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Management theory is becoming a compendium of dead ideas (economist.com)
254 points by fraqed on Dec 17, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 156 comments

The problem lies in business schools and degrees like the MBA.

Check out the faculty list at Harvard Business school [link below]. I randomly looked at profiles of 14 of them and not a single one had real world business experience. If there are any who do have real world experience, it's often superficial.

To carry on this article's analogy, business schools are the Catholic church of 1500: incestuous, detached, and self-serving.

Harvard Busisness school faculty: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/browse.aspx

I went to business school (top European) as part of my engineering degree.

They actually do make a point of mentioning that there's more than one philosophy of management. For instance, in the Germanic world, it's common to promote managers from the ranks of whatever business is being managed, whereas it's a bit of an anglo thing to have a "manager" who is somewhat business agnostic.

But of course there's a problem. If you tell people they need specific experience in the car industry to be a car industry manager, or as a software dev to manage devs, then WTF are you doing in a business school? Especially as an undergrad? You gonna manage the student bar?

So then when it comes to all the case studies, you have to kid yourself that what happened to Betamax in the 1980s is going to be relevant to you in 2016. It's interesting to read all this historical "strategy" stuff, but the students I hung out with (being engineers, technically competent and skeptical of BS) tended to see them as something akin to a history class. Sure there are lessons, but a lot of it is just interpretation and conjecture. Nothing in it with the rigour of an engineering course.

As to why MBAs are useful, it seems it's really a question of signalling. If you pay a few hundred grand in fees, rent, and opportunity cost to do an MBA, you probably have some motivation. And there is some value in generic management; not every line of business requires deep technical knowledge, and those are fine for hiring some guy who's happy to work long hours and fly around a lot. It's a problem for something like software dev though.

Excellent points.

> whereas it's a bit of an anglo thing to have a "manager" who is somewhat business agnostic

I now see this as a piece of a self-justifying ideology:


A while back I read an eye-opening book called "Confronting Managerialism: How the Business Elite and Their Schools Threw Our Lives Out of Balance". [1] They see US-style management as a primarily a caste system.

One of the odd things about business in the US is that most people can't even conceive that there are other approaches to business beyond the standard US MBA dogmas. Even when those other approaches clearly are successful, and even when one's ass is getting kicked by somebody using them.

E.g, Amazon, which has been crushing competitors for nearly 20 years by ignoring short-term numbers and focusing on creating long-term customer value. Or Toyota, which went from a nearly-bankrupt company in war-ravaged Japan to the world's dominant car maker using a totally different philosophy of business. Toyota even took one of GM's worst plants as part of a joint venture and made it one of the best ones, but GM couldn't absorb the lessons. This American Life did a very moving piece about that plant. [2]

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Confronting-Managerialism-Business-Ec...

[2] https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/561

>>One of the odd things about business in the US is that most people can't even conceive that there are other approaches to business beyond the standard US MBA dogmas. Even when those other approaches clearly are successful, and even when one's ass is getting kicked by somebody using them.

I appreciate the comment, but your Amazon example was jarring because it seems that HN does not like Amazon's culture in part due to the dominance of MBAs in the senior management ranks. This anecdata aligns with graduation numbers across some of the top 20 US business schools in 2015, and one would presume this leads to an overwhelmingly US MBA-centric Amazon management style, albeit one that may be different than "other" US MBA dogma.[1]

[1] http://qz.com/636539/amazon-is-hiring-the-most-mbas-in-tech-...

Yeah, I don't know much about Amazon's internals. I'm pointing more at the way analysts have been saying for 15 years that Bezos isn't focused enough on quarterly profits, isn't returning enough to the shareholders, invests too much in long-term pipe dreams. But Kindle, AWS, and Prime have turned out to be giant competitive advantages.

They're not a good example because Amazon is full of MBAs at the middle management and even individual contributor level.

But I agree with the general point that 'conventional' business wisdom might not lead you to Amazon's strategy.

Thanks for the correction.

I'm more on the "managers need technical knowledge" side of things, but I think there is value in the professional manager.

Imagine you need someone to help support a team of compiler writers. The kind of support is mainly protecting the team from too much bullshit above, and also just making sure the team has what it needs (someone's gotta get those chairs for them).

How much compiler experience do you need? It definitely helps to know about the constraints of development (difficulty in measuring project length, need for longer periods of concentration), but apart from "street cred" coming from importing within, there's a good argument that someone who's managed across multiple industries will be good at absorbing the right stuff to manage well.

OTOH, if you promote from within, you might be getting someone with good potential. But they likely won't have management experience, and their job changed from "ship this product" to "make sure the team doesn't implode (also ship the product)". If you have the slack to handle the learning curve, it's good. But hiring experienced people for a job is useful.

100% agree abut absorbing lessons though. When you start off with a certain mindset, it takes a while to absorb a new one. But your job is to make the company run well, not to be an advocate for whatever you learned at school

The common approach in Silicon Valley is that everybody starts as a programmer. At some point, the career ladder bifurcates. Those who prefer to work with people issues become people managers, getting trained in related skills. (They often also work as tech leads, which is an in-between role, and for which smart companies also provide training.) Those who prefer technical issues keep rising up a technical ladder.

I think that's much more sensible than taking somebody who doesn't know much of anything, putting them in an MBA program, and then expecting them to have universal management mojo. So we're not talking about somebody who has managed across multiple industries. We're talking about somebody who, often, has managed across none.

I really don't believe managers from other industries can, on average, manage software teams. I thin software is too different from other kinds of labor. So many behaviors that are arguably reasonable in other industries are clearly catastrophic in software.

>Those who prefer technical issues keep rising up a technical ladder.

The issue being that technical ladder is usually much shorter than the related "people ladder".

Let's call it what it is. If you have the look and act like a hyper-politically-conscious MBA, they'll let you in the club of high-level corporate people that make millions of dollars. If you look like some nerd who hasn't had a tan since 1st grade, you're stuck to the top of the technical ladder, where you're lucky to get $135k ($250k for San Francisco/other high COL areas).

False dichotomy, dude. You can also look like Vint Cerf or Peter Norvig and be high-ranking high-paid Chief Scientists and the like.

The rules are different for luminaries in every field. We're talking about the career path for normal people. Even if your work is as high-quality as Cerf or Norvig, you can't command the salary because you don't have the name recognition. Google et al hire these types of people for recruitment/PR purposes as much as anything else.

It's quite plausible to be making 200k-300k (again, adjust as necessary for high CoL areas) + performance bonuses on a management career path. Normal technical workers cap out around $120k outside the Valley and somewhere in the vicinity of $200k in the Valley.

Things are different if you've gained notoriety by writing the book on AI, designing large chunks of the internet, or creating some of the world's most widely-used programming languages (van Rossum, Thompson, etc.).

The rest of us peons don't get an exception.

Are you just talking about salaries? Total compensation has been on the rise lately. Google and Facebook pay between $150-200k to new grads, and a senior programmer at either of these companies can get double that.

>Are you just talking about salaries?

Yes, because outside of AppAmaGooBookSoft and the ecosystem of venture-backed startups in the SV bubble (i.e., this is not applicable to venture-backed startups outside of that bubble), very few programmers get RSUs, signing bonuses, etc.

>Google and Facebook pay between $150-200k to new grads, and a senior programmer at either of these companies can get double that.

