Taking aim at Tom Peters and the jerks at work -- this month's book picks.
By Matthew Stewart
Norton, 304 pages, $27.95
In their guts most entrepreneurs know that management is an art, not a science, and that success has little to do with what you learned in school -- especially business school.
For business owners with lingering doubts, this book is a worthy antidote. The author, a philosopher-turned-consultant-turned-critic, argues that "management science" is mostly a lucrative religion, with consultants its know-nothing high priests. These consultants, in his view, are woefully short on knowledge and experience; at one firm where he worked, "even the older partners had managed little that was more complex than a Thanksgiving dinner."
Of particular note to entrepreneurs -- who specialize in creating something where there was nothing -- is the inherent conservatism of most professional management advice. Consultants tend to favor optimizing existing businesses and cutting their least profitable parts because "figuring out how to cut costs is easier than thinking up new ways to generate revenue."
Stewart directs withering firepower at such management gurus as Tom Peters, whose anodyne nostrums (have a bias for action, stay close to the customer and so forth) he condemns. Does anyone really think we should embrace dithering and keep a healthy distance from our customers? "Since Peters," Stewart writes, "it has become clear that the market for inanities masquerading as profound insights knows no limits."
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