In ‘The Puritan Gift’ (Hopper and Hopper, 2009), the authors discuss how, during the 20th century, a business school education (with its conferment of MBAs to management ‘experts’) became to be seen as a universal qualification for managers. This gave rise to the damaging cult of the ‘expert’ manager which they argue has dominated western business and society from the 1970s to the present day.
(T)he business schools taught America’s future leaders to think quantitatively as money managers, not qualitatively and quantitatively as managers of humans and material, as well as financial, resources. Over a period of years, (principally in the decade of the 1980s), this resulted in a profound shift in the general attitude of senior executives.
The new men and women would conform to the neo-Taylorite stereotype … in the sense that they saw the company primarily through the prism of either the profit and loss account or of the brand name or of both – but mostly the former. This narrowness of outlook created enormous difficulties; as the sociologist, Abraham Maslow, famously observed in another context, ‘It is tempting, if your only tool is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.’
The new generation of senior managers had little knowledge of, or interest in, what was going on at ‘the coal face’ or, as the Japanese say, at the gemba – ‘the real place’, the point where value was created. For the Japanese, the key to successful kaizen (or continuous improvement)is to go to the gemba, work with the gembutsu (the actual thing, i.e. the relevant tools, materials, machines, parts and fixtures) and assemble the genjitsu (all the relevant facts). This is, for example, the basis of the Toyota Production System. The business school graduates had little interest in any of these three. This very point would be made by Stanley Marcus in 1986:
“Thousands of aspiring executives will be graduating from the business schools in which the management of money has been the central thrust of their education … Their perspective is such that they don’t want to get behind a sales counter to learn about customers or behind a machine to learn about products … Too many young executives know something about many things, but not a lot about anything. in their race to the presidency, [they] lose sight of the fact that some jobs within a company take years to master”
Hopper and Hopper 2009 ‘The Puritan Gift’ I.B. Tauris and Co: New York p167
These business schools and the managers they have churned out have conferred legitimacy on what Deming called the ‘prevailing style of management’ and what we would characterise as the command and control logic which is dominant in most of our organisations.