This is not representative of the career path, and the high dollar comp package is less impressive when you consider that these companies usually require their employees to be located in very high CoL areas like San Francisco or New York. Rent on an apartment in those cities will easily consume 35-40% of that salary. If you have a family and need a house, forget about it.

These companies are also reluctant to hire those without Ivy League pedigrees, which means most employees will have substantial student debt.

Sure, these salaries are not available at every company. I just wanted to outline a path for a competent (but not amazing) programmer to make >$200k outside the Valley without moving to a management role.

I'd love it if you could outline such a path that was reasonably repeatable.

I don't think "Become Vint Cerf" or "Become Peter Norvig" is practicable advice for your typical competent programmer to make > $200k outside of SV (or its satellites in Seattle, NY, and Cambridge). The success of Cerf, Norvig, et al has to do with timing, which is not replicable, as much as anything else (and both of these guys work for Google anyway, so they're not even examples of your point).

I've known a small handful of employed programmers who've had >$200k/yr success, normally working in uber-specialized niches for consulting firms that had large contracts with large companies (again, this is mostly the result of good timing more than anything else).

Barring that, in the real world outside the SV bubble, I've never heard of it. Orindary programmers who want to break out of wage slavery must either manage their money and save their salaries very carefully or become successful entrepreneurs (or both).

>someone's gotta get those chairs for them

This seems more like a job for an administrative assistant than a manager.

OP might mean something more like fighting the stupid "why do they need $800+ chairs instead of the cheap $100 ones we already have in storage?" questions coming from above.

>Toyota even took one of GM's worst plants as part of a joint venture and made it one of the best ones, but GM couldn't absorb the lessons. This American Life did a very moving piece about that plant.

Which was closed in 2010, and purchased by Tesla.

It's not that bad. Toyota Production System is taught as part of an MBA curriculum in better schools. Like it says in "Skunk Works", 2/3MBA=BS. The trouble is deciding which part that is. The best schools, in my experience, have realized that.

Most people I know with an MBA (which, granted, it's less than 10) got it after working for a few years in some industry (including software). The concept of a business school, and of gaining more general business/management knowledge that you can evaluate under your experience as a professional, seems reasonable.

Business shcool, as best i can tell, have elevated the operations of a widget factory to a religion. And thus MBAs everywhere attempt to turn every institution they are put to manage, into an assembly line to fit their religion.

Observe the insanity in health care, where patients are not people but raw materials to be put through the medical factory and turned into a finished, aka healed, product at the other end.

As much as one can criticize formal Business education, that's just not accurate. The operational side is not the main focus or even covered in depth. Pretty much every Business curriculum will start with a firm denunciation of Taylorism.

It's very interdisciplinary. Basically an amalgamation of psychology, sociology, anthropology and even philosophy in an organizational context. The soft-science status is very much acknowledged.

Personally, I'd even say far too often it strays into self-help territory.

There's just a natural bias towards Fortune-500-sized organizations.

Then why do i keep seeing orgs run on basic of "units shipped" when it makes zero sense to do so?

Practicality of management (as opposed to actual good management). This isn't really the fault of MBA, but rather the fault of office politics.

In a large modern corporation with a constantly revolving door, everyone moving their careers through that organization is looking out mainly for themselves. How does someone who has just moved into an executive level at a business he doesn't understand cope with all of the office politics around him? High performance big name people constantly looking out for promotions, bonuses, threatening to leave if their demands aren't met?

In the age when the owner of a business built that business up himself, knew how it worked, and knew the people he worked with, it came down to real experience. But in this new age of modern professional short term management, most of the people up and down the organizational chart don't really know anything about the depths of the business. So the only real solution is to simplify the business into "units shipped". If you can put simple numbers and KPIs on everything, you can tell right away who is valuable. Everyone now knows who is valuable.

It cuts down politics dramatically as everyone is now pulling in the same direction. Instead of one employee doing all the work being outshone by another employee who does nothing but brag about himself to new hires, you have real hard numbers. Everyone knows how to succeed - make some number go up.

Obviously this only works if the numbers actually align with the business. Most of the time, they actually do correlate, which is why this system continues to be used and why it makes profits go up. Does it correlate particularly well? Usually not. But it doesn't have to - the loss from the lack of correlation between reality and the simplified numbers merely has to be less than the lack of production from uncertainty and misalignment.

So "units shipped" wins out. What you really need to be blaming is the concepts of professional management and job hopping. I'm hopeful both of those concepts will be uprooted within a century or two by smaller, more focused, and more efficient companies. I believe the future of companies will be single person businesses with zero employees all linked to other single person businesses through an efficient market. With each business being owned, run and controlled by a single expert individual taking the optimal choices.

> What you really need to be blaming is the concepts of professional management and job hopping.

Then why can't I blame MBAs and MBA-producing business schools? The core theory of the MBA is that professional management can be taught divorced from the actual details of the industry. And the value of a credential is to permit job hopping. People who work their way up in a company don't need a credential to prove their worth.

> Most of the time, they actually do correlate, which is why this system continues to be used and why it makes profits go up.

In the short term, anyhow. They generally encourage long-term destruction, though, because that lets you juice the quarterly KPIs. That in turn fuels job hopping in that a) somebody gets to claim that they improved KPIs drastically, and b) there's a real incentive to get out before the bill comes due.

> And the value of a credential is to permit job hopping. People who work their way up in a company don't need a credential to prove their worth.

Many large companies prefer to promote from within, and require an MBA for promotion above a certain level. Many encourage their employees to get MBAs and help them pay for it, often with a commitment from the employee to remain at the company for some time after finishing the degree.

I suspect that's even worse. Requiring everybody to get 2 years worth of education is a lot, especially when it's same degree fresh-faced 25-year-olds get so they can join the ranks of management. A well-run company could look at an individual and say, "You should really improve your knowledge of X, go take this course." But requiring external validation of something they can evaluate internally is a sign of poor HR processes and poor personnel management.

Well you can blame them, but it won't solve anything. MBAs are filling a business 'need'. Professional management and all that it entails was going very strong before MBAs even came onto the field. If you removed all MBA programmes, I don't think anything would change - you'd still have professional management and revolving doors, you'd still have people chasing these same KPIs to the exclusion of customers.

My point was more that MBA is a symptom, or a result, of the real problem. And someone with an MBA is probably going to be a better manager than someone without. An originally good CEO who built a company is going to become better at his job if he gets an MBA. So the MBA itself does have value, as does all knowledge. It's just misused by many companies. Removing professional management and keeping MBAs would be far more positive than removing MBAs and keeping professional management, provided we had a real and workable alternative to professional management.

I disagree on pretty much all counts here.

I especially disagree with your proposition that people with MBAs are likely to be better at running businesses.

An engineer friend of mine went back for an MBA from a top school. He said the one non-obvious thing he learned in two years was the principle of comparative advantage. The rest was stuff he could figure out from first principles and a modest amount of thought. He said the real value to his career was the the networking with other young up-and-comers.

Moreover, not all knowledge is beneficial. A chunk of MBA training is in effect learning to be glib about business while sounding authoritative. That training might be beneficial to the degree-holder, but it can be harmful to others, including the company.

Or look at the extent to which a firm replete with Harvard MBAs totally destroyed a company while profiting handsomely: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/business/economy/05simmons...

