Monday, August 31, 2009

Daily Thoughts 8/31/2009

This picture was taken by David M. Alexander in the early 1980s on Jack Vance's boat in San Francisco Bay. Alexander has hereby released his copyright to the picture and has placed it in the public domain to be used for any purpose and by anyone who wants to use it, as long as he is credited as being the photographer. Hayford Peirce 20:16, 3 April 2006 (UTC)

Daily Thoughts 8/31/2009

This morning I was at the mechanics for my car inspection which passed. I sat in the waiting room and finished reading The Management Myth and The Practice of Management. I even had a chance to write the rough drafts on my thoughts on these two books. The waiting room had coffee, but no donuts. I guess they are trying to save money.

The Management Myth Why The Experts Keep Getting It Wrong by Matthew Stewart.

Matthew Stewart has a Ph.D. in philosophy. This is both the story of how he became a business consultant and a critique of the practice of business management. Mr. Stewart uses his background to attack the foundations of management theory initially focusing on Frederick W. Taylor and Elton Mayo, both who are considered to be cornerstones of the concept of "scientific management." He does not critique Edward Deming or Peter Drucker, however.

The book can be funny, pointed, and acerbic. He has quite a bit of bile for consulting. He makes some very irreverent claims; the moment a consultant says the word strategy you start paying money and the real purpose of consulting is to do the things which a company cannot do by itself but knows needs to be done. There are points where the book became hard to read because there was so much angst.

We learn about hunting whales or clients flush with cash. Simple principles like the Pareto or the 80/20 Principle allow consultants to create self evident truths they can charge for. The world of consulting that Matthew Stewart describes is one of excessive pay, venality, and a focus on short term business gains above all else.

The book attacks many of the accepted ideas in business. He points out most business gurus rely on past data from successful companies to make their points, there is a utopian streak in the idea that workers will accept lower pay and higher performance, and points out numbers often don't predict the future.

If you can take a lot of angst, black humor, and a story of greed and lawyers you may like this book. Matthew Stewart ultimately successfully sued his employer for not paying him to be let go from his consulting practice. If you also want a very pointed attack on the underlying assumption that business management is reasonable and an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) is useful read this book. It pricks and deflates many assumptions.

The Practice of Management by Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker claims to be the father of modern management practice. When reading his books, his ideas come across as being authoritative and sensible. They also seem more philosophical to me than anything else. A lot of his thoughts are focused on ethics. They also seem to have become the standard practice in many modern corporations. I am not sure this is completely a good thing. If you read books on Japanese lean manufacturing and Edward Deming's quality circles, they are very different than what Mr. Drucker is saying.

You can quote what Peter Drucker is saying very easily, he is a wonderful communicator. Some quotes are "In hiring a worker one always hires the whole man," and "Whatever the manager does he does through making decisions." These quotes have a nice feeling to them.

Peter Drucker focuses on iconic American companies that were very successful in his time, General Motors, Ford, IBM, and Sears. Now, General Motors and Sears are not doing so well, but they were excellent at that time in history. The book shows how things change. As ideas are adopted they are built on further.

We learn about the place for the professional in the scheme of management as well as the worker and manager. We learn a lot of truisms like managers must manage. There is little that can be directly refuted. There is also a slightly utopian streak. People should work at peak performance and money is not the best motivator for employees. These are common beliefs held by many managers.

If you want to understand many of the ideas behind management practice read Peter Drucker. You may not agree with it, but it seems to set a standard for business practice across industries.

I spent quite a bit of time reading both of these books. They are often quite insightful. A lot of it is just learning the language which is being spoken. I think sometimes when you read this material, it helps clarify what people are saying. There is a professional language attached to business administration and public administration degrees which often uses coded meanings which are not always apparent to people who are line workers or professionals.

I spent some time this evening reading a bit of Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I also have the novel, Fire by Kristin Cashore on hold. Both of these are young adult fantasy novels.

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