Jack Covert Selects - The Management Myth
August 19, 2009
The Management Myth: Why the "Experts" Keep Getting It Wrong by Matthew Stewart, W. W. Norton & Company, 352 Pages, $27.
In 1988, newly out of college with a degree in nineteenth-century German philosophy, Matthew Stewart needed a job. During a game of pool in a pub, he heard about new graduates being hired by prestigious consulting firms for big bucks. To prepare for his first interview, the author spent two weeks reading the Financial Times and Tom Peters and Bob Waterman's In Search of Excellence in order to master "management speak." Despite his thin resume, he was hired and went on to guide corporations and CEOs in the ways of business management for years. In The Management Myth, Stewart—who wrote a 2006 article for The Atlantic with the same title—shines a critical light on the industry and suggests that, to succeed in management, it is often better to have a degree in the humanities than an MBA.
Stewart posits that management theory is simply an attempt to create a science out of something that is more variable—more human. And he contends that effort often results in platitudes and "no duh" moments of wisdom, and very little useful advice. He writes:
"I reopen Jim Collins' Good to Great to a random page and find, for example, that 'all good-to-great companies began a process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.' So true! But then, what is the alternative? Achieving greatness by clinging to fanciful delusions about current reality?"Other management mavericks, such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Tom Peters, also get taken to task by Stewart.
There have been other books that have tried what Stewart does here—pointing out the lack of attire worn by the touted management emperors—but nobody, in my opinion, has come close to having this much fun poking holes in the esteemed category. More importantly, Stewart shows us that good management does not belong to an elite group, and instead, that we can learn management skills from the humanists and the philosophers all around us.