Without a doubt, the most impactful (and depressing) management book I’ve read over the past few decades is Matthew Stewart’s “The Management Myth“. In his unforgettable masterpiece, Mr. Stewart interweaves his personal rise-and-fall story as a highly paid management consultant with the story of the development of management “science” during the 20th century. Both tracts are highly engaging, thought-provoking, and as I said, depressing reads.
At the end of this post, I’m gonna present a passage from Matt’s book that compares the Winslow and Mayo approaches to “scientific” management. But before I do, I feel the need to provide some context on the slots occupied by Winslow and Mayo in the annals of management “science“.
The Taylor Way
Frederick Winslow Taylor is considered by most to be the father of “scientific” management. In his management model, there are two classes of people, the thinkers (managers) and the doers (workers). Thinkers are elites and workers are dumbasses. By increasing piece/hour pay, Taylor’s model can be used to mechanistically increase efficiency, although it doesn’t come for free. Executed “scientifically“, the increase in labor cost is dwarfed by the increase in profits.
The Mayo Way
Elton Mayo, although not nearly as famous as Doug MacGregor (the eloquent theory X and X guy who I liked very much before reading this obscene book), is considered to be one of the top “scientists“, and perhaps creator of, the human relations branch of management (pseudo)science. In Mayo’s management model, there are also two classes of people, the thinkers (managers) and the feelers (workers). Thinkers are also elites, but workers are bundles of emotions. By manipulating emotions, Mayo’s model can be used to “humanely” increase efficiency. But unlike the reviled, inhumane, Taylor model, the efficiency gains from Mayo’s “nice” model are totally free. A double win! Productivity gains in an ethical manner with no additionally incurred financial cost to the dudes in the head shed. Management is happy and the workery is a happy, self-realized community. W00t!
OK, now with the context in place, here’s the passage I promised:
Mayo’s drive for control makes Taylor look like a placard-waving champion of the workingman. The father of scientific management may have referred to his workers as “drays” and “oxen,” but with his incentive-based piece-rate systems he nonetheless took for granted that these beasts of burden had the capacity to make economic decisions for themselves on the basis of their material self-interest. In Mayo’s world, however, the workers of the world lack this basic rational capacity to act in their own self-interest. – Stewart, Matthew (2009-08-10). The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong (p. 135). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
When I first read that passage, it sent an uncomfortable shiver down my spine. Was it as good for you as it was for me?
Shoving all the preceding BD00 drama aside, I’d rather be happy (and duped?) making $XXXX than be miserable making the same amount. I just wish that badass Matt didn’t throw his turd in my damn punchbowl!
In case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been relentlessly railing lately against the guild of agile coaches on Twitter, this post exposes my main motivational force. From what I’ve seen, the coaching community rarely, if ever, thinks or speaks or writes about where the fruits of their so-called 400% efficiency improvements end up. They either auto-assume that the tropical delights are doled out fairly, or the topic is taboo; undiscussable (RIP Chris Argyris).
Take a guess at which CEO recently made all these inspirational statements:
- “Overall I am very pleased with the progress we have made, but we still have a lot of work to do to drive consistent execution and navigate a rapidly shifting marketplace.”
- “We saw improved sales in our mainstream XXXXX business, but we need to improve our pricing discipline and profitability,”
- “We saw improved sales execution, a strong hyper-scale quarter, and stabilization in XXXXX complimented by revenue growth in YYYYYYY”
- “We improved our share position in all three regions”
- “We continue to manage the end-to-end cost structure of our XXXXX business with profitability very much in mind.”
- “Looking forward we will stay committed to smart capital allocation and profitable growth.”
- “As we said at our security analyst meeting last month, we believe we can grow both margin and share over the longer term. We’ll continue to be aggressive in targeted cases, but we have more opportunity to improve our profitability”
If you’re expecting an answer from BD00, then fuggedaboud it. You can pick any CEO because the vast majority of C-execs speak in this same tongue. But ya know what? Despite the standard BD00 sarcasm oozing from this post, the “system” demands that somebody do it; and I’m thankful that those who do it, do do it. I wouldn’t want to do it. In addition to not fitting into the physical and psychological profiles required by the C-level community, it’s not my cup of tea.
If you’re a student (or self-proclaimed/credentialed “expert“) of institutional behavior, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of Doug MacGregor‘s famous Theory X and Theory Y worldviews regarding social attitudes within organizations. And, if you’re a manager that’s not into political suicide, you at least publicly espouse allegiance to the more ethically pleasing Theory Y view.
