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The Management Myth

60 replies on 5 pages. Most recent reply: May 25, 2012 1:49 AM by Kuruvilla Abraham

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James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 18, 2010 9:26 AM
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> And yes, I stand by my statement that at the core of
> science is reproducible results. On top of that, any
> theory must be disprovable. Any practice that doesn't
> follow these principles is not a science.

In other words, you believe that cosmology and geology are not science.

> My article is a summary of the book. I am not providing
> all the arguments and citations that the book makes --
> which takes the book to do so. I am, however, pointing out
> the results. Arguing with my article is fruitless; you can
> only argue with the book -- which I readily admit is far
> better argued than anything I present here.

Let's look at one paragraph:

"What all of the later "pioneers" of management learned from Taylor was not the "science" part of his feeble attempts to turn management into science, but rather his ability to manipulate his listeners into belief by telling a good story. All of the successors who have made their fortunes by "advancing" management have done so by telling good stories. With his philosophical discipline, Stewart produces hundreds of references to support his virtually complete destruction of business schools and management gurus."

You are stating this as a fact. You are not qualifying it e.g. "the author makes the argument that ...". Making bold, unsupported, and inflammatory statements and then hiding behind the work of someone else doesn't pass the smell test. It's not up to your readers to try to determine which conclusions are yours and which are the book's.

Aside from that, I think it's very foolish to read a book and believe everything in it, regardless of the number of references (of which I guess you checked 0.) This is especially the case if the author freely admits (writes a book about it even) that he made a career out of lying to people.

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 18, 2010 9:28 AM
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> > This notion that management is both separate and
> superior
> > (attested to by that MBA, for sure)
>
> Not in my program. Quite the opposite.

Then good for you and your program. Which school, by the way? I did mention that Sloan has a very different curriculum.

> The school that you are talking about is built entirely
> around Little Lord Fauntleroy training. If you live in
> Boston, I can see how you might feel your world is
> dominated by it but it's hardly representative.

I would hardly disagree; it's just the one that Bruce was referencing. Last I checked, The B-School was still near the top of the rankings. Here's the current rank: 2 ( here: http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rankings/ ).
Here's some of the history (not as far back as I go): http://bwnt.businessweek.com/interactive_reports/rankings_history_us_08/index.asp

It may be a coincidence (I'd have to do some research), but the Right Wing Economists from the midwest (Fresh Water Economics) took over from the Left Wing Economists from both coasts (Salt Water Economics) when Reagan took over; this list doesn't go back before then. That Chicago and Northwestern B-Schools would ascend simultaneously would not be surprising. It was the Fresh Water cabal that provided the "intellectual" foundation for The Great Recession. They've headed for their caves recently.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 18, 2010 10:22 AM
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> > > This notion that management is both separate and
> > superior
> > > (attested to by that MBA, for sure)
> >
> > Not in my program. Quite the opposite.
>
> Then good for you and your program. Which school, by the
> way? I did mention that Sloan has a very different
> curriculum.

I hesitate to say because of pure paranoia. I'll just note that it's a part-time (professional) program in state university system and leave it at that.

The thing is that in order to be accredited, all MBA programs have to teach Organizational Behavior and there is a core set of ideas there, one of which is that power goes both ways and that managers who don't realize their subordinates have power over them are in for big trouble. It's hard for me to reconcile that with what you are asserting. It's not that the attitude doesn't exist (I've seen it) but that I don't think it's taught. It's a cultural thing that I believe would persist whether MBA programs continue to exist or not.

> It may be a coincidence (I'd have to do some research),
> but the Right Wing Economists from the midwest (Fresh
> Water Economics) took over from the Left Wing Economists
> from both coasts (Salt Water Economics) when Reagan took
> over; this list doesn't go back before then. That Chicago
> and Northwestern B-Schools would ascend simultaneously
> would not be surprising. It was the Fresh Water cabal
> that provided the "intellectual" foundation for The Great
> Recession. They've headed for their caves recently.

The main reason I decided to get an MBA is that I am disgusted by the poor management I have seen in my career. I've also realized that the big problems are not technical. There are so many smart and talented people who can solve large swaths of problems but are prevented from doing so. The reality is that almost none of the managers I've dealt with had any formal management training. I either needed to find out that I was confused or that I was right. In other words: were these managers doing dumb things because that's what B-schools were teaching people to do? I also wanted to figure out how I can explain the things I know to be true in IT and software to management without technical expertise.

Right off of the bat, my Organizational Behavior class described and gave names to a lot of the really stupid things I've seen managers do and explained why they were dumb things to do. The other thing I have realized is that business school is not all about personnel management which I believe is a common misconception (one that I shared.) Personnel management is actually a very small part of program.

The thing people (in general) also need to realize about an MBA is that it's not designed to make you an expert in anything. People who think that having an MBA makes a person an expert are the problem (I agree there is a problem in case that's not clear.) An MBA is often described (by people who have them) as a mile wide and an inch deep. The idea is to introduce some core tools needed to run a business and verify a basic proficiency in these tools.