I also don't think you can separate MBAs and professional management. The MBA is the infection vector for many of the worst ideas in management. It's also self-perpetuating: MBAs extract cash from companies and donate heavily to business schools, perpetuating both the ideas and the caste system.

>If you can put simple numbers and KPIs on everything, you can tell right away who is valuable. Everyone now knows who is valuable.

>It cuts down politics dramatically as everyone is now pulling in the same direction.

"Cutting down politics dramatically" is definitely not the effect I see out of a system that uses an algorithm to quantify each individual's value. These are fundamentally qualitative judgments that have far-reaching organizational and industry impact.

"Never trust a statistic you haven't faked yourself". When you tie success to a single metric (like PageRank, for instance), humans WILL find ways to game it. Important decisions should be computer-assisted, but humans are still needed to make real judgments.

You seem to be justifying the existing system that's been artificially manufactured by accountants, lawyers, and MBAs to keep them in a revolving-door of highly-paid executive and VP-level positions.

That we see nothing unusual about an accountant, lawyer, or academic being brought in to lead something he/she doesn't actually know anything about speaks volumes to how silly things have gotten. I would say that's a strong signal that we need to re-evaluate how we calculate value and qualifications.

I think they still have a place in for example manufacturing where it does make sense. I want to fix problems with things like Yishan-style CEOs though.

(For example) if you're publicly traded, having some sort of measurement of success is useful for your financial filings, so you can talk about progress.

VCs ask about Monthly Active Users all the time, even in business where that doesn't actually translate to anything. But numbers are usually easier to work with than a screed about "well, we saw more stuff happen than last year"

My experience working with 700 startups is the opposite. Founders who lead with an essay will systematically fail because they don't face reality. Founders who lead with numbers are far more likely to actually know what's happening with their business, and thus succeed more often.

You're just making the assumption that the behaviour you observed must represent what's taught in Business school.

I think it's just hard to get fired for taking the easy way out.

They're like a drunk looking for his keys under a lamppost because the light is better.

> Observe the insanity in health care, where patients are not people but raw materials to be put through the medical factory and turned into a finished, aka healed, product at the other end.

Quite the contrary, doctors prefer a personal approach and researchers have been trying to reign them in because the science is very clear: playing "by the book" and not over-personalizing diagnosis or care leads to better medical outcomes for everything but long term pain management and mental health care.

This is not MBAs run amok, that's people starting to listen to the science and act on it.

Now, if you want to see where things go wrong we'd look to how hospitals bill and suppliers set prices.

That is jumping from one extreme to another.

It is really immaterial how you or I want to interpret it when the data is quite clear.

Yep... and it all started in the 1920s with Taylorism - the idea that management could be a scientific process.

Taylorism is why, for example, some companies still use lines of code written as a measure of productivity.

You may appreciate my favorite Dijkstra quote:

[I]f we wish to count lines of code, we should not regard them as "lines produced" but as "lines spent": the current conventional wisdom is so foolish as to book that count on the wrong side of the ledger.

My favorite is from Bill Gates:

“Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight.”

It's appropriate on so many levels. Lines of code can be part of a measure of what has been accomplished, just like a heavy airplane is a great accomplishment so long as it flies. Yet we would never consider adding weight to be our goal.

The weight actually is a reasonable metrics.

It starts at zero and increases as the big pieces are added. It stops at a well defined number that is specified.

It might be for aircraft construction but not aircraft design. Since programmers aren't typists entering already-complete programs, programming is more asking to the latter, not the former. You want aircraft to be lighter and programs to be shorter, and measuring progress by movement in the opposite direction is foolish.

But weight relative to a final value is not a reasonable metric for completeness. It's discontinuous with irregular, changes, so it has no utility in predicting how long until completion, for instance.

Sometimes, it's enough to know that the project is progressing.

> My favorite is from Bill Gates:

> “Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight.”

Nice. And then we have Windows that needs dozens of gigabytes disk space and can do nothing useful at all, while debootstrapped Debian chroot can easily serve a dynamic website backed by a database and weigh two orders of magnitude less (minus the data, obviously).

The analogy is quite apt, but the context of the author's company makes the sentence hilarious.

Triggered :)

The fact that people do something stupid and attribute it to a scientific discipline which suggests they shouldn't do it does not discredit that discipline.

Similarly, the Ariane 5 disaster doesn't mean that the idea of measuring the physical world with science is wrong.

There's nothing wrong with Taylorism. It works very well in a variety of fields (e.g. Uber and Amazon use Taylorism very effectively to manage their line workers). The fields where Taylorism isn't used (e.g. software development) are far less reliable and effective - Amazon can guarantee that your package will arrive in 2 days, can you guarantee that your software team will ship on time?

I wouldn't say that Taylorism is why those workers succeeded.

I'd say that those workers were successful in spite of Taylorism. Don't fall into the trap in thinking that just because a methodology was applied, that it contributed to success.

The best evidence I can give in support of this is Deming:


Apparently Taylors report was unscientific at best http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/06/the-mana...

Lots of early physics was also not done very well, lots of fudges, etc. Does that discredit the idea of applying science to particle movements? Does Freud discredit the entire idea of psychiatry?

Physicists kept doing science, and it got better. Actual proper science has developed to the point where the computer I'm typing this on has a complex network of billions of logic gates which operates correctly billions of times a second. I can reasonably expect the CPU to continue to work for decades.

When managerial "scientists" can achieve anything even remotely comparable to that level of reliability and reproducibility, it will be time to take it seriously as a science. Until then, it just isn't one.

Many fields don't give that same level of reliability and reproducability; climate science, psychology and environmental engineering are all in the same boat. Guess none of them are sciences.

can you guarantee that your software team will ship on time?

Sure. At the company I work for, we almost always deliver on time. You don't need Taylorism to do that.

The fundamental idea of Taylorism isn't bad, it's just hugely overapplied and oversimplified. Using pure Taylorism in the 21st century is like using pure Freudianism. There have been plenty of more recent innovations. We could at least start with W Edwards Deming.

A difference is that Freud didn't put any particular stock in the scientific method. He said that his theories were proven by his "cures" (many of which have turned out to be bogus).

Even more so for contemporary education. Cohorts by age, class scheduling, testing, GPA.

Any learning that happens is in spite of Taylorism.

Google seems very Taylor.

<sarcasm>Us MBA's have stuff figured out. When I run your code through my mean-time-between-failures Excel spreadsheet analyzer, I can predict with 95% confidence how long it will be before programs running your code will crash. I'm also able to manage you as a knowledge worker, because like you, I am a developer; I wrote one of the VB macros in my previously mentioned spreadsheet. Lastly, you'll benefit from my ethics & morality training, as it's not clear to me that you have a strong enough foundation in how to make decisions that impact the lives of others.

Before you return to your station on the digital assembly line, can you help me figure out how to check my voicemail? The red light on my VOIP phone -- do you know what VOIP stands for? -- has been on for a month.</sarcasm>

>Before you return to your station on the digital assembly line, can you help me figure out how to check my voicemail? The red light on my VOIP phone -- do you know what VOIP stands for? -- has been on for a month

Your "story" sounds like it has a cliche MBA as well as a cliche IT guy, the latter of whom believes they're oh-so-smart for having technical knowledge that others don't. Both are jerks.

>Observe the insanity in health care, where patients are not people but raw materials to be put through the medical factory and turned into a finished, aka healed, product at the other end.

