The problems with modern management

The past 25 years have seen unprecedented levels of education in the management workforce, and yet even before the recent financial crisis there had been unprecedented pessimism about growing the revenue line in a profitable way, according to Jack Springman in his book Elusive Growth: Why Prevailing Practices in Strategy, Marketing and Management Education are the Problem, Not the Solution. The book suggests that management education may in fact be part of the problem, and challenges some of the presuppositions that underpin management science, strategy and marketing.

Some of the controversial arguments made by the author:

  • Exponential growth in computing power has fuelled the consulting industry which provides more and more detailed analysis which improves operational effectiveness but weakens design thinking and creative strategy.
  • Much of what passes for scientific management is in fact bogus science, with inadequate sample sizes, data based on personal recollections rather than hard facts, and ample scope for the projection of pet theories onto highly amenable data sets.
  • The presumptions of rational behaviour underpinning management science have been proved untrue by behavioural economics, including such phenomena as balancing bias, framing, confirmation bias, bias towards certainty, anchoring, herding, and egocentricity.
  • There is no demonstrable correlation between people who study at business schools and those who are successful in business. This may be because business schools are run by professors and teach subjects which interest professors but which do not contribute to business success.
  • Strategy tends to be preoccupied with an adversarial mindset, condemning businesses to fighting over a shrinking pie rather than to finding new ways of creating value for customers.

It is of course much easier to criticise than it is to suggest something better. There is some validity in the author’s criticisms of MBA education, but most of those criticisms could equally be applied to almost any form of university education. I was not particularly attracted to the author’s proposed “Too Smart To Go To Business School” seven-day boot camp. I found the author’s rants about religion, greenies and postmodernism just a bit too far off topic for my liking. The author’s criticisms of unscientific management research are not themselves supported by any scientific data.

Notwithstanding these objections, there is plenty of content in the book to stimulate lively thought and discussion about numerous aspects of modern management.

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