Management; Manangement Fads and Witch-Doctoring10 Apr 2009 17:40
Claimed to avert a catastrophe...Why no, I don't have much respect at all for what passes as knowledge about management; among other things, I've taught too many proto-MBAs.
Blind, blind, blind, blind...
You might think people who buy business books would be a hard-headed lot; instead it seems that business — like weight loss — is a subject wherein hope and fear inspire limitless gullibility.One might add stupidity and ignorance to Prof. Krugman's list. Management trends are however of interest for a couple of reasons.
First, since they do play to hopes and fears, they provide a window on the emotions and world-views of managers; they are white collar folk-tales.
Second, management preserves the condition of knowledge before the scientific revolution almost intact. Then, typically, in any field of endeavor there was a fund of artisan skill — of unsystematic, untheoretic, even inarticulate know-how — which could be capable of quite impressive achievements (e.g., metal-working), side by side with a theory which was metaphysical, full of human and ethical significance, and dead wrong whenever it was definite enough to make any contact with reality at all (e.g., alchemy). We are nowadays quite skilled at setting up and running institutions, and have in fact gotten a lot better at it in the last, say, two centuries. J. Random American Podunk Burg of a hundred thousand people displays a degree of formal organization which would have boggled any Sung mandarin or Roman proconsul (public school, police, post office, utilities, political parties). Managers and management are essential to this — but it doesn't follow in the least that what gets taught in business schools and said in business books plays any valuable role in it. That is the part which resembles alchemy. (There's a business book in that, of course.) — There is a substantial and respectable body of research on institutions, in economics, and on organizations, in sociology; but this is only peripherally connected.
Third, despite the fact that any genuine theoretical knowledge about management would, presumably, be extremely valuable, and despite the better part of a century of institutionalized management training, there really isn't any. Management is thus perfect for study by psychoceramics and sociology of science more generally. (The recent blatherings about "learning organizations" and the like make for a nice circularity here, since what these people are essentially claiming is to know what social mechanisms lead to the production of reliable knowledge, which is, precisely, the central question in the sociology of science, or anyhow ought to be.)
— In e-mail (July 2006), a correspondent suggests, from experience, that it would be useful to draw a distinction here between management in companies which engage in manufacturing, which he describes as fairly settled and routinized, and management in service companies, which is "often... a nightmare".
- Robert Axelrod and Michael D. Cohen, Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier [The only book on complexity and management I've seen which isn't rubbish. Naturally, doesn't sell anywhere nearly as well as the trash.]
- F. G. Bailey, Humbuggery and Manipulation: The Art of Leadership
- James Beniger, The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society [Review]
- Joel Best, Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads
- Alfred Chandler, The Visible Hand
- Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland (eds.), Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler [Review: The Birth and (Hoped-For) Death of the Rebel Consumer Hero, or, Between Mencken and the Cultural Front]
- James Hoopes, False Prophets: The Gurus Who Created Modern Management and Why Their Ideas Are Bad for Business Today
- Rakesh Khurana, Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs
- Michael Kinsley, "An Ode to Managers," Slate, 11 April 2002
- William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Society and Armed Force from AD 1000 [What, you think we figured out how to make trains run on time so you could get from Peoria to Pittsburgh?]
- Gary J. Miller, Managerial Dilemmas: The Political Economy of Hierarchy
- Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management
- Matthew Stewart, "The Management Myth", Atlantic Monthly June 2006 [Perhaps not fully-legitimate full-text copy. But, since at least half of it is obviously taken from Hoopes's book, I don't feel so bad about it.]
- JoAnne Yates, Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management
- Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe [I hope I claim some authority on these subjects: Wheatley doesn't understand what she's talking about at all]
- To read:
- Mark Ackerman, Volkmar Pipek and Volker Wulf (eds.), Sharing Expertise: Beyond Knowledge Management [Preface, 59k PDF]
- Jon Agar, The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer [Blurb]
- Thomas Armbruster, The Economics and Sociology of Management Consulting [blurb]
- Marianne Bertrand and Antoinette Schoar, "Managing with Style: The Effect of Managers on Firm Policies", Quarterly Journal of Economics 118 (2003): 1169--1208 [abstract]
- Robert E. Cole
- Managing Quality Fads: How American Business Learned to Play the Quality Game
- Strategies for Learning: Small-Group Activities in American, Japanese, and Swedish Industry [Online]
- David Collins, Management Fads and Buzzwords: Critical-Practical Perspectives
- Barbara Czarniawska, Writing Management: Organization Theory as a Literary Genre
- Lex Donaldson, American Anti-Management Theories of Organization: A Critique of Paradigm Proliferation
- Tom Douglas, Change, Intervention and Consequence: An Exploration of the Process of Intended Change
- R. Eccles, N. Nohria and J. Berkley, Beyond the Hype
- Kimball Fisher and Mareen Duncan Fisher, The Distributed Mind: Achieving High Performance Through the Collective Intelligence of Knowledge Work Teams
- Agatha C. Hughes and Thomas P. Hughes (eds.), Systems, Experts, and Computers: The Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After
- Robert Jackall, Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers
- H. Thomas Johnson and Robert S. Kaplan, Relevance Lost: The Rise and Fall of Management Accounting
- Stephen B. Johnson, The Secret of Apollo: Systems Management in American and European Space Programs
- Art Kleiner, The Age of Heretics: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change [Described thus by Phil Agre: "This is a journalistic history of an important chapter of the 20th century that could easily have gone unwritten: a generation of attempts, more or less countercultural, to reform and reinvent the corporation. It's all here: unpredictable experiments in social engineering, weird tales of engineers dropping acid, computer programs predicting the future of the whole world, and the truly odd omnipresence of an Armenian mystic named G. I. Gurdjieff." Kleiner seems to be part of the Whole Earth Catalog/CoEvolution Quarterly crowd.]
- Philip Lesly, Overcoming Opposition: A Survival Manual for Executives ["Bloodcurdling" — Phil Agre]
- Cathleen McGrath and David Krackhardt, "Network Conditions for Organizational Change", The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 39 (2003): 324--336 [PDF reprint]
- Christopher D. McKenna, The World's Newest Profession [Blurb]
- David Packard, The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company
- Martin Parker, Against Management: Organization in the Age of Managerialism
- Charles Perrow, Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism
- Managing with Power
- What Were They Thinking?
- Clarence B. Randall, The Folklore of Management
- Yehouda Shenhav, Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution
- Henry L. Tosi and Neal P. Mero, The Fundamental of Organizational Behavior: What Managers Need to Know
- Katie Vann and Geoffrey C. Bowker, "Instrumentalizing Theories of Practice," Social Epistemology 15 (2001): 247--262 [Revised version online]