"If you want to succeed in business, don't get an MBA. Study philosophy instead." Matthew Stewart.
Those words, the byline of a June 2006 article, "The Management Myth", were brought to my attention by my friend Alexander Kjerulf, better known as the Chief Happiness Officer. While they certainly caught my attention, I was even more intrigued by the fact that they were written by the founder of a successful management consulting firm; an industry where an MBA is almost obligatory.
In the wake of the credit crunch, business schools, consultants and MBAs have all come under great scrutiny and suffered rather tarnished reputations, so it was noteworthy that this piece was written before that professional Icarian plunge. This enhanced its credibility even more. For me, however, it struck an even deeper chord. For as long as I can remember the ambitious part of my persona has hankered after studying an MBA, while the more prosaic, natural inclination has always leaned more towards studying philosophy. This appeared to vindicate such leanings.
Yet it goes deeper than that, because it actually articulated something that I had never dared voice - a question as to the real merit of an MBA. The longer I worked the more I have grown to see 'management' as being primarily about people. Business, like any other walk of life, is ultimately all about people, with sustained success therefore being the ability to make the most of the people one works with. Thus management and people management are actually synonymous terms. Consequently, the greater my exposure to management theory and MBAs, the more convinced I have become that they are deficient because they do not adequately address the humanitarian aspects upon which success is ultimately dependent. Now, here at last, is independent justification for my quasi-heretical thinking.
Of course there is more too it than that, because as a consultant myself, there is a kind of schizophrenia that prevents me from distancing myself too far from the "bread-and-butter" management theory that provides my livelihood. There is no doubt that Stewart has some very forthright opinions, and certainly does not have a high regard for the profession or the management theory that underpins it. Thus I found myself challenging every statement to ascertain to what extent I could or couldn't accept it or had compromised myself.
For instance, he writes about the "maddening papal infallibility" for which he appears to find scant justification. He also refers to the fads, and says, "Each new fad calls attention to one virtue or another - first its efficiency, then quality, next it's customer satisfaction, then supplier satisfaction, then self-satisfaction, and finally, at some point, it's efficiency all over again." This certainly caused some soul searching, because I passionately believe that my service makes a difference, and thus I could easily fall into a trap of "papal infallibility." I also found myself questioning whether my offering could be categorised as being a fad, or even whether I was myself being trendy in following the "self-satisfaction" fad.
I was certainly relieved to be able to convince myself that this was definitely not the case. Why not? Because my approach is a philosophical one! It is founded entirely on creating a win-win for individual and organisation, and based on mutual-optimisation. Certainly the potential benefits it offers exceed anything normally associated with management theory. I am sure Stewart would approve!