Well, in “The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong“, philosopher-turned-business-consultant-returned-philosopher Matt Stewart concocts an interesting, but perhaps more pragmatic, Theory T:
Theory T (for tragic): Some degree of conflict is inherent in all forms of social organization. Sometimes the self is at odds with the community, sometimes the community is at odds with itself, and sometimes, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, it’s a war of all against all. – Matt Stewart
Perhaps shockingly, but not totally out of the realm of possibility, Matt concludes:
It (Theory Y) is an attempt to trick our ethical intuitions— that is, to make workers believe that they are being well treated when in fact they are being exploited.
In this unsettling but thought-tickling view, Mr. Stewart asserts that the aim of both the bad-X and good-Y theories is to ultimately exploit the workery, but only Theory X is transparently upfront about it.
My twitter bio reads: “Fumbling, bumbling, stumbling, exploring, discovering, and being. So many ings!“. As that “ing-ful” first sentence implies, I’m always poking around for new ideas and alternative ways of looking at various aspects of the world. To BD00, ing-ing one’s way through life is a big part of really living life itself. Life is too short to stop ing-ing. But hey, it’s just badass BD00′s opinion; it doesn’t have to be yours.
When I first discover some novel and interesting work from someone I never heard of before, my levels of excitement and curiosity rise. I then dive a little deeper into the work in an honest attempt at ferreting out and understanding the real foundational substance of the work. If (heaven forbid!) I judge a newly discovered work as “meh“, then I move my attention onward toward the next adventurous expedition. There’s no sense in wasting time on something that doesn’t tingle my nerve endings with new meaning. Again, life is too short, no?
If (heaven forbid!) I judge that a newly discovered work is “good” or “bad“, then I get hooked and my current mental models of the world get rattled to an extent proportional to the work’s influence over me. Hell, my mental model(s) may even move off their concrete foundations a bit. In the areas of systems thinking and institutional behaving, the brilliant works of people like Deming, Ackoff, Argyris, MacGregor, Livingston, Warfield, Powers, Starkermann, Forrester, Meadows, Bateson, and Wheatley have considerably shaped my foundational views.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve decided to share with you below the relatively benign (compared to this people-oriented, blasphemous model) state transition diagram model of what I suppose goes on inside BD00′s forever ing-ing mind. As you can surmise, the external behaviors (speaking, writing) that I manifest while dwelling in the “sharing” state are bound to piss some people off. Also notice that, in homage to my man Shakespeare, I have inserted a “pausing” state in the model. It’s purpose, which doesn’t always get fulfilled, is to inhibit “the rush to judgment” malady that we all to some extent exhibit(?).
Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful – George Box
What does your thinking model look like? I’m especially interested in hearing from those of you who “think” you have transcended the innate human trait of judging objects – the set of which includes people. What would a world without judging look like? Would it be worth striving toward a world without any judging at all? Is it realistic to think there can be a world where people only judge “non-people” objects? BD00 doesn’t “think” so. D’oh!
My Twitter best-buddy tweeted this to me last night:
Sure enough, Richard was right:
D’oh! The production was performed covertly; totally unauthorized and unapproved by BD00 himself. An outrage!
At first, BD00 considered inflicting his powerful law firm (Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe) upon the masterminds behind the flick. But upon further inspection, BD00 decided to keep the dogs caged. He discovered that the movie portrayed him as a gentle giant (think Shrek) with unparalleled leadership skills (think Gandhi) and an aura of self-confident invincibility (think 007). Think multiple inheritance:
Since: the director obviously hit the nail on the head; the special effects are state of the art; and the cinematography is stunning, there will be no messy lawsuit or accompanying media frenzy.
When I first encountered the work of each of these three original thinkers, it blew me away. Their insights on organizational and management behaviors were like a breath of fresh air compared to the C-suite pandering, jargonized junk that business schools spew and pop business icons like Tom Peters promulgate (no offense Tom, I like some of your ideas).
Managers who are skilled communicators may also be good at covering up real problems – Chris Argyris
AFAIK, there’s nobody like this trio of intellectual giants left standing (maybe they’ve won?). There are, however, a handful of second string, accessible, truth-tellers out there. Henry Mintzberg, Sam Culbert, and Steve Denning come to mind. Who can you add to this list?