Saturday, July 2, 2016

Management theory as snake oil?

We've all had bosses and work colleagues that devote themselves to reading the latest management literature, striving sincerely to make their organization more like whatever management theory is trending at the moment.  To me it's always seemed like so much hot air, despite my esteem for these colleagues and their very real management capability.  In fact, when I have had or seen very effective managers in my workplace, their aptitude seems more to me like the fruit of lifelong learning and thought, common decency, a willingness to think critically, in short like the fruit of of who they are and how they live, think, and work, that has nothing to do with whatever book of platitudes they've picked up at the airport recently.  However, having never gone to business school, nor managed other people myself, I normally refrain from explicit criticisms of the whole field of management theory.  Above all, I wouldn't want to offend the people who invest a lot of time and effort in pursuing an MBA, or reading management literature, by suggesting that it's all futile.

But here is an article from a long-time management consultant that lays out in a well-informed, detailed way what problems he sees in modern management theory.  He posits that most of us would be better prepared for a career in management by a degree in philosophy or the humanities.  My understanding from numerous news articles and opinion pieces is that many executives would agree with him; they want well-rounded people who are interested in learning, in critical thinking, and in the human condition generally, because these are the people who can really add value in a company.

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