April 21, 2020

A Single Management Theory

After touring the prevailing approaches to organization, leadership, and business thought from the Bronze Age through to the Internet age, in Witzel’s A History of Management Thought, I wanted to develop a unified theory of good management for myself.

I wanted to jot down a prioritized three-point or fourteen-point list that if I followed it I could develop into a better version of myself and a supremely effective leader.

However, I don’t think one can be written or should maybe even be written.

From Witzel:

We might conclude from this that managers like systems that are simple and eschew those that are complex. But do we not need complexity? Think back to the previous chapter, to Isaiah Berlin and his fox and hedgehog. Taylor, with his one big idea, his one best way, is certainly the hedgehog; Emerson, with his eclectic drawings on many sources, is the fox. Only in this case, it is the hedgehog who has survived and the fox who has become extinct. And that has been management thinking’s loss, for despite all scientific management’s excellent qualities and the advances in thinking that it represents, the promise of certainty that that it offers is, as Robert Hoxie said in 1915, a vain one. No one theory can encompass every possibility.

I think this is perhaps the most important takeaway from the book. As a human, I want simple solutions. However, building a business, working with people, and living a good life are complex undertakings. They may need complex solutions. I likely need to know many simple and complex solutions so that in a moment’s notice I can draw on that knowledge and apply bits and pieces from all of them.

I think that is vitally important. I must get comfortable with the idea that there is no one correct solution and that the solution to most situations is likely to be a “One hundred piece jigsaw puzzle” as Bill Belicheck said while he described what you need to know to build a great NFL team.

My first two posts (One & Two) on Witzel’s work cover more details if you’re interested but I believe I may be making too bold of an attempt to consolidate in them. There is a lot to steal from in A History of Management Thought. If you’re like me and enjoy reading about management, it is well worth the money and time.

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