How Reading Blade Runner Could Make You Better at Business

Even though Zuccotti Park may have lost steam as a center for dissidence nearly a year ago, the movement that the park sheltered remains, if a bit different. Occupy Sandy, the latest resurgence of Occupy Wall Street, is a relief effort for those affected by last year’s hurricane. This change in organizational structure — from previous political aims — is the topic of Research Radio’s latest episode, “Rethinking Occupy”. Research Radio, a podcast series from The New School in New York that tells the university’s stories of academic inquiry, speaks to its resident Occupy expert, Nidhi Srinivas, on organizing movements using past examples. (To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Nidhi Srinivas looks at history differently. As an associate professor of nonprofit management at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy, he focuses on methods of organizing and management from a historical perspective. Srinivas sees the past as up for grabs, which means that commonly accepted narratives should be re-examined. The idea is to look backward in order to move forward.  

“We need to start asking more — and different — questions,” says Srinivas. “Instead of asking, ‘How do we get work done?’ we need to shift our focus and ask, ‘Is this the work we should get done?’” 

In “Rethinking Occupy,” Srinivas examines the Occupy Wall Street movement through this unconventional lens. He posits that organizations can look at past failed management strategies to modify their current strategies and structure. Using this framework, Srinivas argues against the notion that an MBA offers the best management skills for every situation, and advocates instead for using historical analysis to guide management.

Srinivas’ own involvement in the Occupy movement provided ample opportunity for study of what he calls “alternative paths in history.” Although he was excited at first about the movement’s philosophy, he is critical of its lack of clear mission and defined objectives. Srinivas’ advice for remaining members of Occupy: Seek out historical models, such as the organizational practices of the Quakers, and establish realistic goals. 

Histories aren’t the only type of books Srinivas recommends to his students. “In a lot of ways, our history has imitated science fiction,” says Srinivas. “The best thing we can do for ourselves is to learn how to think differently, reflect upon history so we can be critical, and in the end, emancipate ourselves from preconceptions.”  What sci-fi novel does Srinivas recommend? He’s quick to respond with a resounding endorsement of Blade Runner.

The Research Radio staff is looking for suggestions, topic proposals, and recommendations from faculty and students for guests on the podcast. Listeners can subscribe to Research Radio through iTunes, which will download the show directly to their libraries. We look forward to hearing from you!

An earlier version of this article appeared at the New School's blog.