Forget the best, embrace the rest

It appears to me that 'Homo Corporatus' (the 'management classes') rejects, seemingly actively, the need for maintaining "Lessons Learned" and adopting in practice the best theories & principles known. The Operant Methodology seems to be:
Forget the best, embrace the rest.
This isn't a little or accidental. It's endemic and universal.

Look to General Management:
Has day-to-day management improved in the last century or two?
What about over the last two millennia? Did the Roman Empire/Army do much worse?

The real changes, like OH&S, Superannuation (Pensions), Recreation & Long-Service Leave, Overtime and Penalties, and 40 hour weeks, are those that are enforced by law.
The same observations apply to Project Management, especially within my field I.T. and I.S, but without any legal backing.

Can you name just two proven, established Management theories or systems that have become entrenched and established and are practised universally? If you can, I'm really interested to know.

Either "Management doesn't Matter", nobody cares how effectively/well organisations are managed or nobody with the influence or power create lasting changes cares...
None of which should be true.

In my working life there have been so many management fads, fashions and enthusiasms that I can't count or remember them. What they all have in common is their passing...

Implementing each of these fads caused a lot of upheaval, heartache and hard work. Their failure/passing wasn't due to incompetence, undermining or ignorance by the workface grunts like myself. Something larger and more subtle is at work.

Carol Kennedy's "Guide to the Management Gurus", circa 1991 & updated in 2007, describes the ideas of 33 (now ~45) 'Leading Management Thinkers'. The shame in reading the book is how simple, good & correct these ideas are, and their absence from current practice.

Which gives us a clue to the nature and solution of the problem:
Just what is the state of current practice?
There can be no problem if nothing is measured and nobody is looking.
Managers are people first and as individuals at work, just as in parenting, they are doing the best they can.

This is a systemic problem and needs a Systems Solution.
They are 'System Accidents' in Charles Perrow's parlance. ("Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies", 1979 & 1999).
Or James T. Reason would say 'Organisational Accidents' ("Human Error" and "Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents").

Why are people seemingly oblivious to this 'elephant in the room'?
or: "Why is this so??"
My conclusions from these observations:
It isn't an accident that world-changing work has been discarded, almost as if systematically.

Proof it doesn't have to be this way.

The Aviation Industry proves that Lessons can be identified and permanently learned across a global industry. 'All' that's needed is the will and insight to do so.

As an aside, the field of Air-Crash Investigation started in the UK in response to the 1954 crash of BOAC Flight 781, an early jet, the 'Comet'. Sir Arnold Hall was appointed to lead the investigation and established protocols for aircraft accident investigation which previously did not exist. Things could've been different, but he gave the industry a great start.

As air crashes reduce in frequency, both aircrew and investigators will become less experienced in dealing with real situations, as distinct from simulations and training drills. "Death by Success" is the other end of the spectrum. One we won't face in Aviation for quite some time.

Wikipedia Links:
BOAC Flight 781
De Havilland 'Comet'
"Seconds_From_Disaster" (TV series)
List of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners

Taylor and 'Scientific Management'

Kennedy covers the early "gurus" Henri Fayol, Max Weber and Alfred P. Sloan as well as Taylor.
I'm most familiar with Taylor and will write about his work.

Fredrick Winslow Taylor wrote "Scientific Management" reporting on tools and techniques discovered and refined around 120 years ago. He was interested in making business process efficient - and in proving his methods worked.

That work got nicely packaged in modern times as "Taylorism" which is known to be 'bad'.
Only there are four problems in that statement:
  • The usual received wisdom about Taylors work is not just far from the truth, but the exact opposite of his viewpoint. Very few people have bothered to read his book.
  • The concepts ascribed to 'Taylorism' are really 'Time and Motion' studies, the work of Frank Gilbreth ("Cheaper by the Dozen"). Although Taylor (USA) taught and knew Gilbreth (UK) their work and focus is different, though overlapping.
  • Taylors' book contains a brace of case-studies - what he did and wrote about worked and was proven. One of his studies is a cautionary tale of a massive failure by others attempting to implement his 'Scientific Management' method. They consulted him and were told, "go slow, people have to buy into change or it will fail". They ignored his advice and failed exactly as predicted.
  • Taylors' work was 'Business Process Re-Engineering' around 100 years earlier. But with the added understanding that all problems start as people problems and Change Management is necessary for any successful 'business process' change. Something Michael Hammer failed to appreciate and learnt the hard way...

Cybernetics and 'Operations Research'

After reading a 1971 popular book, "Cybernetics", it occurred to me that Control Theory and Operations Research weren't taught these days in IT & IS courses - a great loss. These theories offer powerful insight, tools and practices. To quote Alan Kay:
Perspective/Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.
An acquaintance is involved in formally assessing Academic Output at a University.
This raises a important, related, problem:
Important, even landmark, academic work, techniques and lessons are not carried forward.
This seems to me caused by a Systemic bias or a skewed reward system... or alternatively due to a lack intent by 'Management'.

The very people who's whole technique and Raison d'ĂȘtre is advancing the sum of Human Knowledge ('standing on the shoulders of Giants') - don't apply their own principles, tools, techniques to their profession. Let alone rigorously or with discipline - phrases oft used by them when criticising others.

If Academics fail so badly, what hope the rest of us?
Something deep, universal and subtle is going on that even they haven't noticed.

As an aside, almost all academics and many scientists are publicly financed. Taxpayers fund most Universities and much research.

How is it that the structures that are supposed to provide Good Governance and implement Public Accountability have never noticed this fact? Across many countries, cultures and systems?

This is a multiple systems failure:
  • The profession itself has failed to notice a massive failing and the consequent outrageous waste of public monies.
  • The 'checks and balances' in the political system ensuring prudent, efficient, effective use of public monies have failed.
  • There appear to be no channels to raise issues such as this within public service bureaucracies, to the Auditors, into Parliament or to the Executive.

I.T. and Computing as 'Cognitive Amplifiers'

The notion of computers/IT as Cognitive Amplifiers is especially useful to the quintessential Knowledge Workers, Academics/Researchers, and is not new. The 1971 Cybernetics book even uses the phrase "amplify abilities" in describing what computers & systems do.

Here's some of the history:


In 1950, Alan Turing considered the question, "Can machines think?"
This is central to the notion that machines (IT/computers) can act as Cognitive Amplifiers.

abelard: copy of ACM paper by Turing: "Can Machines think?"

Vannevar Bush

In 1945 Vannevar Bush, the inventor of Hypertext, designed a system, "The Memex", to augment/amplify a researchers ability.

Key to its use and value was the ability to share 'Associative trails'. It allowed "researchers" to identify and exchange exact lines of research - all the material in one place.

wikipedia on Vannevar Bushs' "Memex"


In 1968, Doug Englebart of Stanford's "Centre for Augmenting Human Intellect" demonstrated a working system (NLS).

It had multiple features that most systems would find difficult or impossible to implement today. Why has the State of the Art retreated?

Stanford: Englebarts "Mother of All Demos" - 1968 NLS videos

Stafford Beer

Norbert Wiener founded and named the field. Beer was a high-profile academic, author and practitioner who attempted to apply the principles and ideas.

In the early 1970's Stafford Beer in "Project Cybersyn" developed a real-time display & planning system for the whole Chilean economy. A coup put an end to it.

Such a system developed and applied to the US economy should've flagged in 2006 the upcoming problems with "Sub Prime Mortgages" and the ensuing global financial meltdown.

So why has nobody attempted to replicate his work?

wikipedia on Beers' "Project Cybersyn"

Bill Phillips

By 1949, Bill Phillips (a kiwi) at London School of Economics (LSE) built an analog computer model of the macroeconomic workings of an economy. This was used to dynamically model money flow. Both private and public sectors acquired machines. The Ford Motor Company used it to model economies as part of its forecasting and strategic planning.

Phillips is a well known/respected economist, discovering 'the Phillips Curve' linking interest rates and unemployment.

Phillips reasoning was that the dynamics of economics systems are not obvious.
For teaching, seeing the model in operation is a powerful learning tool.
But nobody does this today, as far as I'm aware with my limited knowledge.

NZ Institute of Economic Research custodians of the Phillips Machine (MONIAC)
wikipedia on MONIAC Computer

John Lions and teaching Operating Systems from the code

From my own personal experience:
In 1977 I studied "Operating Systems" under John Lions at University of NSW.

In 1976 John had the seemingly obvious teaching insight:
Teach O/S's by students reading & working on the code of a real O/S (Unix V6).
The shame of this is that 30+ years on, it's still a remarkable and rare insight.

his book being widely acclaimed and documented as fundamental to the adoption and propagation of Unix and hence Linux, the approach remains ignored by others in Academe.

wikipedia on "Lions'_Commentary_on_UNIX_6th_Edition,_with_Source_Code"

Carol Kennedy's "Gurus"

  • John Adair
  • H. Igor Ansoff
  • Chris Argyris
  • Chester Barnard
  • Meredith Belbin
  • Warren Bennis
  • Edward de Bono
  • Alfred D. Chandler
  • W. Edwards Deming
  • Peter Drucker
  • Henri Fayol
  • Mary Parker Follett
  • Sumantra Ghoshal
  • Gary Hamel
  • Michael Hammer
  • Charles Handy
  • Frederick Herzberg
  • Geert Hofstede
  • John Humble
  • Elliot Jacques
  • Joseph M. Juran
  • Rosabeth Moss Kanter
  • Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
  • Manfred Kets De Vries
  • Philip Kotler
  • John P. Kotter
  • Theodore Levitt
  • Rensis Likert
  • Douglas McGregor
  • Abraham Maslow
  • Elton W. Mayo
  • Henry Mintzberg
  • Kenichi Ohmae
  • Richard T. Pascale
  • Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jnr
  • Michael Porter
  • Reg Revans
  • Edgar H. Schein
  • Richard J. Schonberger
  • E. F. Schumacher
  • Peter M. Senge
  • Alfred P. Sloan
  • F.W. Taylor
  • Max Weber
  • Jack Welch

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