Take me to your readers: paper tigers

‘The world knows he was the greatest management thinker of the last century,’
said Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric. While ‘The Man Who
Invented Management: Why Peter Drucker’s Ideas Still Matter,’ sounds like the
theme of a Business Week editorial.

Drucker has been credited with so many things over the years: advocating
corporate decentralisation, treating workers as assets rather than liabilities,
and even sowing the seeds of many of the ideas behind the knowledge economy.

But as is often the way with obituaries, Drucker’s drawbacks are easily
overlooked, not least in the publishing industry where he spawned the belief
that virtually any business problem can be solved simply by digesting a couple
of chapters of the latest Amazon business bestseller.

This week the secrets of successful management will cost you just £8.99 and
an hour with Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Or you
might turn to other books in the top 10: Screw It, Let’s Do It
(Richard Branson, of course) or How to Get Hired, Not Fired (Alan
Sugar’s inevitable Apprentice tie-in).

Can these books really tell us as much about valuable management techniques
as the more classical texts by Drucker and his contemporaries?

It would be ridiculous to dismiss everything that’s new. A few years ago I
reviewed Leadership the Sven-Goran Eriksson Way for this paper and
found it more insightful than many of the classic texts.

But it’s clear that business books are not immune to the publishing
industry’s lurch into more populist territory. Populism, though, is not the real
problem with the management publishing industry. The real problem lies with
readers. We are seduced far too easily by a catchy title and a well-turned

So when a manager picks up the latest offering in an airport bookshop and
skims it over a gin and tonic in club class, buying a copy for every colleague
can seem the answer to every corporate ill.

That’s why journalists in one publishing company came in one Monday morning a
few years ago to find a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? on their desks.

More recently it’s the sort of thinking that led to a group of school dinner
ladies (I’ll spare the blushes of the education authority that thought it a good
idea) being issued with Gung Ho: Turn on the People in any Organization
( sales rank: 19,057, by the way).

Damian Wild is editor in chief of Accountancy Age

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