I'm not sure how else it's supposed to function. There are not enough doctors and nurses to spend exorbitant amounts of time answering every medical curiosity. Making you healthy again is pretty much everyone's goal (if it's possible for your case).

What are you saying that MBAs are taking away from patient care?

Personally I have seen the opposite: non-profits with a large percentage of income from government programs. Project Managers that buy a hundred-thousand dollar contract for a piece of software and then end up not using it. Unwillingness to address basic IT problems that drain time away from caregivers in favor of prestigious projects.

I agree with all this, but generally speaking the kids who come from name-brand MBA programs are bright. They come in, they know enough, and they have excellent work ethics.

I don't put a lot of stock in the training the MBA provides, but I do think on the whole MBA grads tend to be better hires than non-MBA grads. For recent grads, all things being equal, I'd take the MBA-grad.

Is it that extra year or two of age? Possibly... Is it the personality type of someone driven to get an MBA in the first place? Possibly... Is it the training and networking and exposure to other like-minded individuals via group projects? Possibly...

I see the MBA as a rfid badge into a different class of society:

- Do you already have an undergrad degree?

- Can you afford MBA tuition?

- Can you afford the 1-2 years required (not counting the tuition)?

Okay, you can be one of us.

Of course there's a pecking order within the MBA club based on school and year & model of porsche and professional reputation, and your work will always speak for you.

But I really get this sense that it's essentially a membership card into a social club and that the members prefer their own kind.

Please don't put the words 'ethics' and 'MBA' together.

Do you assume to know what the ethics of all MBAs are? It's often misconstrued that the goals of the manager or organization are the goals of the individual employee. Individual employees are at the bottom of the food chain because they have the greatest weaknesses when it comes to management and leadership. If they didn't they could prove themselves through success and level up. An employee is hired to do a job. If an employees goals and ideals are not in alignment with the origanization that needs to be corrected through effective leadership or that employee needs to find another job. That applies to all levels of an organization from individual contributor, to manager, to leadership roles.

A disgruntled employee indicates a problem that is not being addressed and solved by managers and leaders. That doesn't mean the employee is right or wrong or that the manager is right or wrong. Weaknesses are in individuals and occur at all levels of business. A poor employee just lacks self-awareness, knowledge acumen and the correct strategy for solving the problems, whatever they may be, at whatever level they are. This is what effective leaders address.

Whenever I read about widgets and business school, I can't help but remember the scene from "Back to School" [1] when Thornton Melon attends Economics class and the professor introduces "widgets". Thornton, being a successful entrepreneur, challenges everything the professor says based on his real-world experience and gives the class "practical" advice.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_to_School [1]

you must not have gone to b-school, nor know many graduates. The one thing that b school doesn't do is teach people operations. Many professors consider operations easy / tactical / something vs strategy. I actually think b school would be much better off if it did concentrate on teaching students how to properly operate.

and, btw, as a person who has spent 10 years analyzing the healthcare industry, we need more "medical factory" thinking not less.

You see this same thing happening at law schools as well.

If you look at the faculty of Harvard Law [1], many of the professors have not served in a professional capacity as lawyers.

In fact, many firms have to train their new associates in the actual practice of law because law school itself has become so detached from the reality of being a lawyer. [2]

[1] http://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/index.html?s=15

[2] http://mobile.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/business/after-law-scho...

Part of the problem is that these instiutions are part of universities in the first place. It is only natural that Harvard Law School is going to be influenced by the rest of Harvard. There's even an increasing trend in law schools of hiring people with Phds in other fields as law professors (the attraction for the Phds is the higher pay, lower teaching requirements, and pro forma tenure review).

But what about all the other grads who are doing jobs that are nothing to do with their degrees at all? Entrants into grad training in UK big 4 accounting firms can have a degree in anything, it doesn't have to be relevant. In fact students seem to consciously choose humanities as they seem less daunting than Mathematics or Economics... Makes me wonder why we make people do degrees at all?

I suspect this is part of a bigger problem, one that I continually see in the public service: people undervalue expertise. There's this strange belief that 'generalists' can do just about any task well. But I've never found that to be the case. In more than a few cases I've seen 'generalists' make a complete hash of something, but because they don't have sufficient domain-specific knowledge they don't actually realise how bad a job they've done.

I wonder if this is why people are sometimes dismissive of MBAs. These people are essentially training to be future leaders and senior executives of large organisations. But how can they possibly make any sort of rational decisions, or build functional systems of work, if they have no specific understanding of the work being done? I've been thinking about this kind of thing a lot, and I've realised why these types of managers love using buzzwords: it's a way of sounding knowledgeable without actually knowing anything, and it minimises the risk of being dragged in to a discussion on specifics.

Then again, who doesn't love synergy?

I think 'business theory' can come across badly to engineers in particular. On the other hand I have worked in a manufacturing company where engineers and scientists had spent whole careers in almost complete isolation from the needs of the business. I remember a particular conversation with the head of a major operation (with an illustrious career in R&D) who couldn't understand the forces applied from head office. "What is their problem with us having too much stock?" he said. Nobody in his long career had ever mentioned the concept of cash. There was a great need in this company for a few generalists, but mainly in mentoring and coaching. Personally I had no time for other generalists there who would not take the time to learn at least what it was that the factory made....so my point if there is one seems to be 'don't generalise about generalists'

I might link your answer to my manager.. Ok I won't. But I completely agree that expertise is undervalued, and generalists that don't even realise how bad their work is, is a real problem that I see every day especially in the public sector.

> Then again, who doesn't love synergy?

This problem will likely get worse as automation and cloud services reduces the actual amount of work available. Besides buzzwords, the other focus of the MBA is on "core competencies".

For example, A healthcare company should focus their resources primarily on the things they do well in healthcare. Outsource as much technology as you can because that's not your core business. As "software eats the world", I find this to be increasingly bad advice for companies as technology should become the core competency for everyone.

This creates opportunity for those who see the forrest and not the trees. Tech-minded companies are poised to slay those who outsourced or did not invest in tech. There are many industries ripe for the taking due to this little detail.

John Ralston Saul does a great job explicating this in his book Voltaire's Bastards[1].

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Voltaires-Bastards-Dictatorship-Reaso...

Putting the blame on MBAs is laughable.

MBAs and their professors simply replicate and regurgitate an ideology that is outside their own awareness and control.

Lutheranism itself is more to blame than the whole faculty of HBS and SBS combined.

It's a problem of universals, not individuals.

Lutheranism itself is more to blame than the whole faculty of HBS and SBS combined.


It runs way deeper than just Harvard.

I don't think the ridiculousness of what they preach matters all that much. It's more about linking the network of power brokers than it is about perpetuating the neoliberal religion.

The tip of the iceberg is evidence of the hazard.

Horrible idea of course, but I wonder if there are companies who pick CEOs randomly from new MBA graduates and pay them an extremely high salary with no stock options or other incentives.

The dead ideas:

* Business is more competitive than ever. But in reality, we have more monopolies and duopolies than ever. Peter Thiel's "Zero to One" is all about how to achieve monopoly. Businesses in the US hate competing on price. Without strong antitrust enforcement, which the US hasn't had in decades, the number of players decreases until there's no price competition. How many Internet providers can you choose from in the US? How many in the UK or Germany?

* We live in an age of entrepreneurialism. But the big companies are making all the money. The Economist writes: "A large number of businesspeople who were drawn in by the cult of entrepreneurship encountered only failure and now eke out marginal existences with little provision for their old age." All YC applicants should read that.

