Is Management a General Skill?

1 May 2008 at 9:14 am 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

First Matthew Stewart, now Simon Blackburn — philosophers writing about management without actually knowing anything about management. Muses Blackburn:

People can be persuaded, and ordered, given incentives and penalties, suppressed and killed, but not managed. Human affairs can be administered, but administration is not management. One administers to people and their needs. One tries to manage them by ignoring whichever of their needs is inconvenient and by treating them as a mere means to your own ends. But, mirabile dictu, people treated like that become irritable and subversive and quite quickly unmanageable.

Daniel Davies tries valiantly to deconstruct this passage and concludes, rightly I think, that Blackburn hasn’t the slightest idea what he’s talking about. I find Davies’s own definition of “management” too narrow, focusing on routine administration and small-group leadership but excluding the activities of the general manager, but I think he gets Blackburn right. Philosophers, please stick to examining thyselves!

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Management Theory.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Scott  |  1 May 2008 at 8:55 pm

    I don’t know, Peter. I shouldn’t comment on this without following and reading the links, but there is a reason we call university officers administrators rather than managers. We had a dean who referred to himself, his assistants, and department heads as managers, and they acted accordingly. And the reaction of (many) faculty could be accurately characterized as “irritable and subversive and quite quickly unmanageable.” One might argue that faculty are a different breed (I wouldn’t), but I think the quote, at least out of context, contains an element of truth.

  • 2. Warren Miller  |  2 May 2008 at 7:04 pm

    With respect, Scott, I would strongly argue that faculty ARE “a different breed,” to use your phrase. Show me one other group in America where, once ‘tenured,’ performance is irrelevant to employment, and the job is permanent. If that doesn’t make them different, kindly explain to me why not.

  • 3. Scott  |  3 May 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Well, federal judges, for one.
    But that’s an institutional/organizational feature, not a difference in human nature. As evidence that faculty are not a unique species I offer the existence of a popular cartoon series built in large part on the premise that employees are more sophisticated than pointy haired managers think.

  • 4. Peter Klein  |  3 May 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Scott and Warren, fair points on all sides. But the key to Blackburn’s view is not the sentence quoted by Scott, but the one before, which shows that some people just don’t grasp the concept of gains from trade, of mutually beneficial exchange.It’s taught on the first day of Econ 101 but iis apparently beyond the ken of Cambridge philosophers. (You really have to read Davies’s commentary to get the gist of the silliness.)

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