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Book Review

The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting It Wrong

Matthew Stewart (2009), W. W. Norton Company ($27.95)

©  Fred Nickols 2015

 

After reading the closing paragraph in Stewart’s book I jotted down a single word at the end of my notes: Wow!  I then jotted down what seemed to me to be his major points:

·         Frederick Winslow Taylor was a huckster.

·         Elton Mayo was a fraud.

·         Management is not and, as far as people are concerned, can never be a science.

·         Strategic planning is a waste.

In addition to the bulleted zingers cited in the first paragraph above, Stewart also skewers the MBA degree and its holders, pointing out that those who hold an MBA are regularly rated lower than their peers who don’t have an MBA.  Nor does Stewart exempt CEOs and management gurus; all are taken to task, including the likes of Tom Peters, Gary Hamel and even Peter Drucker.

As Stewart as was leaving graduate school for his new-found consulting career, a professor asked him over lunch, “How can so many who know so little make so much by telling other people how to the jobs they are paid to know how to do?”  But as Stewart points out, consultants’ pay, no matter how handsome, is chicken feed to their CEO clients.   Perhaps that answers the professor’s question.

Stewart asserts that management is “a neglected branch of the humanities, and that the study of management belongs, if anywhere, to the history of philosophy.”  He continues, “For almost a century, a very different view of the nature of management has held sway in business schools and among management theorists and consultants.”  He then makes clear his aim for the book:  “to trace the genealogy of this [mistaken] idea, to expose its flaws, and to replace it.”  That “mistaken” view of management Stewart aims to expose and replace is that of management as “a kind of technology – a bundle of techniques based on scientific observation, tended by experts, and transferable to students.”  Continuing this line of thought, Stewart writes that this mistaken idea of management “has sent us on a mistaken quest to seek scientific answers to unscientific questions.”  In essence, when it comes to management, Stewart says we’ve got it all wrong and he aims to set things right.  The balance of the book is devoted to that end and it is well worth reading.

In the end, Stewart concludes that a good manager (or a good consultant for that matter) is nothing more (or less) than “a good and well-educated person.”  Ah, would that it were that simple.

 As an aside, a glance through my notes confirms an impression I developed along the way: Never before have I encountered in a single book so many words that were new to me and that drove me to my dictionary to determine their meaning.  By count, the words I had to go look up numbered 20 so, at the very least, Stewart’s book served to enlarge my vocabulary.  The usefulness of that exercise remains to be seen.

Stewart’s book weighs in at 343 pages but 40 of those are taken up by a list of references, an appendix and the index.  The 303 pages of text are an easy and pleasant read.  Stewart’s prose is relaxed and straightforward (despite being dotted with words like “rebarbative” and “chthonic”).  The book is also liberally laced with fascinating anecdotes and characters.

And what about all those words that drove me to my dictionary?  Well, here’s the list: rebarbative, metonymy, irenic, transubstantiating, homonymy, simulacrum, orphic, deracination, manqué, interlocutors, meretricious, perspicuous, risibly, copestone, concupiscent, otiose, anodyne, encomium, chthonic, maleficent.  Of those 20 words, eight were somewhat familiar to me but 12 were brand-new.

Perhaps it was being driven to the dictionary so often that gave me a degree of perverse pleasure in spotting two typos in Stewart’s book.  On page 117, Stewart writes, “The interview data, naturally, was easy enough to discard.  “Were” should have been used in place of “was.”  I know, that’s nit-picking.  However, on page 233 “may” appears instead of “my” thus altering “I did it my way” to “I did it may way.”

Anyway, in the end, Stewart’s book is worth reading.

 

Product Details

Link to Stewart's Book on Amazon.com

 

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This page last updated on June 27, 2015