Book reviews


Guy Browning
Prentice Hall

Serialised in Management Today, the fictional diary of marketing director John Weak has become something of a cult. A self-professed “cavemanager”, Weak is a sexist, workshy, toadying middle-manager. Three hundred and sixty five days of life teaches him nothing and he is as proudly clueless on 31 December as he was on New Year’s Day. “Got in before eight and was shocked and appalled by how many people were already at their desks. I can only think that they find work very difficult.” You get the picture. As Weak joyously chronicles his indolence, one can imagine Management Today readers warming themselves with the thought that they do not fall into the same category. Perhaps they may be chilled by the similarities.

But while the MT column gave you a month’s breather between installments, you now have all 365 courses served up at once. It proves a banquet too far. The jokes wear thin and the entire premise seems laboured. Weak has also been unfortunate in that the BBC’s nightmare Office manager David Brent is generally recognised to be one the most accurate representations of middle management hell. Browning’s Weak is no match for this. The humour is blunt and unsubtle in comparison. In order to find the odd gem, you have to plough through too much chaff. It’s just not funny enough. Apparently some of Weak’s exploits are being cited by managers in presentations as examples of bad management practice. Half an hour’s worth of The Office would offer more material.

Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith

Managers! Cast aside your powers and let the masses decide. Yeah, right. The authors attempt to chronicle the principal reasons for putting an end to management and the key elements that are needed to create collaborative, democratic, self-managing organisations. They propose the destruction of the old order and the implementation of a bright and bold design engineered to provide justice and profits for all. It’s a serious book with a well-reasoned and sober analysis of how these “new tomorrows” might work. It convincingly argues the case for the end of hierarchy, though this in itself is not a particularly bold new idea. It argues that management constricts quality and hampers customer satisfaction. Compellingly, it outlines why managers are the worst people to entrust change to. Anyone with a manager will back the authors on this one.

However, here’s the problem. This book is written for managers, it tells them to devolve power and thrust themselves far down the pecking order. Human nature tells us that this is unlikely. This book is a little like reading the work diary of a rather bright wannabe manager who has, perhaps, a few too many ideas of his own. As a bystander, it is easy to redesign the grandest of constructions. However, once power has been assigned, it is a little harder to let go of. The authors hold their views with passion. Is that enough to change the way in which managers work? Knowing where paradise lies is not always a guarantee that one wishes to make the journey.

Craig Hickman
John Wiley and Sons

“Chapter 1. The FedEx envelope for Taylor Zobrist arrived a little before 10am on Thursday morning. Taylor’s assistant, Amy Grow, saw who it was from, stood immediately, made her way through the long maze of cubicles to her boss’s office, and opened the door.” So begins Hickman’s business parable. It may not be as blunt a beginning as “Once upon a time …” but, make no mistake, this tour through the five stages of innovation is a novel. When business authors choose this structure for their work it usually marks a frustrated novelist who desperately wants to prove his worth in the only format publishers will allow him. The difference with Hickman’s tale is that it is, for the most part, well told. Though Hickman sometimes strays into a tad more poetic detail than is necessary- he keeps it punchy, informative and pithy. This is an airport novel with business bullet points. It’s a tale of corporate cheats, spooks and saboteurs. It’s a tale of innovation and the hurdles one must vault to achieve innovation. Imagine a spoonful of Arthur Hailey, a drop of John Grisham and a dollop of Peter Drucker.

Hickman has already earned his stripes as a traditional business author and he has dutifully played the Harvard MBA game. With this book, he tries something new and should be congratulated for doing so. Most business books bring tears of boredom to one’s eyes. Case studies, quotes and diagrams are the staple diet. With An innovator’s tale Hickman does his bit to break the mould – and has a pretty good crack at it.


Related reading