Managing Excerptations: Technology and Humanity

Managing Excerptations: Technology and Humanity

I started my blog to kick my non-writing habit. I've now got enough material to start blocking out a book (hooray!). So while I'm doing that, I thought I'd start a small series looking at some of the books that have influenced me.

"Managing expectations" is one of my least favourite managerialisms. I cringe whenever I hear it. Expecting is about hope, which is the only thing that keeps many professionals going. We take what we can from life and do our best with it.

So this series is about some of the excerpts that caught my eye over the last six months. They're part of what gives me hope about the profession of management.

I read a lot. My view is that the practice of management is going through a scientific revolution a la Thomas Kuhn. There is so much good material out there that reading is a requirement for the modern management professional.

I also read in parallel. I've just finished Peter Druckers 2001 book The Essential Drucker. There is so much packed into this book its formed the primary lens that I apply to my work.

So I'm going to dedicate the next few Managing Excerptation posts to some of my favourite parts. Think of it as a drunkards walk through a book review.

One of the challenges the management professional faces is what tradition to call upon when describing what they do. I still haven't been able to explain to my mother 'what my job is.' Scientists and artists have a fairly clear identity based on a shared tradition. Though they are less distinct than they might otherwise believe.

We've had science and art for millenia. But we've only had management, in its current form for a few hundred years. The management professional doesn't have a long and ancient tradition to call upon. We're not even teenagers. We're the toddlers of the professional world. Which doesn't make any easier our search for identity.


"Management deals with action and application; and its test is results. This makes it a technology. But management also deals with people, their values, their growth and development - and this makes it a humanity."

You may not immediately think of management as a technology. We tend to think of instruments and apparatus as technology. My mobile phone is a piece of technology, not my Gantt chart. The original Greek tekhnologia meant 'systematic treatment of an art, craft or technique'. So, yes, management is a technology.

It is a humanity because it deals with people. There is a lot of junk science in the profession of management. Sumantra Ghoshal referred to this as "excessive truth claims". Anyone who's read me knows I view the conventional risk management heat map on the same level as astrology when it comes to managing. All this bumpf distracts us from seeing management as a humanity, as being about people.


"Management is thus what tradition used to call a liberal art - 'liberal' because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom and leadership; 'art' because it is also concerned with practice and application. Managers draw on all the knowledges and insights of the humanities and the social sciences - on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on ethics - as well as on the physical sciences."

That's a pretty good summation for me. Particularly the emphasis on drawing on a wide range of knowledges. This makes the management professional by necessity a widely read, open minded individual who works with a variety of tools and frames.

We are all also specialists: we must be because we all work within the knowledge economy. But some of us choose to extend ourselves beyond our specialization. We choose to put time into the practice of management itself.

And that's what makes a manager.

Image via Gratisography