* Business is getting faster. They compare the fast rise of the automobile. Electricity and aircraft were also deployed faster than the Internet. Progress in the first 50 years of aviation zoomed like the semiconductor industry. Then in the late 1960s, it was all done - the Concorde, the Boeing 747, the SR-71, and the Saturn V had all flown. Everything since then has been a minor improvement.

* Globalisation is both inevitable and irreversible. The Economist comments "In 1880-1914 the world was in many ways just as globalised as it is today; it still fell victim to war and autarky." The causes of World War One are worth studying. Nobody really wanted it, and it happened anyway. Before WWI, Germany's biggest trading partner was France.

Some things are moving fast, though; solar comes to mind as an excellent example of an area with exponential price drops. At any given time, some things are improving fast, and most things are improving slowly or not at all.

My feeling is that there are a lot of basic tech improvements just on the horizon, we start figuring out more ways to bring machine learning into hard fundamental problems of industrial design, medical diagnosis, and so on.

Which of course leads to inevitable discussions of displaced highly skilled labor; it's not clear that the areas of fast improvement will lead to a good distribution of positive outcomes, as we've discussed here so many times before...

On the whole, though, I agree with the other three points.

"Exponential price drops" are less of a miracle when they are produced by large subsidies as well as dumping from the production side

Funny how 'subsidies' is a bad word and 'VC funding' isn't.

The idea, in this case, is exactly the same: Invest enough to achieve the economy of scale, and get the actually-better solution to the point where it's cheaper than the happens-to-be-currently-dominant solution.

(obvs, subsidies can also be used for other purposes, like protectionism or ensuring that a vital-for-national-security industry isn't outsourced. But I believe that for solar it's about investment, more than these other uses.)

I like this comparison, actually. But realize that it is expected that most VC fundings fail. Subsidies is a bad word because it is often an attempt at rigging the game. With the assumption that we fully know what the answer should be.

So, if we can move subsidies to be more like experiments where it is expected that a significant percentage fails, I'm all for it.

Subsidies come from ordinary taxpayers and VC funding comes from a bunch of rich guys, so they definitely should be treated differently.

"But the big companies are making all of the money" is tautological, because we define big companies by how much money they make. All of the startup unicorns you'd probably call at this point "big companies" but only because of how much money they make (and spend).

I feel like, in general, your comment cherry picks examples, and falls victim to the recall bias.

> But the big companies are making all of the money" is tautological.

It's likely the commenter is referring to the distribution of total income across all businesses, which is most definitely a real metric that can be evaluated.

Gini coefficient?

I'd say "advanced management theory" may be dying, but I don't even see basic 101 management theory being acknowledged in many organization. Things like "don't have one person report to two or more people" are violated all the time and result in predictable chaos and problems.

I'm reminded of the story of garbagemen strike that brought New York City to their knees, while the Irish Banking Crisis caused only a blip because people turned to alternative forms of currency. Real managers provide real value solving real problems, and are well liked by their employees. Unfortunately most management nowadays is awful, and needs to be pruned.

<sarcasm>As an MBA who discussed (but didn't have time to read) a case study on programming, I know it's not possible to expect you to do complete a task in less time than it will take. After all, maybe you've heard the expression "nine women can't make a baby in one month". I'm not an idiot.

Hoever, my research has revealed that one woman can develop 1-to-N babies in a single node. And one man can help instantiate 1-to-N babies in multiple nodes. This is why I'm a fan of diversity hiring. As you can see, I have a strong understanding of message passing, concurrency, parallelism, the actor model, and multiple inheritance.

Now, given that we've established that I understand what you do, allow me, and all of your other bosses, give you an immutable set of instructions for you to process in that finite state machine you call a job.

Now that we're on the same page, can you show me how to use BitTorrent? I want to download the last season of Game of Thrones. My 401K includes an S&P 500 index fund, which owns shares of Time Warner, which owns HBO. So it's like I already own that content. Also, how do I erase my browser history? I accidentally visited a website with pop up ads, and my browser is filled with porn. Don't worry about the downloads those ads were triggered though, as I can delete those files myself.</sarcasm>

i found that comment pretty hilarious but i think you're getting downvoted because it's more suited to a site like reddit.

I accept my punishment.

What alternative form of currency was that now? I must have missed that while the blip was ravaging the land.

You missed my point. Here it is in parable form: https://hbr.org/2010/11/the-irish-banking-crisis-a-par

Thanks for posting that. I did indeed miss your point. I think it's because the Irish Banking Crisis is generally the designation for the events of 2008+...while what happened in the 1970s is generally referred to, in my experience, as the Irish Banking Strike(s).

Funnily enough I know Antoin Murphy quite well (the economist quoted whose work the article uses as a central reference point). I don't think he'd object to me saying that he was sometimes known in his own circles as Dr Doom.

I wasn't alive during the banking strike, but my father was very active in business then. His observations on it are three fold:

1. Business in general moved quite slowly at the time. So although several months seems an amazing length of time without banking, it didn't seem that extreme at the time.

2. Ultimately the whole thing rested on the knowledge that the music would stop and everything would get settled (for good or ill) soon enough.

3. Cheque culture in Ireland (even up to today) is extremely lax compared to the US. Many people make a habit of bouncing cheques, post-dating cheques, cashing third party cheques, using unsigned cheques as a sort of rough escrow and so on...Writing a bad cheque is bad manners but it won't land you in jail. So we were primed to view cheques as a flexible currency.

Any good sources you would recommend for mgmt 101?

I took an introductory management class back in the 1990's at a local technical institute. The teacher worked full-time and taught the course on the side. One of the most valuable courses I ever took.

I don't have specific recommendations, but because managers are everywhere. I'd just ask around to people you know and see if they like their manager. You'll usually find one or two people who are liked by a large number of people. Then I'd save up about $5 and invite that person for coffee and ask them their story on how they got into management. If they do have a book to recommend, go with their recommendation.

The reason for recommending a relationship over a book is because management is really all about people. Some management styles will work in some industries, but be completely useless in others. Sometimes a management style is good for some people and not others.

If you really have no idea where to start, I'd recommend Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends and Influence People". Sorry that it's not hip, current, or trendy but people have pretty much been version 1.0 for many thousands of years now. Besides, it was first published in 1936 and is still being published. If you're cheap, just read the wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influen...

Dead simple practices you can start implementing tomorrow: https://www.amazon.com/Effective-Manager-Mark-Horstman/dp/11...

Their podcast, Manager Tools, is also excellent.

Seconding the Manager Tools Podcast. There's also Manager Tools Basics, which is a highlight reel of sorts from the main podcast. Their approach can be a bit simplistic at times, but is immensely valuable.

I give every new manager working for me: "First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently"

Everything in the book is based by longitudinal surveys done over several decades everywhere from Burger King to the Army to tech companies.

"Business books are basically romance novels for men. Silly fantasies, terrible writing, large type, cheap paper and one good idea per book" - Benedict Evans


These four theories don't seem to be the four most popular in management theory...in my opinion a rough list of those would be something like: Porter-style competitive advantage, Toyota-style operations (agile/just-in-time), everything in modern finance and disruptive vs incremental technology (in the strict Christensen sense).

The professionalisation of management surely has problems but it's important to at least characterise the prevailing orthodoxy accurately...and this article does not.

