Social challenges can be harder than technical

October 28, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Leadership

When I was younger and studied physics when I thought of the Egyptian pyramids I would wonder at how they overcame the engineering challenges — how did they get the big rocks to the top, how did they measure the angles accurately enough, and so on.

As I got older, worked in larger teams with more intricate teamwork, and led teams my sense of marvel shifted from overcoming engineering challenges to overcoming social challenges. Learning leadership and management while getting the MBA illuminated the challenges on the social side too. The engineering challenges, while big, I imagine I could solve through trial and error. The social challenges, with a bit of thought, seem harder.

Have you ever thought of the management and leadership challenges of building something like a pyramid or sphinx? You might ask similar question for similar big challenges like putting a man on the moon or the Great Wall. When I watch movies with technical challenges — like heist movies or others that require overcoming big challenges — I used to wonder how they overcome the technical challenges less and social ones more, finding those challenges less addressed by the filmmakers than the technical ones.

  • How many people did they need to build the pyramids?
  • How did they organize their teams? — I haven’t studied what we know about how they organized, but I hear historians believe they didn’t use slave labor. If so, what management structure did they use? How did they plan?
  • How did they motivate the workers? — That’s a lot of work for people who don’t directly benefit from the structure. So what was in it for the workers?
  • How did they supply the workers? — They’d need food, supplies, clean-up, etc.
  • What about the workers’ families? — In a community that size for that long — tens of thousands, at least, communities must have formed.

Obviously the Egyptians overcame whatever challenges they faced. These days I’m more curious how they overcame the social ones than the technical ones.

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