Friday, May 26, 2020

Good, Blunt Truth

One of the best things I’ve read about management for a long time was published this week — and it’s only 11 pages long. It a manifesto by Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford Engineering School, and it’s called “Management Advice: Which 90% is Crap?” You can download for free here.

Robert Sutton is the joint author, with Jeffrey Pfeffer, of a book I recommended recently. It’s called: Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management.

Here’s an example of the real wisdom in this manifesto:
Just a few weeks ago, a manager at a Stanford executive program—from a big health insurance company—told me that he had been forced to institute a General Electric-style “A,B,C” ranking system on his team of eight people. He complained to his boss that he had spent years melding together a cooperative and effective team and couldn’t understand why it made sense to fire one of his people and give 80% of the bonus money to his top two people. His boss answered, “This system is being used throughout the Fortune 500.” This logic reminds me of the blunt old saying, “Eat shit. 100 billion flies can’t be wrong.”
Hooray for Robert Sutton! That kind of idiot, so-called “management technique” owes more to excessive testosterone and ego than brains. Anyone who considers it sensible needs to visit a shrink. Anyone who acts on it should be put away for a long time in a maximum security jail for serial leadership offenders.

Here’s another gem:
If you want an instructive comparison, read the acceptance speeches given by Nobel Prize winners. I did this a few years ago. All the winners in economics, for example, carefully went through the ideas they borrowed, listed the scores of people who inspired them, and emphasized that their contribution was a logical extension and blend of existing work. Something is wrong with this picture—the gurus claim breakthroughs, but the Nobel laureates do not. As we were writing Hard Facts, the best advice we got about breakthrough ideas came in an e-mail from Stanford’s James March, perhaps the most prestigious living organizational theorist. He warned us that “most claims of originality are testimony to ignorance and most claims of magic are testimony to hubris.” Soundly put.
This site too puts out management advice and so may sometimes fall into the 90% that Robert Sutton labels crap. It seems a good idea, therefore, to remind you that nothing here is, I believe, entirely new; nothing is claimed as some kind of a breakthrough; and much of what I write draws on the ideas and wisdom of many other people, some of them long dead. What we’re trying to do at Slow Leadership is remind people of truths that have been around for a long time: that haste makes waste; that driving your people to the edge of breakdown isn’t something to be proud of; and that the real job of a leader is to create and preserve a workplace that’s a more civilized and satisfying place to work than it was when he or she found it.

So read the manifesto, buy the book, and join us at Slow Leadership in our quest to replace all the deadly management-guru crap out there with something closer to plain commonsense and sound logic.

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Carmine, couldn't agree more. As the host of the Cranky Middle Manager show podcast, (and someone who has interviewed 50 authors and management experts for the show) I hear a lot of the same stuff and a lot that is just plain, well, nonsense.

The point, and you make it well, is that there is very little new under the sun. Sometimes, however, We need to hear it at just that time, said just that way for it to cut through the fog. I wrote an article on this for just this morning.

On my show I try to put stuff out there, let people judge for themselves and stick to the few things we know to be true. You can hear the show at Thanks for your hard work.

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