The Management Myth: Why The Experts Keep Getting It Wrong Paperback – Jul 27 2010
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At last, a book that knocks the Kings of Consulting off their thrones. The Management Myth is a rare and often very humorous exposé on the shenanigans behind the corporate empire that has catapulted us down the current road to economic turmoil. — John Perkins, best-selling author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire
About the Author
Matthew Stewart is the author of Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World and The Management Myth: Debunking the Modern Philosophy of Business. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Top Customer Reviews
Also interesting was that Stewart focuses his vitriol on Drucker, Peters and Collins while leaving Ferrazzi and Godin alone.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Stewart came to the management consulting industry straight out of college. Interestingly, his academic work was in philosophy and not management. Needing money, he submitted a resume to a management consulting firm and much to his surprise was hired. As an "outsider", and particularly as a result of his philosophy education, Stewart brings unique insight to this field.
My own undergraduate work was a BBA and in the thirty-some years since then I have kept up with developments in management during the course of a law practice that often involved advising businesses. This book challenges everything I thought I had learned about management.
The book is structured around Stewart's own foray into the management consulting industry. He discloses the way the industry works, the outrageous fees that are charged, and the worthlessness of the advice. I have no experience that would qualify me to evaluate those claims.
The entire "science" of management, according to Stewart, is truly only pseudoscience. Beginning with Frederick Taylor and Elton Mayo and progressing through Peter Drucker and Tom Peters, Stewart reveals in great detail the methodological fallacies of management theory and its shaky foundation in pseudoscience.
Stewart maintains that "management" belongs more properly in the humanities and in particular to the study of philosophy. "Management theorists lack depth," he writes, "because they have been doing for only a century what philosophers and creative thinkers have been doing for millennia."
The danger of modern management, Stewart contends, is that it offers pretended technological solutions to what are basically moral and political problems. When this happens, "it conjures an illusion ... about the nature and value of management expertise" and makes it harder to check the abuses of corporate power. "Above all," he writes, "it contributes to a misunderstanding about the sources of our prosperity, leading us to neglect the social, moral and political infrastructure on which our well-being depends."
Considering the economic scandal and crisis into which modern managers have led this country, his thesis deserves careful consideration. I will be watching for rejoinders to Stewart's thesis by others in the management field.
The book was enjoyable and entertaining to read. I will be pondering its thesis for a long time to come.
I believe the book would have been more useful if, as a conclusion, Stewart had provided more insight into the best way to learn to practice good management. However, he does make suggestions regarding business education.
As a university professor guiding MBA and Doctor of Management courses, I encourage only my more capable and thoughtful students to read "The Management Myth." Why?
It is because in this book, Matthew Stewart correctly points out and supports that management is not a science and is too often pursued as a fad. Using many examples, he convinces that a good person educated in almost any subject can be a successful manager in business. Plainly said, Bill Gates, a college dropout, is not an aberration.
What is needed to be a manager, Stewart says astutely, is critical thinking and a propensity to ethical behavior -- not some knowledge of whatever methods are in current vogue at business schools.
If you want to know more of how to achieve success in business and other organizations, and you can accept innovative thinking, read "The Management Myth."
Now, full disclosure: I do have a management degree from one of those prestigious business schools Stewart excoriates, and I was one of those corporate executives that he takes shots at. I'm far from a rah-rah supporter of MBAs and unfettered capitalism, however, and I agree with the starting points of Stewart's criticisms: management is not a science; you can't run a business from a strategic model; management consultants often know less than the people they are advising; and MBAs sometimes overestimate the value of their degree. I do not agree with his conclusion, however, that "business schools as they are presently constituted are at best superfluous", or that there is no value in strategic analysis.
Stewart's chapters on the history of "management science" are both educational and misleading. While you will learn and laugh with Stewart about how unscientific and even fraudulant the pioneers of "scientific management" sometimes were, you will also be led to believe that modern business schools still uncritically teach those ideas. You will learn something about how business strategy became "a modern, professional discipline, bound up in lengthy textbooks, purveyed by consultants, and practiced within elite departments of large corporations," but Stewart would have you believe that business school graduates revere these textbooks as gospel revelations of timeless truth, and that naïve CEOs receive them as such, rather than as the contextually and temporally-bounded conceptual tools they are.
Good management, Stewart contends, is a personal art that can't be learned in school. In other words, reading Michael Porter at Harvard isn't sufficient to make a great executive, any more than reading Sun Tzu at West Point is sufficient to make a great officer. Well, duh! Stewart concedes that training in subjects like accounting, corporate finance, and marketing can be useful, but that such training is no substitute for a broad education and real-world experience. Wow! What an insight! Perhaps the business schools should consider prior education and work experience in their admission policies!
