Management Lessons from the Greatest Detective of all Time

Greatest-Detectiv Dr. Sree Lakshmi  |   8 MINS READ April 1, 2021

Sherlock Holmes is considered to be one of the most brilliant minds of all time and to me the greatest of all detectives, a step ahead of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Edgar Allan Poe’s investigator Auguste Dupin. Holmes, created by Arthur Conan Doyle does not require an introduction. 

He is a private investigator – a consulting detective, residing at Baker Street, London during the reign of Queen Victoria. His sharp intellect is matched by keen observation powers, exceptional skills in reasoning, vast knowledge of myriad subjects including the medical sciences and an almost inhuman strength. Holmes is a master of disguises, fearless and truly dedicated to the helpless men and women who submit their worries and fears to him. He describes himself as a brain that seeks stimulation and thirsts for complex problems that require his skills to be unraveled. He is the last court of appeal for those who have nowhere else to go for assistance. 

Holmes is generally cold and distant, preferring logic and reasoning to emotion and feelings. But he is also a remarkably talented violinist who has refined tastes in music and arts. He is always gentle and caring towards the women he meets and treats them with utmost respect. He has a band of little street children who form his eyes and ears when he cannot follow himself. As much as he is comfortable working for the higher powers that be, he is at ease with the low-lives of Victorian London who often assist him in his cases. While he treats the Scotland Yard and policemen of the force with contempt, he is quick to acknowledge the abilities of policeman Gregson and his chief opponent Professor Moriarty. In Watson, the narrator of the stories, Holmes finds a trustworthy and loyal friend and biographer. 

The greatest detective of all times has intrigued many including yours truly. Holmes waged war against crime; using his intelligence, deep knowledge, exceptional observation, logical and reasoning skills, superhuman strength, selflessness and tenacity, perfect teamwork and comprehensive understanding of the criminals themselves. When I think about him and modern business together, I am astonished to realize that Holmes’ life is an example of well-known business best practices. Before you raise your eyebrows, here are a selected few:

1. Knowledge & Skills

Holmes knew everything that he had to know to be successful in his profession. He had the expertise and deep knowledge which helped him recognize those tidbits of information as valuable clues. He was trained in every skill that could be used by a private investigator of crimes. Even if it was about tobacco ashes, train timings, or human anatomy. 

In a business, knowledge pays. Be it technology, competition, environment or sustainable practices, it pays to know what is best for the organization. Data analytics make it easier for businesses to know and learn from customers and sales. Invest in such technology.  Get to know your stakeholders, your markets, and your buyers. Train your employees. It helps. 

2. Service Delivery

Holmes was the ultimate quality product that came with the highest level of service. He under-promised his customers and over-delivered. He customized his investigations to suit the client. If a poor person sought his help, he never refused and never charged. If he could help a lady, he always did without a care about the cost. But he billed his rich clients every penny of his expenses. When he was called to serve Her Majesty, he did it out of his loyalty to her and refused any reward. He never backed out and always found a solution. His services were personalized and successful to the relief of all who sought him out.

Understand your customers and serve them to the best of your ability. Treat your customers equally well but know that their individual needs and preferences might be different. Identify segments and personae, create custom-made solutions and offers for each. Customization and personalization are easier than it used to be, thanks to technology. Happy customers are the most valuable assets of any organization.

3. Word – of – mouth Publicity

Holmes claimed to be the last court of appeal for his clients. And he often was to them – irrespective of gender, rank, connections, status, and wealth. A vast majority of those who went to him knew someone he had helped. His clients spread the word of his abilities and this way people knew that he could be relied on for assistance.

Word-of-mouth publicity is the cheapest and most powerful form of marketing communication for a business. We live in a world were the social media makes and breaks images and reputations. A prospective buyer would always trust an honest positive review or good word from a customer than a paid advertisement or an influencer post. 

4. Branding

Watson was Holmes’ dearest friend, trusted associate, willing accomplice, personal doctor and above all, his biographer. The good doctor chronicled the adventures of his closest friend in the Strand magazine which enjoyed widespread readership among the public of the metropolis. Holmes could never excuse the colourful literary style of Watson; preferring cold, factual, objective narrations to Watson’s vibrant and captivating stories. But the tales did to Holmes what branding does to businesses – they made him famous, well known and trustworthy. These honest accounts created the image of a detective who was the last resort when everything else had failed. Holmes gained reputation as a man who never failed, and the one who could give hope to those who could not even dare to hope. The illustrations in the Strand of the detective smoking a pipe wearing his deerstalker cap was an image few forgot.

