved in the animal world, let's say, bees. If you remove a queen from the hive, a new queen will immediately be formed, which means that society’s reaction to the need to adjust the number of leaders is very quick. This is a good example, but we need not only to increase the number of managers, but also the degree of their competence.
This is inevitable, because the speed at which technology is developing today makes the gap between their level and ours increasingly critical. This situation requires leaders to have enormous knowledge and skills, because their absence can lead not to some abstract difficulties, but to real problems in our street, in our house. Power outages, disorganization of various processes, such as the work of public transport, the healthcare system, and so on. And the reason will be precisely because that tenth person made the wrong decision, and the one who could have been in their place did not end up there, because they were not noticed and prepared by society.
We can increase the number of managers through certain creative processes, but we don’t have much time. A person has to be prepared for the role of a leader from the age of 7 to 25. Then it will be much more difficult to unlock their potential, just as it is more difficult for middle-aged and elderly people to learn foreign languages than for their younger counterparts.
Artificial intelligence or human being?
- The success of any enterprise or company is based on the fact that it is run by humans. Transportation, energy, cybernetics, any industry cannot operate outside of these principles. Artificial intelligence is a chimera that society has endowed with nonexistent qualities. Some may not agree with me, but as Fidel Castro said, “history will judge us.” I am sure that the future lies in information-management systems, which will remain under human control.
We can’t allow ourselves to go into contemplative mode, and the Boeing 737 MAX is proof of that. They have equipped it with a system called MCAS, which, if the airplane is reported to be dangerously slow and its nose high, uses stabilizers to compensate its angle of inclination. The problem was that this function was transferred to the mainframe and was not under the pilot’s control: he could not change it manually. As you remember, this led to two major crashes with many victims.
Centralization or decentralization?
- Thirty years ago, the head of the Supreme Council of the RSFSR, Boris Yeltsin, addressed the regions: “Take as much sovereignty as you can.” This, of course, is an extreme, which introduces an element of chaos into the system and deprives it of the ability to govern. Mankind has faced this kind of mistake many times.
But the reverse situation, when we move the center of decision-making completely to the top, demotivates the lower levels. A leader must understand where the middle ground lies, especially if he/she is in charge of a large city or a mega-company. I do not pretend to tell you where it is, but only to give you something to think about. Everyone can contribute to the answer to this question.
- We can transfer methods of technical management to the living world. This is especially true today, when progress has become so rapid that even fiction writers find it difficult to predict the future. What are we talking about? For example, feedback loops. It is known that in systems, they form a closed loop of signal movement, which would be useful for our society as well, because it would increase its stability.
Our constitution stipulates that people must be involved in governance; this is feedback, without which we cannot succeed. Tomorrow, for example, Vladimir Putin will hold his big annual press conference, and I encourage you to ask your questions and write to his direct line. The desire to use these kinds of tools is an indicator of the maturity of our society, its readiness to engage in a dialogue with the authorities and make certain demands of it.
At the same time, this is just an episode. It is like getting behind the wheel of a car and driving it for a minute. But then for other nine minutes you would be deprived of that opportunity, and you wouldn't know where the car was going. In Switzerland, for example, every year, from six to eight general federal referenda take place. In addition, the cantons also have the right to hold those. Do you know what questions are discussed there? For example, it can be about the quality of music education in preschools. It was noted that it had declined because teachers’ salaries were no longer what they expected. About 70% of the residents came to this vote, they responded positively to the question posed, and the next day the teachers’ salaries were raised.
Where to get managers?
- So how do we increase the number of professional leaders? We are within the walls of St. Petersburg Mining University. This is one of the few universities where students not only study production processes, but also acquire the competencies of production managers. That’s why many of its graduates hold serious positions in the structures of state power, at mining and processing enterprises. But how many such institutions of higher education do we need in order to eliminate the problem of managerial staff shortage? We need about fifty of those, but there are none.
We need to create conditions to raise managers, aimed at work in specific sectors of the economy. It is not right when an agricultural or industrial region is headed by a governor with humanities background. But to accomplish this, not only the will of the older generation is needed but also the desire of young people to gain quality knowledge and be able to demonstrate it at the right moment. And you also need to remember that learning never ends, it will continue throughout your life. Only in this case you can become a competent manager and a true leader.
Let us remind that the International Competence Center for Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO was the organizer of the final scientific sessionof the “Young Leaders of Science -2020.” The forum was attended by 15 winners of various competitions held by this organization this year.