You mentioned accounting. I did take an accounting course. It's treated mainly as a pre-requisite in that you need to be able to understand the language of accounting and know how to tell when the books are funny especially with laws like Sarbanes-Oxley. In no way am I qualified to be an accountant by taking that class (well, I could do the books for a kid's lemonade stand.) I've earned a healthy respect for the complexity of it and I understand the basics and that's the point because if I were to be a CEO, how would I manage the accountants if I don't know what they do? It's contrary to the idea that a manager can manage anything. That's what is being taught.

Bill Pyne

Posts: 165
Nickname: billpyne
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 18, 2010 4:20 PM
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> The main reason I decided to get an MBA is that I am
> disgusted by the poor management I have seen in my career.

Good for you! A much older cousin of mine was a founder in a successful tech company in the Boston area. I remember about 7 years ago he said, "The problem with technical people is that none of you want to step into management so you're doomed to the management you get."

> I've also realized that the big problems are not
> t technical. There are so many smart and talented people
> who can solve large swaths of problems but are prevented
> from doing so.

Technology isn't lacking - but certainly can and will get better - and our field attracts a lot of smart, creative people (the pay unfortunately attracts a lot of people who should not be in the field - c'est la vie). The organization and use of people is lacking.

MBA programs at their best work well for people who have proficiency in a field and had the realization you had.

What you have ahead of you though is a problem that goes beyond just IT. Management practice in the US still reflects the early Industrial era. Recently I watched a TED talk by Dan Pink and realized how far we have to go for management to be anything close to effective.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 18, 2010 6:24 PM
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> What you have ahead of you though is a problem that goes
> beyond just IT. Management practice in the US still
> reflects the early Industrial era. Recently I watched a
> TED talk by Dan Pink and realized how far we have to go
> for management to be anything close to effective.

What's ironic to me is that Pink and Scholtes and a lot of the other stuff that Bruce is reading are what professors in my program are talking about and encouraging us to read. Taylor is a used as a negative example, what not to do.

I was unsure about my decision but once I got started, I haven't regretted it a bit.

Daniel Jimenez

Posts: 40
Nickname: djimenez
Registered: Dec, 2004

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 9:43 AM
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> I was unsure about my decision but once I got started, I
> haven't regretted it a bit.

I've talked to many tech people (with MBAs), and you're the first to give a positive referral, albeit indirectly.

Is it just having the language to talk to business-level people? Is it knowing more about budgeting? Do you find that you are provided more bottom-line information that typical IT people are given, so you can help produce better-informed decisions?

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 10:43 AM
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> I've talked to many tech people (with MBAs), and you're
> the first to give a positive referral, albeit indirectly.
>
> Is it just having the language to talk to business-level
> people? Is it knowing more about budgeting? Do you find
> that you are provided more bottom-line information that
> typical IT people are given, so you can help produce
> better-informed decisions?

I'm not finished with the program so I can't comment specifically on each of these questions.

What I'm finding is that everything I am learning is either totally new or stuff that I've only encountered through my personal interests. It's entirely complimentary. Accounting is a good example. Before, I couldn't even have described the essential equation for accounting. I now know how to balance basic books. I still don't have any strong interest in accounting. I know now why it's important but it hasn't changed my belief that businesses shouldn't over-emphasize accounting in their decision making.

Have you ever been in a debate and have someone throw out a statement based on a topic in which you have no background or knowledge? Technical bullshitters do this all the time so I'm sure you've seen it. The thing is that there is a technical aspect to management. So when argue that outsource project X is a bad idea I will get some jargon laden retort "cost savings core competencies value added blah blah blah." I'm pretty sure that most of the time the person bullshitting and just spouting gobbledygook (even when they seem to really believe it.) The problem is that I don't have the background or training to dispute it without stooping to rhetoric.

So my initial reason for getting an MBA was to turn the tables. I'd have the bona fides and no one could pull that crap on me.. What I found was that I am actually really enjoying the courses. I never took economics before but I'm interested in it. I want to take a more active role in my personal investments but I've never studied finance.

Kay Schluehr

Posts: 302
Nickname: schluehk
Registered: Jan, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 11:51 AM
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> I'm not finished with the program ...

I'd love to see you blogging about it on Artima. Sort of "A programmer in MBA land".

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 1:27 PM
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> > I'm not finished with the program ...
>
> I'd love to see you blogging about it on Artima. Sort of
> "A programmer in MBA land".

That's an interesting idea. I had considered the opposite sort of thing: a blog about software and IT target at business types.

I'd have to think about it. One observation I can give right now is that the backgrounds of people in my 'cohort' are pretty mixed. I'd guess 50% have business degrees or work in sales and/or management and the rest come from management, IT/software, engineering and HR backgrounds.

One of the other things is that the professors by-and-large don't seem to think much of the 'day' students i.e. the ones who go straight from undergrad into an MBA.

