In an earlier post, I called for IT Enlightenment rather than an IT Renaissance. Going back to classical roots, a rebirth is not feasible given the evolving nature and capacity of technology. Rather than looking for a return to the past, we need an enhanced understanding of the nature of information, technology and human society. One of the areas requiring enlightenment is the ‘science of management and business’.
The Enlightenment gave rise to natural science as superstition and disjointed observations gave way to more rigorous and scientific disciplines. Alchemy became chemistry, for example. We need a similar transformation of what is loosely called ‘management science’ to discover the models and describe how the world works when it ‘extended’ by information, technology, society, environment, energy, individuals, etc.
Two steps back to make a leap forward
I believe that this requires a retrograde movement. Going back into the metaphysical to move forward and lay down the principles and ideas of management disciplines. Examining the fundamental relationships between things, or their metaphysics, sounds like a retreat from meta-management science we have now. Those disciplines including IT, HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Strategy, Change Management and Management itself are based on a foundation laid down at the turn of the 20th century when the telephone was the disruptive technology of the age.
Management disciplines require a fundamental re-examination in the light of new technology intensive environment, new requirements to create comprehensive value and a deeper understanding of our behaviors. Existing management technologies like: Taylorism, divisionalization, double entry accounting, mass marketing and workforce management approaches are incomplete for the society we live in and they become even less complete as that society moves forward.
Here are a few of those beliefs and fundamentals that are in general practice, feel free to add to them.
- Human beings are resources that can be organized, evaluated and treated like other resources such as raw materials or energy. Such an approach worked for an environment where work was semi-skilled and productivity gains accrued to workers, less so in a world of judgment work.
- Information is property whose value is proportional to the degree it is protected. The tighter controls on the property, the more valuable it is assumed to be. Increasingly information is a flow not a stock. Information flows create value only when it is in motion not when they are locked away.
- Technology enables the business by automating and integrating the work and processes previously done by hand. Technology was applied to administrative and back office tasks, but increasingly lightweight technologies do much more than automate, they amplify.
- Financial value is the only value that matters, if it cannot be assigned a direct cost then it does not exist. This flies in the face of an increasingly more sophisticated marketplace that seeks a more comprehensive definition of value. In addition, reducing non-financial issues – like environmental impact – into financial terms often distorts behavior and produces negative effects.
- The Firm is an individual actor, independent and isolated in a marketplace. The idea that the firm’s boundary is insoluble and absolute has proven to be dangerous as it isolates and insulates rather than engages and enlightens.
- Effective change is a function of communication, time and the elimination of alternatives. As one executive from Statoil in Norway told me, if you leap from a burning platform, you die either from the fall or from hypothermia. Change as a form of coercion needs to change.
These are just a few ideas about where we have to go back in order to move forward to create a new science of management. I believe that the farther we go back, the more we look at the fundamentals, the deeper the insight we will find and the farther we will be able to move forward. Going back to re-root management, not in classical theory, but in an evolving understanding of the innate complexity, adaptability and agility will go a long way to enlightening the way we create, operate and transform organizations.
Management theory and science will incorporate disciplines that we now consider separate and only tangentially related. An enlightened management science is fundamentally human and incorporating social, psychological and physiological sciences. Perhaps bringing all of this together into a single discipline is simply too much. It probably is, but we need a new approach to management if we are go find new solutions to complex problems and issues.
Defining management can be difficult, but I like Gary Hamel’s description of management as the discipline of human achievement. It is a definition that reflects our human desire to achieve, our ability to apply new tools and technologies, and our desire to create organizations that go beyond constant calls for better leadership.