Wanted: Managers Who Think

Dave Snowden makes the daring suggestion that management education should teach managers to think. I’m not sure what Dr David Vaine would make of that, nor of Dave’s slighting reference to the “factory consulting” model. But Dave’s post connects nicely to a post last month by Olivier Amprimo of Headshift, which I’ve been meaning to blog for a while… suggesting that there’s a more subtle dynamic behind the suppression of tacitness (and with it thinking) in modern business:

“Corporations rely on specialisation, outsourcing and tacitness. Specialisation is here to manage complexity, outsourcing here to evacuate complexity and tacitness here to hide complexity. It is not perfect. Specialisation impeaches getting the big picture. Outsourcing concretely relocates knowledge out of the organisation. Tacitness prevents management as “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” and favours egocentric “political” games. Besides those defaults, it offers managers a simple life (and very similar to the one of a Museum keeper).”

One of the consequences of this is that technology is always favoured over real consulting (read: thinking things through with people and implementing changes in practices and processes).

Olivier uses the metaphor of a Museum (which is how many organisations are managed, as if they are static arrays of artefacts) and a Zoo (a complex and dynamic environment full of living creatures). Read the full post to get the full argument. I’ve blogged in a similar direction before. But what’s the answer? Dave’s new age MBA programme? Or is this problem more than just education?

1 Comment so far

Olivier Amprimo

Thanks Patrick for mentioning the zoo and congratulations for you patience in reading it!

I do think that you can’t change the organisation if you don’t change the education that feeds it. That is the laying assumption of my post as you have pointed it right away.

The majority of B-schools went down a dangerous road at different levels:

1 - their conception of education.
“Technics first” leads to all the craziness we witness behind and outside the firewall. The more powerful the organisation, the more it has to focus on values and strategy.

2 - their conception of performance.
B-Schools are ranked and accredited by American standards that do not take into account the history and subjectivity of each B-School and the culture they live in. That’s the goal of standards after all. Where this starts to become crazy is that a majority of B-Schools change their program and recruitment to meet those standards. What’s performance? Providing students with the right set of insights and techniques to manage properly an organization and its relation with the ecosystem or Meeting questionable US standards? From EM Lyon to CEIBS (to mention two B-School I personally know), the majority of B-School leaders acknowledge the second option. That’s wrong, we have to get rid of those chains and remember that if HBS and MIT are two leading university is because they favored knowledge before consensus.

3 - their conception of scientificity. To meet US accreditation standards, most B-Schools employ researchers that have hardly worked in a private corporation but are professionals of methodologies and epistomologies. Let’s be clear about that: 1) any single methodology and epistemology can be questioned, 2) managers want down-to-earth answers to issues they face, not lengthy papers on methodology (ie research paper as of now). Scientists have to make a decision and a distinction. Either they write for their community (monks) or for different people. They have to write differently depending on the readership they target or they are bound to produce stuff that no one understands and takes into consideration. They have to figure out what is their job and their value added to the community.

So what we have a stake here is rebooting the B-School system. If we want that, some day, the enterprise looks different and takes a better care of knowledge-related issues, we have to work on the way we educate future leaders. Dave’s answer definitely is words of wisdom.

That is no surprise: if you want to change things, you have to change people in command.
This is exactly why the concept of “Enterprise 2.0” does not work in real life despite some successful social computing implementations.

So yes: let’s go for a new age MBA program, in which in addition to management techniques, we have bits of a bigger picture (history, philosophy ...)

Posted on April 21, 2008 at 08:40 PM | Comment permalink

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