Since the early days of modern civilization, management has been recognized as one of the most important tools for success. It is what separates the developed and developing worlds. It is the distinction between the good and not-so-good companies; the legendary iconic families and the also-existed ones; the bright and very poor students; and so on. The success of any institution depends on the quality of its leadership and inherently the management.
Many have written that there are management traits. Possibly, but those traits may not necessarily succeed in all management positions. While one trait can work well in say library management, it may not be that crucial in military battlefield. Both require skills, but one needs exceptional bravery and risk, and immediate. It takes a lot of management capacity for a general to declare vanquished in battle.
Recently, I have been reading many management books. To summarize, I think most present a management system that has a well defined order. It is a system where you understand your customers very well and can go about serving them. You know their needs and you develop strategies to meet those needs.
Most management books assume there is still much order in the knowledge market. These books still see the 21st century from the lens of industrial economy where classical factors of production determine strategy. Unfortunately, the market is constantly evolving and has become a mutating entity with disruptions arising from the advances in technology.
Making a product to be launched in two years based on consumers needs today, especially in consumer electronics, is a prerequisite for disaster. By then, their needs must have changed and the product valueless. To stay ahead, you must anticipate and have a perception that goes beyond the consumer imagination. Doing that involves an element of mutability in your teams as they must constantly evolve, disrupt and reorganize themselves to stay competitive.
Today’s management courses will fail to capture that system where you must constantly distort teams to make them better. This does not mean changing the people in the mix of the trio of people, process and tools (PPT). Rather, it is developing maxima of the three that serve unusually demanding consumer with so much knowledge. Agreed, operation research in business school teaches that, but rarely do you see it apply considering the easy of firing people when things go bad.
Internet brought a new class of informed consumers who can compare prices right in the comfort of their homes. The manufacturers have lost the edge on pricing just as the TV networks have lost the privilege of breaking the major news. In most cases, the networks summarize all the news we have read online. No wonder, they bring some auxiliary focus series every week to differentiate themselves.
Today, we are lucky to still be competing on the power of knowledge. What happens when knowledge becomes so common that it loses the power to set strategy? Will there by management? If computers provide singularity power and firms acquire them, what will happen?
Or in other words, how has management changed over the years? Can we argue that business schools do magic on students when they accept the smartest applicants who have already succeeded or succeeding and give those certificates and later claim they made them? Graduates of School of Hard Knocks like Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, etc top the number of business graduates from Harvard, Wharton, Booth, in S&P 500 CEO list (Bloomberg Businessweek). Can we say that business schools provide networks that enable the succeeding students to go much further?
If network is a very important element in success than business law, accounting, strategy and other courses, teaching Business Network will make sense. When you recall that the Father of Modern Management, Peter Drucker could not get into those business school Ivy League in his early years as a teacher, you will appreciate that the best business courses are not offered in top ranked business schools. Drucker offered them in a small school in California then. His students might have gotten the best of theories, but they missed the invaluable business cards the Ivy schools provide that makes the difference.
That makes me emphasize on business schools that put Life Cases ahead of Case Studies. Why? If not properly aligned, business school helps you to understand boundaries and may fail to allow you to set yourself free. They pump theories into your head and you become ultra cautions. That freedom of human mind is poisoned with thesis that cloud imagination. However, if the program has element of field work where they do real cases, they have a mix of theory and practice that makes them better managers.
As business schools become common, firms began introducing management programs to their staff. These programs are still structured within the mindset of industrial era where the more courses manages attend, the more they are ready to lead. Unfortunately, the legendary management firm like GE is not the most innovative in market. It is very arguable that those endless retreats really prepare the staff to manage in a world that is flat. A world that requires 360-degree understanding of new variants that generation that wrote those books cannot understand.
It makes me laugh when a seventy year old professor (no offense) is writing about social media networks. While it will be full of theories, Goldman Sachs that hires fifteen year olds to do some of their social media researches may have more actionable data. It is about Life Cases over Case Studies.
Wall Street has iconic managers, but many testified before Congress like Prince of Citi Bank that he had no idea on what was going in his bank. Lehman Brothers’ ex-CEO Fuld had a similar defense. But they were managers controlling a new order based on their mastery of old order.
That effervescence or mutation in business cannot be taught in business school; it must be inherently felt by self-aware people. Interestingly, the people that got the best of the meltdown included an ex-medical student. Most management trainings dilute entrepreneurism and the best hierarchical managers lose the capacity of being agents of business mutation.
Author: Ndubuisi Ekekwe