The intellectual content of an MBA, according to Stewart, could be communicated in a "three-week mini-MBA" within a liberal arts college, "to hone spreadsheet skills, review basic financial analysis techniques, and master some of the business jargon." Furthermore, he suggests, this would be preferable to the corrosive effect of business school on the moral fiber of students. Stewart references a Business Week story about a "recent" Aspen Institute study by telling us that upon entering business school students "cherished noble ambitions" to serve customers and "otherwise contribute to the progress of human kind," but by the time of graduation they "were convinced that the only thing that matters is increasing shareholder value." In fact, the referenced 2001 Aspen Institute survey asked students to choose three of nine "primary responsibilities" of a company. Upon entering business school, 75% of students included "serve customers", 68% included "increase shareholder value," and 50% included "invest in employee growth and well-being." On exiting business school, "shareholder value" had increased share to 75%, but "serve customers" had also increased to 72% and "employee well being" stayed the same. "Produce useful products and services" lost share while social responsibility and legal compliance gained share. The 2001 survey was a single point in a time-series study; subsequent re-runs of the same survey by the Aspen Institute showed an even greater shift towards the social responsibilities. The shifting perceptions of business school students is interesting and bears discussion, but does not justify Stewart's statements. Stewart's mis-representation of this research is representative of his cavalier attitude towards research in general -- it's so much easier just to wing it.
A business school education is just two school years out of a lifetime, and strategy models are just concepts that can sometimes help a manager think about things. I enjoyed learning these concepts, but they were just a small part of my two year business graduate degree at MIT. I never hired a management consultant, and never confused a model with the real world, but I did find some of those conceptual tools useful during my business career. Stewart vastly overstates the gulf between science and art: it is true that management is more art than science, but scientists still struggle to apply theories into a complex, evolving world, and even artists can find value in concrete methods and conceptual models. Puffery can be found in every academic institution and in every business setting, but that doesn't mean schools have no value or that all management consultants are con-men.
Stewart saves special scorn for evangelical "gurus" who write best-selling "business excellence" books based on platitudes and overgeneralizations. The joke is on the reader who doesn't realize that Stewart is mirroring their techniques to write this anti-business, anti-intellectual rant, targeted at the same frustrated middle managers! Stewart is laughing all the way to the bank.
Matthew Stewart has found his strategic niche. He can bill himself either as a former management consultant who writes about philosophy or as a philosopher who writes about management. Like a true consultant he adapts to meet his client's (reader's) needs. The audience for his current production, The Management Myth, is likely to be somewhat different from that for his last volume, an appealing interpretation of the reaction of Leibniz to Spinoza (The Courtier and the Heretic, 2006).
In The Management Myth Stewart argues that management is not a science, and might be better thought of as an extension of the humanities. He seeks to debunk several icons in the history of management thought (most notably Frederick Taylor and Elton Mayo), popular contemporary management gurus (Tom Peters, Michael Porter, and others), business education (the Harvard MBA program and the like), and the management consulting business. Mostly he succeeds, in a very entertaining and often amusing way.
The chapters alternate between those that carry the substance of Stewart's argument and autobiographical pieces that recount episodes from his consulting career (which covered about ten years). This works quite well, I believe, helping to maintain human interest throughout. Stewart is cynical about his consulting employment from the outset, as you might expect from someone with no background in business who gets the job primarily because he impressed the recruiter with his educated guess about the number of pubs in Britain. Anyone who has been a management consultant or employed consultants will likely find much that is recognizable in Stewart's experiences.
Stewart is not the first to be critical of most of the targets he selects, as a perusal of his "Selected References" and ""Bibliographical Appendix" will confirm. His strength resides in his packaging at least as much as in his originality.
Overall he is convincing in his conclusion that much of what passes for the supposedly systematic discipline of "management" consists of "nonfalsifiable tautologies, generic reminders, and pompous maxims." He takes aim at Tom Peters' mega-seller Excellence, for instance, and charges that the evidence is all anecdotal and that several of the touted companies soon ran into difficulties. Yet that did not limit the influence of the book, and in the 1990s one could find several other leading consultants advocating its "lessons," a few of which were ostensibly best epitomized by Enron.
The generally hyperbolic tone of his criticisms, however, seems not fully justified (although it enlivens the reading). Stewart himself concedes that "Most managers, consultants, and MBAs ... are good people and do good work." In spite of his mostly negative evaluations of their output, he finds at least some value in the work of several of the theorists and gurus he covers. He allows that Mayo, for example, was correct that management is all about people, even though no "science of human relations" was required to achieve the insight; instead, such wisdom "comes to us either by virtue of being alive or with the aid of an ethical education." Even platitudes can often help motivate people to do the right things, Stewart recognizes.
"A good manager is nothing more or less than a good and well-educated person," Stewart declares -- that is, the very outcome that was the aim of classical philosophy, just as he studied it at Oxford.
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