“These books create problems”

    Frau mit Megafon steht in offenem Buch
    Von Adrian Furnham

    Many of the countless management books available today are rather simple-mindedeinfältigsimple-minded. They tend to follow a formula that may sell books but, paradoxically, may also encourage incompetence. Consider the ideas that go into a typical bestselling book:

    • A single technique or approach is the “secret” of good management. Yet business is not simple, and managing people is like trying to to herd catsetwa: einen Sack Flöhe hütenherd cats. No one technique can overcome or even control the myriadunzähligmyriad challengeHerausforderungchallenges involved in managing people or products.

    • Human behaviour is changeable. If this is true, why are people in therapy for years? It is practically impossible to change behaviour legally and ethically if the person does not want to change.

    • The individual is the unitEinheit; hier: entscheidende Größeunit of change. This neglects social and economic factors. Even if one could change individuals, the appropriatepassendappropriate company infrastructure must be in place for change to succeed.

    • All the stakeholderBeteiligte(r)stakeholders in the company will benefit from the new technique. Yet what may be good for management may not be good for workers.

    • The technique is universally effective. But while the promise of universal truth helps worldwide sales, the idea that it works for both Alaskans and Zambians, or for both the manufacturing and the services sector, is obvious nonsense.

    If these are the messages of modern business books, then they may well be the cause rather than the cure of many managerial problems


    • The message for poor bewilderedverwirrtbewildered managers to float(umher)treibenfloating on an ocean of problems is, quite simply, that they can become to become a master of sth.etw. (selbst) meisternmasters of their fate. But managers and their staff are interdependent, and by encouraging maverickunkonventionell, ausgefallenmaverick techniques, how-to-do-it books often lead to tears rather than to the desired targets.

    • The book promises quick and easy results. There is little talk about cost and a lot about outcomeErgebnis(se)outcome. In fact, the precise nature of the process is rarely explained.

    • The book is filled with common sense dressedverbrämt, herausgeputztdressed up in modish jargon. This is easier to sell than uncomfortable truths that to defy sth.etw. trotzen; hier: zuwiderlaufendefy common sense.

    • It includes case studies showing happy customers. There are never criticisms, moments of doubt or any mention of the negative side of the process.

    • It gives the impression that people, markets and customers are logical, rational automatonAutomat, Roboterautomatons and that if you simply follow a sethier: vorgegebenset number of steps, all will be well. As we all know, this does not work — not even with computers.

    • Managers are invited to interpret the general principles for their own purposes. This is the basic trick of all fortune tellerWahrsager(in)fortune tellers — they speak vaguely and you interpret specifically.

    • Managers are seen as boldly pushing back the frontierGrenzefrontiers like conquerors on a heroic voyage. Saving companies has replaced saving princesses in today’s folk taleVolksmärchenfolk tales.

    If these are the messages of modern business books, then they may well be the cause rather than the cure of many managerial problems.


    Adrian Furnham

    Adrian Furnham is a psychology professor at University College, London. His latest book is The Resilient Manager: Navigating the Challenges of Working Life.

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