I think maybe I get where some of the impressions people have of MBAs come from. There definitely are people who are very sure of themselves even though the don't seem to know much or want to learn anything. They bitch and moan about the coursework and say they are just getting a piece of paper. Of course, I'm one of the oldest people in my cohort so some of this might simply be a lack of maturity. However, one of my professors observed that an MBA is kind of like a union card in certain professions (my guess: banking) so there may be something to this.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 1:28 PM
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> I'd guess 50% have business degrees or
> work in sales and/or management and the rest come from
> management, IT/software, engineering and HR backgrounds.

Sorry:

50% have business degrees or work in sales and/or management and the rest come from IT/software, engineering and HR backgrounds.

John Zabroski

Posts: 272
Nickname: zbo
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 2:43 PM
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Bruce,

How do you reconcile your commentary about In Search of Excellence in this blog post with your commentary from June 2009: http://www.artima.com/weblogs/viewpost.jsp?thread=263424

John Zabroski

Posts: 272
Nickname: zbo
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 4:30 PM
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> > And those MBA programs do
> > seem to be creating people who are doing damage, not
> just
> > to business but to the world.
>
> Let's see if I can rephrase. I was born into the working
> world just down Storrow Drive from The B-School, and knew
> and worked with more than a few of its graduates. While
> not the first B-School (Wharton, as I've mentioned
> earlier), by the 1960's it earned the mantel of archetype.
> (It didn't hurt that A.D. Little was just across the
> e bridge.) Quantitative analysis was never the hallmark
> of The B-School; that belonged to the Sloan School across
> the Charles at MIT. (The B-School is in Boston.) The
> B-School stressed the case study method, and its point was
> that a Manager could manage any activity without regard to
> subject matter expertise; which could be bought in the
> form of underlings.
>
> This notion that management is both separate and superior
> (attested to by that MBA, for sure) to all other skills in
> the organization is the source of the evil. It's not
> Taylor, but the psychology of entitlement. It is a fact
> that the MBA, as exemplified by The B-School, was created
> as an advanced degree for experienced managers without
> profession, i.e. not an engineer or scientist or the like.
> It was intended as a merit badge to counter the general
> l lack of professional credentials of old boy network
> promoted middle managers vis-a-vis the, often, highly
> trained staff they were assigned to manage.
>
> The MBA has everything to do with face validity and
> nothing whatsoever with science or psuedo-science. Think
> of it as finishing school for 30-ish white guys. It was
> only later, the 1970's, that one could even go to The
> B-School straight away from the BA/BS; one had to *be* a
> manager.
>
> So, you're right (in my experience) that the MBA cabal has
> wreaked havoc; I'd wager that the movers and shakers of
> The Great Recession were widely of that ilk. It is not
> Taylor that made it happen, but rather a form of
> tribalism. Those of The B-School Tribe (or fraternity)
> "networked" better than the engineers and scientists. It
> didn't hurt that the fundamental course work of the MBA is
> accounting; always, always cry the bottom line in decision
> making.



Robert, every time I read what you write, I pretty much find it very insightful (even if I don't agree). I always disliked the suggestion that Taylor was the harbringer of evil. I've read this before in books about programming, such as Naked Objects.

Separate question: Where would you say Hammer's "Re-engineering the Corporation" falls?

Today, it seems like Redmonks is also a slightly better IT thinktank than Gartner, which mostly seems to just make up B.S.

Bill Venners and Frank,

I don't know if Robert wants a soapbox ("blahg") on Artima, but give him one if he's willing!

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 19, 2010 9:11 PM
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> I always
> disliked the suggestion that Taylor was the harbringer of
> evil. I've read this before in books about programming,
> such as Naked Objects.
>
> Separate question: Where would you say Hammer's
> "Re-engineering the Corporation" falls?

The dislike of Taylor corresponds with the rise "socialism" in the West; Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" being a particular expression of this point of view. Taylor's industrial method was designed and intended to de-humanize humans. Robots before robots were invented. Capitalists loved him, all others loathed him.

From the 1950s into the early 1970s Futurists wrote glowingly that in the near future, machines would do the physical work, while humans would enjoy greater leisure time whilst doing the brain work. Futurists were sufficiently disconnected from basic economics and politics that they refused to see that neither provided a theory of distribution of income which would support their notion of Future. What we've gotten is the same old same old: wealth concentrates to capitalists and falling incomes for labor (and we're just labor to a capitalist). History tells us that armed conflict over income and resources is on the horizon. Mark Twain's observations on the Gilded Age are quoted often these days, and with reason.

I've not read Hammer, so I can't say.

As to blahg: I've already two and not enough time or typing speed to keep up with them as it is.

tt asterisco

Posts: 1
Nickname: ttasterisc
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 21, 2010 8:44 AM
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And here is an article from the author, a few years ago, about the same subject http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200606/stewart-business

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: The Management Myth Posted: Feb 21, 2010 7:18 PM
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> And here is an article from the author, a few years ago,
> about the same subject
> http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200606/stewart-business

This article leaves me wondering why Stewart thinks he has any answers? Is it the 7 years of not helping businesses as a consultant? Is it 19th century German philosophy? It might seem terribly interesting to read about what seems to be taught in an MBA program and seems to not be taught but to me it seemed kind of like listening to someone who has never studied physics try to explain quantum mechanics.

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