Thursday, March 17, 2005

"The map is not the territory"
(or "We need more maps!")

Sumantra Ghoshal wrote an excellent, thought-provoking article entitled Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices. If you're involved in business as a practitioner, teacher, or student, I encourage you to read it. Read it to the end, for you don't get the entire message in bits (I tried :-).

In essence, he argues that management, led by business schools, have adapted a very narrow focus on what constitutes acceptable scholarship, and he further argues that this focus has harmed business and people by restricting the notion of "good management" to bad practices. At its core, it's an argument for pluralism in approaches ("more maps") to avoid the narrow focus that can blind us to important aspects of reality.

On p. 87, he says that "only business school academics" can offer a way out. I think that those of us engaged in business can play a key role, too. Perhaps he is, as I am, suggesting similar approaches: attend to our own contribution to a problem first (he was an academic) before criticizing others. I think we can help by setting our own examples of the good ways to run businesses. As much as he argues for the role of free will and intention in management, letting business off the hook until business schools get it right seems to deny that claim. If business schools see more examples of better ways of managing, they'll likely begin to study those ways more seriously.

Sure, it's hard. I claim I believe in the importance of companies allowing for balanced lives, and then I work too many hours. You may have your own examples.

There are excellent examples, though. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard (disclaimer: I'm a member of the HP Alumni Association) started a new and revolutionary approach to management at Hewlett-Packard.
I heard Jackie Freiberg talk earlier this month about a number of examples out of Guts!, the book she and her husband, Kevin, wrote: USAA, SAS, Southwest Airlines, Planet Honda, and others.

For all of us, it seems as if a strong focus on values, an openness to new ideas, a willingness to look at issues through a variety of lenses, and maybe even guts are all important.

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