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May 17, 2005


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What was the most stunningly successful management project of the 20th century? The making of the atomic bomb? The book of that name by Richard Rhodes tells the tale: it's quite striking that this triumph is a huge counter-example to the whole cult of managerialism.
Key features: 1. Definition of "efficiency" obvious - develop the bomb before the Nazis do. 2,3 . Power hierarchy & Centralization - General Groves - introduced only when the idea has been pursued far enough to need them. 4 History: following industrial experience, as the scale of activity grew some decision-making was moved from physicists to engineers 5: Proneness to fads and fashions. Perhaps unavoidable with humans; the project was riddled with Soviet agents, communism being the fashion among non-German intellectuals of the day. 6 Trade-offs: well appreciated and accommodated. 7: Fact-based. 8: Emotivism: 'Blair said in 2001: "In the 1980s, I stopped thinking about politics on the basis of what I had read or learnt, and started to think on the basis of what I felt." ' It was this sort of Fascist guff that the bomb was intended to end.


A problem stems from the fact that most management books are based on very wooly and insubstantial analysis, often breaking things down into the "seven habits of highly effective people" for example. This leads to simplistic sloganism and managerialism is more akin to religious faith in something lacking tangible evidence than something based on hard scientific fact.

And politics is emulating the managerialist evangelism, isn't it? ever more so as time goes on it seems.

I could count on one hand, out of about 50 management books I have read in my life, the number that use hard empirical facts or robust research techniques.

I find it easy to beat these people though - armed with a raft of facts, evidence, analysis, its fun to watch them squirm - the killer blow is alway "you say this... but I haven't seen any evidence to justify this conclusion - tell me is there any chance of having a look at your evidence base or analysis as it would be most useful" and of course they ain't got an evidence base and they look a little bit embarassed... and then you launch into... "well I have actually analysed evidence from source X and Y and this is what I have found."

oh the small joys...


Not up to your usual standards, Chris. There is a pithy, punchy case to be made against "managerialism", but this isn't it.

You begin by talking about "a reasoned answer", threaten to "cast pearls before swine" and then just ascribed a bunch of disagreeable beliefs to a bunch of people you disagree with before telling us how much you disagree with them. "Managers are this." "Managers believe that." "They aren't as clever as me." You've taken a scythe to a scarecrow.

When it comes to governance, managers are almost always better than ideologues. Tesco works; Communism doesn't. Now tell us what works better.

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