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« The biggest difference between 20th and 21st Century Management | Main | New defense of traditional management: firms need less innovation! »

August 28, 2010


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Michelle Delebet

Steve, this is a compelling blog. It reinforces for me why I have recently chosen a new path - both to escape the traditional management that was failing the organisation and, more importantly, to pursue my dream that there is a better way, a successful way, and that there are others who think the same way that I do and want help to move toward it. Thanks for helping me retain my focus and for your many ideas which stimulate new conversations.

Ralf Westphal

Why do ineffective habits persist? Some thoughts. I´d say, there are several reasons:

1. Missing link between cause and effect. When a company measures it has lost sales compared to last year, how is this data tied to a) management decisions?, b) management values?

2. Personal errors must be avoided. Any non-intended effect of a managers decisions tends to be attributed to some outside factors, since personal failure is a no go. You fail, you get fired. This further dilutes the connection between cause and effect. And this impedes learning.

3. Adoration of past successes. What has worked in the past must work in the future. And if it does not work then you must try harder.

4. Ruthlessness. As long as I personally gain any benefit from success or failure, why should I change anything?

Matt Koschmann

The sad truth is that traditional management DOES work for a select few...mainly those in power. Short term profits, outsourcing, downsizing, etc. do benefit many at the top of these companies. Yes, they may eventually run their companies into the ground, but these people will not be around to experience the downfall. Chances are they will have retired, cashed out, or moved on to another company before the negative effects of their decisions come to light. Until we address the fact that there are strong incentives for the powerful to continue practicing the principles of traditional management I'm not sure it will go away. Hopefully ideas like radical management can spur on the development of a new culture of organizational thinking...especially among the future generation of leaders and those who will be in positions of power.

Matt Koschmann
Department of Communication
University of Colorado

Sara O'Neill

This article is really interesting in that it describes what doesn't work but it doesn't detail what we should be doing instead. It's pretty clear that what is happening in many organisations isn't working but the problem that many are grappling with is what new interventions to develop that are (a) palatable to business owners trained in the old ways; and (b) palatable to employees who are used to the old ways. I don't disagree with this article but neither does it clearly articulate a vision for the future - apart from "old ways bad".

Steve Denning

Sara, I quite agree. This particular post is about what's bad. Elsewhere on the blog, my website and and in the forthcoming book, The Leader's Guide to Radical Management, you will find a lot of detail about what's good, including the seven principles of innovation and more than seventy practices supporting those principles. These principles will be very palatable even to business owners only interested in the bottom line, because it happens to be two- to four-times more productive than the traditional management. And it will be palatable to those doing the work, because it generates deep job satisfaction. I hope you will find this helpful. Steve


Good post. I did an interview with Dan Pink a few months ago. He regularly says "Management is a tool. A tool invented in the 1800s."

Steve Denning


October 5, 1841, to be precise. On that day, a couple of trains on the Western Railroad had a head-on collision. A conductor and a passenger were killed, and seventeen others were injured. Following a public outcry, the directors of the Western Railroad appointed a committee headed by an army man, Major George W. Whistler, to determine what sort of organization should be in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Being an army man, he proposed, guess what, a military solution: rules, regulations, hierarchy, detailed reporting so that if someone made a mistake they could be punished. And so his recommendations became the model for big organizations. In a stable world where you didn't have worry much about customers, this worked ok. In today's world of rapid change where the customer is in charge, it doesn't work any more. But companies keep doing it. Business schools keep teaching it. Management journals keep publishing articles about how to tweak it. But it's like medieval medicine. About time we stopped using it.



Why do business schools continue to teach management and leadership practices form the industrial revolution? The Wall Street Journal and other experts think there is a better way to lead an organization

Pete Laburn

There is a wonderful quote from Upton Sinclair that goes "It is very difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it". This I think helps explain why traditional management continues - it is how the vast majority of corporate managers are paid or incentivized to behave. Corporations just don't want mavericks / leaders who change things, as the legacy thinking and systems just wont cope.

Steve Denning


Great quote!


Health News

I can't believe how much of this I just wasn't aware of. Thank you for bringing more information to this topic for me. I'm truly grateful and really impressed.

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