Tag Archives: ideas

Management Gurus (book review)

According to the Wikipedia a guru is someone “regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others”. The term comes from Sanskrit (गुरु), where gu means darkness & ru means light.

I mention this because during these last holidays I read a book about gurus, “Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus“, by Tim Hindle (322 pgs.).

Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus, Tim Hindle.

About two years ago The Economist used to send within a weekly alert a profile about a management idea and one guru, all of them coming from this book. Since then I had wanted to buy this book, which I found last June at a Schiphol airport book shop.

The book first reviews about a hundred management ideas, e.g., benchmarking, core competence, kaizen, lean production, SWOT analysis… Later it provides a short profile of over 50 authors or gurus, from Taylor and McGregor to Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, C.K. Prahalad… From each idea and author you get two pages. It is a good refresher of different concepts you may have studied and also helps relating some ideas and authors to others, interlinking them.

Along the book there is also bibliography related to each idea and from each author. In total I guess there are over 200 books and papers suggested. Also, it is very handy that from each author the book gives two or three notable quotations, from which you can get a quick idea of what is going to come. So now, after reading it I have a book with lots of marked pages, underlined parts and books and papers to look for.

I wanted to extract some ideas from three of those “gurus”:

  • C. Northcote Parkinson a naval historian famous for his book “Parkinson’s Law“, which can be stated as “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”.
  • Laurence Peter a Canadian teacher famous for his book “The Peter Principle“, which can be phrased as “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.
  • Robert Townsend a former director of American Express famous for his book “Up the Organisation” with a more clarifying subtitle “How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits”, where he is harsh on the vanity and stupidity of executive leaders.
  • Though not a “guru” from the ones profiled in the book, Scott Adams “Dilbert” comic strip is cited in at least a couple of times, take a moment to check it.

You can be sure that I have marked these three books in the to-read list.

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Filed under Books, Personal development & HR

Project managers and Pencils

Today I was attending a project management course at Airbus. After some introductions, the teacher came to the always controversial (within such a technological company) comment that “the project leader needs to have experience in project management not in the technical issues related to the project”… she then cited aircraft as an example: “nobody within Airbus may know every technical detail of an aircraft which counts with hundreds of thousands parts, yet there is someone managing its development…”

That example seems very clear. Tonight, while listening to a TED Talk on the exchange of ideas, by Matt Ridley, I got the thread to a way better example: that is the essay “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read” by Leonard E. Read, which can be found at the Library of Economics and Liberty.

I believe this a much better example because of exactly the same reasons Mr. Pencil gives:

“[…] I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

[…] Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

Then, the pencil goes explaining where all its components are coming from…

“[…] My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors…”

If it’s clear that nobody knows how to make simple pencil, clearer will be for any other case of a more complex product.

There is indeed a Mr. President of the pencil company, there may even be a Pencil Programme Manager, but as Pencil says: “There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being.”

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