Review of three iconoclastic business books
I’m not normally the kind of person that you would consider to be iconoclastic. I have a healthy respect for tradition or as GK Chesterton called it, “ the democracy of the dead ”. However I work in the technology field and I know that sometimes there are changes that improve processes or situations. I don’t believe in change for the sake of change but when change offers a genuine improvement, it ought to be embraced. Because of this, I think that there are a few books that are written for business and management that offer significant enough change from the status quo to consider. Here are three examples that I have read this year.
The first book is called The Management Myth: Debunking Modern Business Philosophy by Matthew Stewart. The Management Myth looks at the concept of management as a science and shreds it. By researching the fruition of business management school which led to the modern MBA program, it attacks this concept at its base. Because the book attacks “business as science” at the base, all of the children of this concept are left orphans. Some of these orphans are the MBA program itself, the concept of school that can teach business as a science, many en vogue business programs such as Lean and Six Sigma are skewered as packaged and polished common sense that really add no dialogue to business, and even other business commentators and books that are popular both from a scientific approach and case study approach. Even a favorite of mine, Jim Collins, is not spared from the author’s criticism. The style of the book is very interesting and makes for a good read because it is entertaining as well is thought provoking.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, dismantles the common approach used for management and motivation. It questions the assumption that leads to the carrot and stick approach which hardly gets a second thought in business. Pink uses the latest knowledge of psychology to formulate a better approach for motivating people and for motivating ourselves to get the best performance that we can. The book emphasizes autonomy and presents new businesses that have broken older models and are thriving. See more on Drive in the video below.
Rework is a book written by the founders of 37 signals.com, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Rework questions many business activities that are long-held practices and more importantly challenges businesses to consider what the worth of their assumptions are and to abandon them if they really bring no value to the table. Many of these concepts are so ingrained in our society that they don’t even register a second thought are implemented in a matter of fact fashion. One example of a process that the book says should be abandoned is the whole concept of forecasting. This is something I’ve thought about in the past since I haven’t seen a model of forecasting that ever delivers anything other than an obvious guess at best. At worst I’ve seen forecasting models that are so far off the mark that the business would have been better if it had never created these forecasts in the first place. If you forecast for a huge amount of growth and receive anemic growth or even worse, declining sales instead of growth, this will generate panic within your organization. Decisions that follow this panic will most likely bring more damage instead of improving the situation. The reason you should not put too much time into forecasting beyond basic trending is because of the amount of unknowns that affect the reality.
Other ideas that are questioned are things such as a company’s need for growth in size or to outperform your competition. Growth in size might be necessary or desirable but there is no need to make that assumption. It is entirely possible that if you re-examine your processes within your business you’ll find that you are doing things inefficiently and if you can improve your efficiency you can achieve financial growth without growth in your structure. When the authors argue that you should question the assumption of outperforming your competition they bring to the table several examples of companies who have kept their products or services simple without adding on every customer’s wish or demand. They have been able to keep most of their customer base happy even if it means that some of their customers will graduate to products that have more features and are more complex. They point out that there will always be a market for things that are simple. Instead of deciding that you need to customize your business around your most demanding customers you should first decide whether this is going to alienate your other current customers or other potential customers.
The Harvard business review podcast has had several episodes that focus on the subject of the views of different generations within the workplace. They looked at the interactions between baby boomers, generation X, and generation Y. I happen to be a person of Generation X. Based on some of these recordings and the guests that they had in their podcasts, I suspect that some of the ideas presented in these three books will be more appealing to people in Generation X than someone who is a baby boomer. This is just a hunch of mine but I would like to get some feedback on what perspective each generation takes after reading one of all of these books so any comments are appreciated.