Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

I say this as somebody who suffered through getting a professional management degree as well:

I think the observed pattern is that we repeatedly see startups get kicked off, grow like wildfire, then turned into an empty shell of their former selves once the "professional management team" is brought in as they promptly kill off all of the reasons the company was growing in the first place in favor of short-term (bonus making) metrics that are almost never good for long-term growth and survivability.

It repeats over and over and over again and it's especially frustrating when you're on the inside watching outsiders come in as VPs who's only qualification is a top-10 MBA destroy unbelievably large numbers of man-hours of work and turn thriving companies into joyless bean counting husks.

I remember vaguely going through my own management education specific moments where I stood back and realized what a smoking pile of self-serving bullshit and handwaving the professional management industry had become. Most of what we were studying was full of vague and meaningless, but impressive sounding, aphorisms and pretend sciency/engineeringy sounding talk. Management methods were described like bold scientific experiments but constructed of the flimsiest methodology one could come up with. I felt like the books we were reading were consistently written by flimflam men who had no consistent measurable success and wrote endlessly about management theory with the structure of those late night get rich infomercials where they talk endlessly about they're going to show you how to achieve success, but then never actually tell you. Hundreds upon hundreds of pages of it.

I've since tried to purge most of my management education from me. The only thing it really got me used to was a sense of comfort with sitting in front of spreadsheets all day, moving around millions of dollars, and writing status reports.

Matthew Stewart's "the management myth" runs with this thesis. Google it - the Atlantic article is a great read. He explicitly links the Tom Peters types with televangelists and self help infomercial pitchmen.

I remember this article when it came out and thinking how well it mirrored my own experience. I almost feel like I just summarized his 5 pages ;)

The Mayo lighting experiment is an awesome and sadly typical example of the kind of shit poor "research" that goes into the field. With premises, methodologies and outcomes so flimsy a six year old could poke holes in it. Yet these kinds of "studies" are published and taken as a great advances and contributions to "management science".

Before you know it, based on one or two of this "studies", great fads sweep the ranks of professional management and we end up with bizarre and counter-productive management initiatives. When those plans inevitably fails and some consulting firm is brought in and recommends a house cleaning, new management is brought in who's only worth is that they're more up to date on the latest fads and reshape the company along those lines...generating lots and lots of activity (reorg after reorg after reorg) but no actual value.

Part of the problem is that it's immensely difficult to do science with people.

The hardest of the social sciences will create experiments where they try to study a single variable, like a person's reaction to a specific set of stimuli or decision making under a certain specific set of conditions. That way you can at least pretend to control for things.

It is simply impossible to do this in management. There are millions of variables. You can't know them all, control them, or do multiple runs of an experiment.

One of the more recent management fads has been complex systems simulation -- trying to do computer simulations of difficult managerial problems. This can work for logistics, routing, and mechanistic process optimization, but you can't reduce human beings to "agents" in a model.

I wonder what would be good professional management that is as close to general purpose as the old MBAs.

I'm of the opinion that the entire discipline is in need of a reboot. History has shown that most of the research into the management science bits is of an extremely poor quality and the field is in such a state of denial that they simply can't accept this.

One of the major issues is the concept that a person, with no specific experience of understanding of a certain industry can take a couple years of generic administration courses and get slapped into a VP role in any given company. This concept extends down to the worker bees in that the assumption is made that workers are fungible.

I think this is a fundamental flaw in current management theory that needs to be burned out of the entire field with extreme prejudice. It colors the entire field and I believe is the root cause of most of the major failures in the field.

The case of John Scully is a particularly notable example.

There are some schools that have toyed around with industry focused management degrees, a step in the right direction. You can learn how to manage a business in a particular kind of field...managing professional services in a software vertical is unbelievably different from managing the R&D division for a major cosmetics company, managing a small company is unbelievably different from managing in a megacorp.

I think also that MBAs simply shouldn't be available until a person has a few years of industry experience under their belt -- much like executive MBAs are today.

I think at the very least, because of the damage a shitty MBA student can do in the world, it should require industry specific professional certification that needs to be maintained and has an ethics bar like becoming a lawyer to self-censure particularly bad apples.

One of the major issues is the concept that a person, with no specific experience of understanding of a certain industry can take a couple years of generic administration courses and get slapped into a VP role in any given company.

My point is that I am curious if it is possible to change things so such a person won't be bad for the company after being slapped into the role.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact