Is management theory inane?

I posted this on my MIS class bulletin board this morning.  I think I did it out of a sense of spite, as I’d just received a C for an assignment  with the rubric ‘too imaginative’.  

At the start of this course I admitted to being skeptical about management theory, and that I would return to that at the end.  Well, here we are.

My experience with management theory started while I was doing my first degree in neuropsychology. I was tutoring friends who found some of the psychological background in their work hard, and with the stats: I had to do introductory stats and an advanced stats for psych paper for my degree.  I was appalled at the over-simplification of the psychology in the management texts.  I think that I bring an overly-intellectual attitude to most things, something that is not particularly practical, and so I surmised I was doing the same thing here.  The point about research is to question and to improve and build knowledge.  The point of theory is to structure research.  Management theory didn’t seem to do that: it followed other disciplines, took what it agreed with to improve its own agenda, but has never, ever, done anything to radically change its underlying framework.
Later, post-graduate work in anthropology (with more of a sociological bent) showed me what a truly radical approach to theory could do.  Court systems based on restorative justice.  Green product manufacturing and organics. Open source.  The Internet.  All of these come from academics thinking exactly upside down to the status quo.
Unfortunately, little in this course has changed my mind about management theory. Anti-intellectualism abounds, and the status quo is continually entrenched.  I think buried in the text there is a lot of practical wisdom, but it is presented as backed up with poorly quantified research, or as  svenghali style revelations.
Maybe its a kind of reverse snobbery on my part.  Working in the Bennet’s bookshop in Wellington all the business books were ordered by title, not author, because, ‘business people didn’t understand how that worked, and were too busy to try’. I come from a very liberal background, tempered through an education in the humanities and social sciences.  I’m a quaker, speaking truth to power, questioning authority, and holding principles of fairness over economic ‘reality’ are entrenched.  I tend to think all those things would make me a good manager 🙂
I think the following article from a long time management consultant sums it up better than I can.  I particularly like the idea of the ‘two handed regression’.

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