Branding gives businesses an identity, a name and something for the customers to remember. Like the entertaining stories of Watson, stories of user experiences where the brand plays a significant part tend to touch the audience and seal the brand into their memory. Brand logos, colours, music, advertisements, all go a long way towards endearing the business, its products and offerings. Successful branding is a must, offline and online.

5. Team work

Holmes operated alone, but he understood the value of taking Dr. Watson with him. Together they were able to do what Holmes could not have achieved alone. He knew that Dr. Watson brought with him an ability to take people into confidence and extract information. He could go to places where Holmes could be recognized or worse, intercepted. Holmes often teamed up with others whenever he felt they could contribute to the cause than he could not do alone. That included well-wishers of the clients, friends from the wrong side of the law and Billy – Holmes’ page boy. Even Inspector Gregson and Lestrade were a part of his team. Holmes never hesitated to work with anyone in his quest.

We live in a world where social distancing is the rule than the exception. However, the value and importance of teamwork has never diminished. Each member in a team brings in different talents, perspectives and ideas. Each person’s contribution is synergized and increased manifold when we work together for a cause. Yes. Together Everyone Achieves More.

6. Right person for the right job

Holmes always knew the importance of employing the person fit for the job. He had a gang of young boys known as the Baker Street Irregulars headed by Wiggins, who acted as his eyes and ears in the dark alleys of the great metropolis, unnoticed by all. They could walk into any place without raising any doubt, beg for a coin, do something useful and gather information or do Holmes’ bidding. Holmes’ brother Mycroft, page boy Billy, former criminal turned informant Porky Johnson and Toby the sniffer dog have served Holmes on various occasions.

To be able to find the right kind of employee for a particular position is vital to any corporate. The wrong type of person can possibly do more damage than having none at all. Thus, identifying the correct person, training, motivating, measuring performance and retaining staff is of utmost importance.

7. Understand your competition

Holmes had to face some of the worst criminals of his time on a daily basis. While there were many brilliant minds among them, his greatest opponent was Moriarty - a respected professor, a man of great intellect and social standing, and a ruthless villain. He ran an empire so vast that it was spread all over Europe with him at the centre unknown to all. Holmes had great respect for this man and admired his abilities and masterful methods. He spent years learning about the man and his network of illegal activities, untangling a web of illegitimate deals and crimes. He was once defeated by Moriarty and left to die, but later came back to destroy the Professor using his deep knowledge and cold-blooded calculations.

Every business must learn about its competitors, their strategies, products, services, brands, customers, technology, and business partners. A thorough understanding of those who play the market with you is needed irrespective of your status in the market as leader, follower or challenger. A business must be willing to acknowledge and learn from its competition.

Conclusion

The above list is neither complete nor exhaustive because there are many more lessons for business managers from the stories of Doyle’s most famous protagonist. While those enumerated above are elementary, others are not so and require further explanation.

Let it be another story, another time. 

Dr. Sree Lakshmi

Dr. Sree Lakshmi
DBA Program Leader
Athena Global Education

 

Dr. Sree Lakshmi describes herself as an eternal learner with an inquisitive mind and cheerful attitude towards everything in general.  

Dr. Sree is an experienced academician and researcher who began her academic career as a Professor teaching Management to Engineering graduates. She has taught Marketing- core and elective subjects for Master’s programs in Management at leading business schools. Dr. Sree loves anything related to digital, brands and marketing in general. Her doctoral research primarily focused on Branding and Social Media. Her interests include brand communications, social media, advertising, and consumer behavior. She has also served Canon India in various capacities handling Corporate Sales and Key Accounts for several years before commencing her academic career. 
 
When she is not working for Athena, she is an avid reader and enjoys everything artistic and creative. Dr. Sree has a second career as a full time mom to two school-going children and two cats; all locked up at home since March 2020. To them, she is currently educationist and caretaker in addition to being occasional doctor and veterinarian.

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