Business books come full circle

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 07, 2012 21:01 hrs

pBeing a glass-half-full kind of person I thought the current turmoil in the global marketplace would offer managers a good opportunity to do some blue-skies thinking and me the opportunity to discover new books with some spanking new ideasppIt appears that these are difficult times for the business of management literature tooppIf you happen to follow strategic management and have been reading some of the recent books on the subject you are bound to get that where-have-I-read-this-before feeling That&rsquos simply because a big chunk of them is not really original like so many other things marketers brandish before you these daysppTake this In 1959 Peter Drucker coined the term &ldquoknowledge worker&rdquo emThe Landmarks of Tomorrowem and later argued that in the &ldquoknowledge society&rdquo the basic economic resource is no longer capital natural resources or labour but is and will be knowledge In 2012 we are reading about the em&ldquoThe New Knowledge Workers&rdquoem Dariusz Jemielniak or em&ldquoHow to Think Like a Knowledge Worker&rdquoem W P SheridanppIn a nutshell what these two books tell us is that in a collaborative organisation the combined knowledge of all workers is important regardless of their roles or the jobs they perform Every team member contributes by sharing knowledge and therefore they all participate in some way in making larger organisational decisions Above all information flows in many directions rather than cascading from the organisation leadership down the ranks through the various layers of management to the front-line peopleppSo what&rsquos new you might ask If you are really good at reading between the lines you will probably figure out that the knowledge debate is emerging from an individual-knowledge focus in the early literature to a group-knowledge focus more recently from pinpointing the &ldquohidden&rdquo or &ldquotacit&rdquo knowledge in organisations to how best to leverage collective knowledge That&rsquos the kind of leap the business of knowledge management has taken in five decadesppNow consider this one Dr W Edwards Deming introduced the concept of continuous quality improvement to the Japanese after the war and to US companies in the early 1980s His broad thesis was that by adopting the correct principles of management organisations can improve quality and simultaneously reduce costs In short the trick is to reduce waste staff attrition litigation and so on and try and increase consumer loyalty The key to all this lies in thinking of manufacturing as a system not as bits and pieces of jobs to be done That is the essence of continuous improvementppNow see what we got in 2012 This book is called em&ldquoRepeatability&rdquoem and it is written by Chris Zook and James Allen who have between them more than 50 years of strategy consulting experience Drawing on a series of research findings and real-world examples they conclude that &ldquo&hellip simplicity focus and mastering the art of continuous change nearly always trump strategies of radical change or constant reinvention&rdquo Companies that have shown sustainable growth they say don&rsquot stray from or regularly discard their business model in pursuit of radical renovation Instead they build a repeatable business model that allows step-by-step improvement and allows them to rapidly adapt to change without succumbing to complexityppThat sounds like the old continuous improvement concept in a 21st-century bottlepp aligncenter ppMany students of strategic management would agree that what you read in management books today may not be very different from what you have been reading for the last several decades And more often than not what is bandied about as new management practices and strategies are just the latest fad from a new book that successfully marketed the idea Sadly the marketing savvy of an author or a consultant has very little to do with his ability to offer strategic insights and improve corporate managementppYou may well argue that it&rsquos not easy to come up with a radically new idea every so often because the fundamental processes of business &mdash how we organise coordinate and direct human activity towards profitable collective goals &mdash will always be a key ingredient of management literature Also most people in an organisation &mdash including the chief executive &mdash just want to maintain equilibrium They&rsquod like to keep doing tomorrow what they did yesterday Therefore for every em&ldquoInnovator&rsquos Dilemma&rdquoem Clayton Christensen there will be 10 others that will offer nothing newppIn fact it&rsquos interesting to see how little has changed over the last 100 years since the publication of Frederick Winslow Taylor&rsquos em&ldquoPrinciples of Scientific Management&rdquoem We still pore over the &ldquoorganisational chart&rdquo to understand the branches of a hierarchy spent hours to set up &ldquosales targets&rdquo and &ldquo metrics&rdquo and swear by &ldquoannual performance evaluations&rdquoppTaylor wrote in 1911 that the improvements in management could double the productivity of the average worker &ldquoThink of the increase both in the necessities and luxuries of life&hellip of the possibility of shortening the hours of labour&hellip and of the increased opportunities for education culture and recreation which this implies&rdquoppIndeed despite the massive technological and social change over the last 100 years the agenda for management has remained pretty much the same That&rsquos why a lot of management literature is more of the samep

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