You might be interested to read about William Deming: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming

He was brought in by MacArthur during the post-WW2 occupation of Japan to help get their industry running again. You can see some of the seeds of TQM/The Toyota Production System in his management philosophies.

His management theories are interesting to me because of the emphasis placed on leadership, and the success and failure of systems of production being almost entirely their responsibility (he claimed around 85% of production variance was due to systemic factors i.e. entirely within managerial control).

Some of his 'deadly diseases' seem particularly relevant in this thread. I've seen many MBA/MPA trained managers makes these errors:

The "Seven Deadly Diseases" include:

- Lack of constancy of purpose

- Emphasis on short-term profits

- Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance

- Mobility of management

- Running a company on visible figures alone

- Excessive medical costs

- Excessive costs of warranty, fueled by lawyers who work for contingency fees

"A Lesser Category of Obstacles" includes:

- Neglecting long-range planning

- Relying on technology to solve problems

- Seeking examples to follow rather than developing solutions

- Excuses, such as "our problems are different"

- The mistaken belief that management skills can be taught in classes

- Reliance on quality control departments rather than management, supervisors, managers of purchasing, and production workers

- Placing blame on workforces who are only responsible for 15% of mistakes where the system designed by management is responsible for 85% of the unintended consequences

- Relying on quality inspection rather than improving product quality

A good recommendation as I've read him and like him a lot! It's a bit sad that most of the people interested in Japanese management ideas aren't interested in him (though he does have some following).

My recommendation to you (but maybe it's not news to you either): see many of Deming's ideas applied to modern government in John Seddon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Seddon

Oooooh! I haven't heard of this guy, but sounds like something I'd find very interesting. Thanks for the link!

Yep, that's a pretty good summary of the orthodoxy where I got my BCom.

So a select group of industries, including airlines, have seen a lot of consolidation - you're going to use that as an argument that we aren't in an era of hypercompetition. Sorry, not buying it.

And that's even more true because the airline example is actually flawed. Not all consolidation reduces competition. Look at the past few years, where Delta bought Continental and American and US Airways merged. You'd say that the number of "major" carriers dropped by two. Fine... now look at the Alaska Airlines / Virgin America merger... arguably Alaska is now on the cusp of becoming a "major" carrier, which can compete with the likes of American, Delta, United and Southwest.

So it was consolidation, but did it make things more or less oligarchical? The answer isn't as straight-forward as you might think. Likewise, the acquisition of Airtran by Southwest may actually have created my competition by giving Southwest more planes, gates, and routes - including their first few international routes.

None of this is to say that "management theory" is complete, perfect, or even useful. But this article fails to convince me that it's all just "dead ideas" either.

The conclusion is exactly correct:

"The backlash against globalisation points to a glaring underlying weakness of management theory: its naivety about politics. Modern management orthodoxies were forged in the era from 1980 to 2008, when liberalism was in the ascendant and middle-of-the-road politicians were willing to sign up to global rules. But today’s world is very different. Productivity growth is dismal in the West, companies are fusing at a furious rate, entrepreneurialism is stuttering, populism is on the rise and the old rules of business are being torn up. "

It is worrisome how much people pay for books that teach things that are plainly wrong. They mention Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” but there are a lot of others they could have listed. For the last 40 years there has been almost constant rhetoric from business writers about the way that business was becoming more and more competitive, and yet the numbers show that exactly the opposite was happening: new business creation has been in decline since the 1970s, and consolidation means that business has become less and less competitive for the last 40 years. Monopolies have become more common. Patent laws and copyrights have been extended to make monopoly easier. It is true that if you are trying to start a new business, the situation has become increasingly bleak since the 1970s, so from the point of view of someone just starting out, things have become harder, and perhaps some people mean that when they say "things are more competitive". But that isn't the competition of one business against another, that's the competition of one worker against another. We should be clear about our terminology.

The four dead ideas according to the article: 1) Business is more competitive that ever. 2) We live in an age of entrepreneurialism. 3) Business is getting faster. 4) Globalization is inevitable and irreversible.

Also Managers know better than you, and are generally better people, and more capable than you, because of some secret "management" skills.

I've seen engineers promoted to management, who suddenly drink the kool-aid that they're "better" than the engineers they worked beside a month ago. Now that they're managers, they know better.

The sheer infantilization of the rank and file by managers is appalling, and wide-spread. Such as hiring an expert in the field, and then ignoring everything they say.

Good organizations say "Look, I know that's the best way to solve the problem, but the customer doesn't have time or money for that, so we need something else".

Bad organizations say "You're just an engineer, and wouldn't understand the trade-offs inherent in customer interaction".

> I've seen engineers promoted to management, who suddenly drink the kool-aid that they're "better" than the engineers they worked beside a month ago. Now that they're managers, they know better.

To be fair, while I've absolutely seen what you're talking about, I've also seen a slightly different phenomenon get blamed for that. Part of a manager's job IMO is to remove systemic paralysis. Some times that means making a totally arbitrary decision just so people move forward. Even if it turns out it was the wrong solution to whatever problem, just making the decision and allowing people to explore the problem space from different directions can have some value.

I know a number of people in the military, and there's a lot to be said for asserting command presence. Where it doesn't matter what the orders are, just that someone is there giving clear orders.

I've rarely seen that in managers. The issue I was talking about above was that managers really can think of themselves as "better" or having "secret knowledge" that enables them to lord it over the peasant engineers.

I have ethical issues with such an attitude. People are people, no matter how small.

My company's style is a culture of consensus. No one really "gives orders," because that's too aggressive, and someone might feel hurt. I find it fucking awful. If there's disagreement about something, usually another person is brought into the mix for "input," ad infinitum. This happens until the issue becomes a non-issue or a disagreement over a new issue occurs.

I might disagree with someone if they ordered me to do something I think is wrong, but I actually admire them for making a decision. There's nothing worse than making no progress because no one has the balls or authority to say "there's contention over this issue, but I think X is the best course."

Oh yeah. Ye old "disagree w/ them until they don't care". It's terrible. Usually the most stubborn peasant will get his way. A toxic culture is born/consolidated. It drains any excitement that you may have for the job. The whole process turn into a huge circlej*rl.

I see that a lot in my company where managers don't trust their workers. A lot of decisions are being made by managers talking to each other. Input from the workers is generally not welcome. My theory is that a lot of middle managers know that they are not really that useful so they have to withold information or pretend that things are more complex than they seem.

They should have added:

0) Management is independent of any particular firm. You can "bring in" managers or managerial ideas from the outside, impose them from the top down, and any given firm will not only continue functioning, but function much better.

The evidence shows that good management is intimately tied-up with the particular circumstances of each firm, and with obtaining information about firm operations from the bottom up.

This article is a strawman. These are more characteristic of pop business books and motivational speakers than it is of anything I've encountered in my actual business degree. I'm learning about concepts like liquidity versus profitability and the difference between cellular and functional manufacturing layouts. This is looking at a couple of popular books on business and claiming it in some way represents serious business research and education.

Business schools (and MBA programs) were an interesting experiment: can you abstract away the most important parts of a business away from what that business actually produces? Empirically, the answer appears to be no. It's understandable that such an experiment would take place. But now that we have an answer, we should stop pretending that the value produced by business schools is sufficient to justify their existence.

