Before you go further, a warning may be in order. This is another bashing article along the lines of “Enterprise Computer Marketing Sucks”. Lest you think that I am merely ratcheting up my ranting to elicit a response (given that the marketing bashing article didn’t get a single comment), let me say in my defense that’s not the case. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?
No, seriously, this post is triggered by an article in the latest McKinsey Quarterly. The article is lovingly titled: The halo effect, and other managerial delusions. It’s by Phil Rosenzweig, a professor of strategy and international management at IMD, Switzerland. He writes:
In the quest to achieve superior performance, executives often rely on advice in business books, articles, and business school case studies that claim to reveal a blueprint for gaining lasting competitive advantage.
The research underpinning this advice, however, is often deeply flawed and, worse, obscures the basic truth that success in the business world is based on decisions made under uncertainty and in the face of factors executives cannot control.
How true. I don’t think success in business comes from a formula. It comes from making good choices using powers of critical thinking. It comes from execution based on hustle and energy.
Phil is scathing in his attack…
At first glance, many of the pronouncements in such works look entirely credible. They are based on extensive data and appear to be the result of rigorous analysis. Millions of managers read them, eager to apply these keys to success to their own companies. Unfortunately, many of the studies are deeply flawed and based on questionable data that can lead to erroneous conclusions. Worse, they give rise to the especially grievous notion that business success follows predictably from implementing a few key steps. In promoting this idea, authors obscure a more basic truth—namely, that in the business world success is the result of decisions made under conditions of uncertainty and shaped in part by factors outside our control. In the real world, given the flux of competitive dynamics, even seemingly good choices do not always lead to favorable outcomes.
I encourage you to read the commentary. One reason it resonated with me is because I have been reading “The Running of the Bulls: Inside the Cutthroat race from Wharton to Wall Street”. Nicole Ridgway, the author, tracks the students of the Wharton Class of 2004 going through the gyrations of trying to secure a Wall Street career. Instead of being impressed, I am disappointed. I am reminded of what Matthew Stewart wrote in an article (in The Atlantic Monthly, subscription required) way back in June’06…
What they don’t seem to teach you in business school is that “the five forces” and “the seven Cs” and every other generic framework for problem solving are heuristics: they can lead you to solutions, but they cannot make you think. Case studies may provide an effective way to think business problems through, but the point is rather lost if students come away imagining that you can go home once you’ve put all of your eggs into a two-by-two growth-share matrix.
M.B.A.s have taken obfuscatory jargon—otherwise known as bullshit—to a level that would have made even the Scholastics blanch. As students of philosophy know, Descartes dismantled the edifice of medieval thought by writing clearly and showing that knowledge, by its nature, is intelligible, not obscure.
Well, some of you will be dismissing my rant on the grounds of sour grapes (since I don’t have any MBA). Hmm… I anticipated that attack. Why do you think I am firing at management theory and its education from the shoulders of respectable insiders like Phil Rosenzweig and Matthew Stewart. My view is that “just as most people are able to lead fulfilling lives without consulting Deepak Chopra, most managers can probably spare themselves an education in management theory”. All they need is a capacity of critical thinking. May the attacks begin!