Instrumental knowledge about management practices would satisfy many general counsel

For many managers, if a way of working gets the job done, who cares why? It makes no difference to them what the cause is, underlying explanations for the reliable outcome, the reasons behind decisions, tools, and management that brings the outcome about. This view is known as instrumentalism, and David Deutsch, in The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World (Viking 2011) at 15, defines it as a denial that explanations – conjectures that are tested and successively improved on – are necessary, valuable, or can exist at all (See my post of Aug. 29, 2008: ideas become means to a solution rather than values in their own rights.).

Pragmatism overlaps with instrumentalism (See my post of May 10, 2010: value can only be a pragmatic determination afterwards; and July 8, 2010: thoughts on positivism and postmodern notions.).

One form of instrumentalism is a rule of thumb, which doesn’t try to explain why it works. A manager comes to realize 30 cases per litigator seems about right; one week for a normal patent application fits most of the time; disbursements run about 10 percent of fees – for these folk wisdom will do, no need to think deeper. I suspect in the sphere of general counsel that delegation is also a rule of thumb. Rules of thumb rely on knowledge that is both familiar and uncontroversial, so-called background knowledge (See my post of June 19, 2011: rule of thumb, with 18 references.).

Instrumentalism serves most of the time, but creativity and improvements based on deeper understandings will serve managers even better.

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