The existance of serial entrepreneurs suggests that empirically, perhaps the answer is yes, it just can't be taught in business schools.

That's a really good point. Would suggest the most important quality for success is leadership, and that it can't be taught.

It's possible that leadership cannot be taught, but it can be observed and learnt.

As auganov pointed out, a lot of the BA curriculum is inter-disciplinary and the content is largely generic (barring specializations such as finance/ops etc). Nowadays, anybody can access this knowledge for free for little/no cost. Hence, IMO its not really the content or even the lectures that make MBA schools sell (something which I think even they admit openly).

Most people go for the 'network' and the validation that the school gives you. So no matter how outdated their curriculum gets, as long as

a) their current alums promote and guide future ones (shouldn't be any problem)

b) They are able to continuously source smart people

c) Nobody comes up with a better alternative system to identifying future leaders

These schools should have no problem.


IMO, (a) will never be a problem for these schools. The supply of smart undergrads/students is also assured given our innate inertia, FOMO and the perceived lack of growth in non-mba fields as we grow older.

Thus, (c) i.e. somebody coming up with a better metric/validation mechanism to source top leaders should be the biggest concern for these schools.

The lack of formalism and accountability in the curriculum (specially in the softer subjects) means that it's unlikely any one finding/study/trend can deal a major blow to these institutions. For every Enron, they can cite a Jack Welch.

tl;dr: Slow gradual change/reflection is unlikely to change these schools much. Disruption is what's needed.

A CEO is supposed to be a leader, someone who can inspire. What we instead are management ranks filled with opportunists and short termists who have spend the last 20 years in management with a single idea - outsourcing.

This is a management class who skate along looking for the next opportunity to rinse repeat the same playbook. There is no leadership or imagination here.

There is a crisis of leadership, a crisis of accountability, an elitist club who look out for each other and extreme compensation with parachutes even for failure.

The whole field of management has not delivered a single good idea, its taken individuals who go against the wind to show a glimpse of the possibilites leaving in their wake the tedious industry of management courses and case studies as magic formulas for success that outside of their original context have no chance of replication.

I think MBAs are the MCSEs of the business world; you can't get into certain (high paying) jobs without them despite their value being questionable...

So is physics. Perhaps this is already the next middle ages without realizing it.

Holy cow! Did anyone else see the comments section on the actual article? Dumpster Fire is a term that gets banted about a lot, but that part of the site is surely flaming raw sewage. My god, is that what my uncles see as 'informed' readers? Jesus, the Economist could really use some more heavy handed mods.

I wonder why they thought this article was newsworthy. It's news to no one that most business books are empty of thought. The same goes for many MBA programs. So yes, we should ignore management theory, but for the reasons given in this article, we should ignore the Economist.

It's not even clear that the four ideas cited in the magazine are actually prevalent in management theory. The piece itself did almost nothing to substantiate that.

One of the best books on management theory is War and Peace. The central idea in war is simply that good lieutenants are more useful and more rare than the sycophants and adjutants who circle the chiefs of staff.

One of the second best ideas about management is this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership

The main job of managers is to make the lives and tasks of competent individual contributors go more smoothly.

I pose the question as a middle manager who feels those above are doing a worse job than I could, what would I do to show I am senior management material. One of those things feels like it should be 'get an MBA'. But as others have said, maybe this is just paying the price for entry to the club. On the other hand, I see plenty of senior managers who have got their positions from 1) being in the job below when the senior left or 2) social connections and have few of the soft skills or technical skills that would make them a decent manager. At least MBA's give the appearance of a meritocracy!

I think business school is already disrupted with startup accelerators like YC. It's a matter of time before they realize it. Some accelerator programs even want a tuition. I've pondered this a lot thinking what I would learn to go to business school, but problem is that you can't get funding to start a company, but you can get funding to attend business school. Hence why business schools exist now. But 10-15 years from now this will change.

>Management theories are organised around four basic ideas, repeated ad nauseam in every business book you read or business conference you attend, that bear almost no relation to reality.

This a weak premise whose scant evidence is primarily composed of pop business airport books. And the idea that the vast, diverse, and nebulous world of management can be distilled to four ideas is a joke.

I thought it was a fair distillation. Any distillation of a field is bound to be incomplete, but what do you think it was missing?

Perhaps you could provide a more intellectually substantial reply.


"The theorists’ third ruling idea is that business is getting faster. There is some truth in this. Internet firms can acquire hundreds of millions of customers in a few years. But in some ways this is less impressive than earlier roll-outs: well over half of American households had motor cars just two decades after Henry Ford introduced the first moving assembly line in 1913. And in many respects business is slowing down. Firms often waste months or years checking decisions with various departments (audit, legal, compliance, privacy and so on) or dealing with governments’ ever-expanding bureaucracies. The internet takes away with one hand what it gives with the other. Now that it is so easy to acquire information and consult with everybody (including suppliers and customers), organisations frequently dither endlessly."

As someone who is a respected manager, according to anonymous surveys my managed peers take every year (and they are truly anonymous) as well as what I learned from the manager I came to most respect in my life and still go to to this day even though he isn't any more, I think what makes good management particularly effective is a few things. Before I list them out and explain though, I just want to add one caveat: This isn't applicable for everyone, and certainly not every industry, and everyone's situation is different and it can be hard to relay some idea's perfectly in text so I'm going to do my best.

With all that said, here's a little background as well. I manage a team of folks who are in charge of IT infrastructure and deployment. Mobile devices, servers, VPNs, virtualization setups, as well as database administration and some non-customer facing coding to keep everything going, all the way down to the desktop setups for employees. I work with maybe 30 people underneath me and there can't be more than 100 of us all together. Each of my 30 team members are tasked with different tings in accordance to the rough outline i speak to above.

Now, to the good bits

1) If i learned anything, from being the manager to before that, its a really really simple thing. Don't ever forget where you came from. Ever. I often will think about making a decision - some big, some small - and I remind myself 'What would my reaction be if i wasn't a manager, but underneath me? How would I react to this? Positive? Negative? Why?' I find that my best manager did this all the time, and it really showed because he was one of us before he was a manager (for my company this is typical, we don't get a lot of outside management for our group that hasn't at least had some experience on the basics of what we do). The reason for this is to me obvious, in that you will better understand the actual core of your decisions affects this way. Its easy to forget all this in the day to day, but its a huge one.

Specifically, it has benefited in that some changes that came down from those who manage me, were immediately rejected because I was able to articulate, in a way they could understand, why the new change would be bad. For instance, they wanted to take away our hands-on Lab for testing new technologies (this is a good part of what we do, to keep up on things) and go to a more virtual one. In theory this seems okay, there's a lot of companies that do this (Cisco, itpro.tv, VMware, all have these kinda things) but I made the case that no, have it hands on, with good training attached to the hands on labs, was a more effective on the whole, and it cost less, because we could dedicate a rotation of people to learn something, teach it to the team, and then the team gets to test it, and they rotate into to teaching back, until we feel the technology is well covered to at least a 'intermediate' level for all members on our team. With the virtualization, this was lost, and they had to pay more for the licenses. It ended up being better for us because we could just get labs setup, get documentation/official manuals/training material, learn it, and teach it over the course of x weeks to everyone else, and they could then come in to the lab when there was allotted time, break stuff, fix stuff etc. and round it went.

2) One of the best things I ever learned as well, is that if someone or someone's is designated as a point of contact, they should be treated as such for a project. For instance, if I designated Steve the networking guy as my point of contact for network related projects that I need someone to oversee, I essentially report to him, with some exceptions, instead of him reporting to me about the project. This gives them freedom, and gets them into a position where they can also learn good managing skills or at least, focus on big picture things for awhile. I don't micro manage, I philosophically meet my team half way. If things that we have as objectives are being met, and are exceeding expectations, then i give more leeway. I will always stick up for them if they in turn do good work, and the more good work that is produced, the more freedom I'm willing to allow. This has created a huge win for the company as well, as our team is small, but incredibly productive.

3) Don't try to sanitize feedback. This isn't a 'be a jerk' card, but team members who want to improve honestly like feedback, and give it to them honestly. Good and bad. One thing old managers i know used to do is never talk about the things I did well - to reinforce those things, is the purpose - but only talk about how we could improve. My best manager, and a skill i keep as well, is whenever I do check in with my team in a 1 on 1 way, we talk about what they're doing that is amazing and great, and then we talk about area's of imrovement, and relate it back to 'so these are your core strengths, how can you apply what makes these your core strengths to these problems?" that really gives people a lot of motivation in my experience

4) If you make a commitment to someone, meet it, obviously huge unexpected things aside that you can't plan for, this generally is huge. Not forgetting say, asking upper management for x thing on their behalf (our company works this way a lot, though we're trying to change that). or even just follow up when you say you will. If you do miss it, explain why, honestly, and then go from there

5) Training is important. invest in your team, your team invests in you, and that makes for a great company to work for, have as a client, and essentially helps you grow. It took our company some time to realize this, but now they're full on.

6) Rotate their roles, but don't push overly hard for people to do what they don't like unless there really is a specific reason. and I'm not talking about ' I don't like putting notes together detailing these implementations'. There are musts in every job, and enforce those across the board. I'm talking more 'okay, so, you been doing the networking for like a year, year and half, are you okay, burned out, want to try something new?' this lets people pick up new skills, maintain those skills, and apply their previous work experience on your team in different ways. We're team 'swiss army' internally for this reason :) and my headcount is smaller than the next guys, but we're always rated one of the top teams. I think this has a lot to do with it. (out of 4 teams, granted)

7) you can be of great value as a manager if you learn to filter what is actually nessacary and what isn't from upper management before talking to your team about their goals/expectations. See my example on the virtual labs. My team didn't know that was even a consideration until another manager in the same meeting mentioned it to their team. by that time, it was dead, and my team was grateful they didn't have to waste time thinking about it.

8) If someone is bad hire, and your team isn't working because of this, don't be afraid to do something about it. you're a manager, sometimes doing hard things like firing someone or moving them into a different position they're more skilled for is something you need to recongize early. this goes along with my next point....

9) if your team members come to you saying somehting about how they are being treated by others, take it at face value, look into it, and have their back. Always. Always. Always. Never dismiss this. I had an incident where someone was being discriminated against based on their sex by an older team mate who i think just had it in their head from a different time what the role of that person was and wasn't, and I had recently assigned them as a project lead. I didn't tell them to deal with it, I looked into it, asked a trusted colleague to talk to some folks about it (not revealing the nature, just said 'Hey man, could you do me a favor? coud you ask around and get a feel for what people are getting a vibe about person x? I want some imparitialness to this' Idk if that violates policy in HR or not, but for me it worked well, i squashed it quickly and made it VERY clear what isn't tolerated on my team in a short amount of time, but it also came down to the person who was saying things that were considred sexist didn't realize what they had going on was just a reflection of insecurities. Sometimes you're being the psychologist therapist and working them through those feelings so they can understand what happened. I didn't end up having to separate them or fire anyone in this case, because that person came to an understanding and the person in charge separately was okay working from a clean slate as long as it didn't continue, once they understand what triggered what. Now they both work together extremely well and are both happy.

Anyways, that's my experience. I'm no lawyer, no MBA, and your mileage may vary, esp. on that last bit, but these are some representations and guidelines i follow often.

If management theory have no value then why MBA grads from top schools are so high in demand? This is not a rhetorical question, I'm genuinely curious as I've wondered about this for a long time.

I've always thought there are two sorts of management - keep things going style and make new stuff mode. MBA's are directed at keeping things going - fitting into middle management, warring with other MBA factions, fighting over internal politics etc. You need an MBA for this because you know the language, it's a very unique language and to get respect from the current incumbents you need to know the language. It has nothing to do with making new things (in general), these are stories they like to tell themselves, but I think in general it's not correct.

The other sort of business is making new things, here business school knowledge comes in handy but it's not a big part of the answer - you can learn this stuff on the fly. More so I think knowing too much MBA stuff can be detrimental cause it interferes with your gut feelings. If having an MBA was useful then every startup would have an MBA, like every middle manager has an MBA, qed.

So MBA's in short MBA's are in high demand because they teach you the rules of the game that all the other MBA's know. Does it have much to do with business itself? Well some of it imho

edit: you could say an MBA contains the rules of engagement. but having an MBA doesn't make you a great general, and street fighters never bother to learn the rules.


Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), Narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), Psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), Sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others);

The best business advice I've ever read was put out by the Scientologists. Not that they do a good job of following their own advice; but its good. They know how to be effective.

Such as....??

it's full of bullshit and they did some bad things but there are some good points:

- generally high moral standard and ethics are valued a lot - it pays back long term in business

- focus on drug detox, exercise, being fit in general - you can argue it's not business advice but on the other hand it's very practical if you think about it

- focus on understanding things, misinformation is very bad thing (like a sin)

- state of flow - this is quite interesting in context of programmers - we all know it's there and it would be nice to be able to train yourself to go into this state when you want.

IMHO you can't say it's good or bad, it feels more like opinionated, almost randomly, cherry picked things from religions, psychology etc. glued together with a book by sci-fi writer - some things will be correct, most not.

Are you able to explain this magical piece of advice? (Perhaps: "Create a cult, not a business").

No, that's what they did, not what they wrote. Their business books are detailed and thorough.

Just mentioning the Scientologists wrote something useful is no basis for downvoting. If you disagree or don't understand, say so.

I think your comment is downvoted mostly for wasting precious comment space: You didn't say anything. People don't come to HN only to have to wade through layers of nothing, this isn't reddit or some major newspaper comment section. If you have to say something, then actually say it and be done with it.

That was a little excessive wasn't it? I didn't consider that comment to be "nothing" at all; s/he mentioned Scientologists have solid business pillars, I asked for examples, s/he elaborated and provided them.

Not sure what your screening criteria is for how much a comment is 'worth' but maybe it needs some calibration.

Just to note, the person who elaborated was not the OP.

I would have liked to see a discussion of "maximizing shareholder value".

All ideas are dead. Only true facts are alive.

Are you being sarcastic or silly?

Seems troll-ish to me...

People hear what they want to hear.

The irony of this article in claiming that management theory is outdated is that it selects ideas that were ascendent 10 years ago pre-financial crash.

The author should consider reading a book published after 2005.

Not that I'm a huge fan of the genre, to be honest. Way too often I basically see management books arguing that domain skill in the subject managed is immaterial and I could not disagree more with that.

Also, I'm curious what metrics he's assessing for "productivity growth is dismal in the west." It's precisely because of productivity growth that we can envision an economy where centralization and globalization are not inevitable forces.

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