… but no coach or trainer? In its February 2009 issue, Harvard Business Review published an article by Gary Hamel’s Moon Shots for Management, a list of 25 challenges to reinvent management that were compiled from the conversations of 35 “veteran academics, new-age management thinkers, progressive CEOs, and venture capitalists” at an event organised by The Management Lab. A prestigious publication trailering a headline feature that drops those names was always going to attract comment.

The rebel-rousing (well, within leadership/management parameters) tone was, we suspect (especially in these social media conscious days), deliberately chosen to evoke it. Here’s a sample:

… executives and experts must first admit that they’ve reached the limits of Management 1.0 – the industrial age paradigm built atop the principles of standardization, specialization, hierarchy, control, and primacy of shareholder interests. They must face the fact that tomorrow’s business imperatives lie outside the performance envelope of today’s bureaucracy-infused management practices.

Second, they must cultivate, rather than repress, their dissatisfaction with the status quo. What’s needed is a little righteous indignation.”

Some of the reaction might not be quite what HBR (or Hamel) had in mind. Authentic Organizations – cited as one of the top HR blogs of 2009 – was certainly a few steps short when it came to slipping into its ra-ra outfit and waving its pom-poms frantically on the touchline. Indeed, it’s reaction was a bit more prosaic – “Scanning the list, you’ll note that not a single item is new.

Purposive Drift wasn’t playing cheerleader either, although others were more positive – see, for example, kevindoohan.com or Dennis Snow’s blog. But debate is debate, and that surely was the initial intention.

Looking at the list – and you can cast your vote for their comparative importance and your own organisation’s progress toward each of the 25 online in HBR’s modestly titled ‘The Future of Management’ survey – I was left one with two burning questions.

Burning question 1
There are, by implication alone, at least 25 bad habits waiting to be broken here: where is the future role of HR, of learning, of development, of learning transfer, of line management in developing talent? Moonshot 25 implores us to:

Retrain managerial minds – Managers’ traditional deductive and analytical skills must be complemented by conceptual and systems-thinking skills.”

–  which must be a considerable understatement, given that there are 24 other equally all-encompassing objectives preceding it. Without wishing to denigrate Gary Hamel and his colleagues – these people aren’t considered gurus for nothing (indeed, they are possibly considered gurus for quite a tidy sum) – this does all also smack a little of Aldous Huxley and Dan Dare. There’s a kind of breathless futurism here, wrapped in the cosy appeal of nostalgia for events (given that the first moon landings were in 1969) that may well have figured in the childhoods of many of their main target audience.

The lure of retro-futurism is that it combines the promise of the future with the cosy glow of the past without necessarily impacting on the current at all. There’s plenty of blue (and black, and starry) sky thinking in the Moon Shots for Management idea, but there’s very little in terms of a route map.

‘New’ is always tempting – which explains why it’s one of the most over-used words in all of marketing: few of us ever stop to question whether ‘new’ also means ‘better’ rather than just ‘different’. New implies change – another word with similar issues – when what we should be seeking is improvement rather than just change. To move forward, each of us needs the right intervention or stimulus at the right time. But while doing nothing isn’t an option, the answer is not just to do something different(ly). Nor the answer a destination, it’s also a process and a journey. If we don’t know how to get there, we won’t.

Burning question 2
Burning question 2 actually got asked in The Independent this week by John Walsh: Futurists, Vorticists, Imagists: where are the manifesto writers today?In looking back at the pioneering, past-revoking, future-worshipping artistic movements on the 20th Century and wondering where their like are to be found today, Walsh is looking in the wrong direction – he should have tried the Business Schools, not the art schools. (If you’re not familiar with Futurists, they are a fascinating case study, though it’s hard to decide what they prove – beyond perhaps the folly of bravado and the dangers of extremist politics.)

Whether this is as much a reflection of the demise of art in public life as a force for anything, let alone change, or of the rise of importance in public life and human thought of business is a moot point. The tendency of guru’s gurus to be lastingly praised voices rather than to be tumultuous rebels is also an interesting point: should we favour revolution – which is all explosions, barricades and excitement but might be a flash in the pan – or evolution, which seems a bit slow in comparison but is responsive and adaptive and might ensure survival?

But in its vocabulary of rebellion, turmoil and upheaval to overthrow the untenable, it’s all very – at least superficially – rock’n’roll. But whether Business is the new Rock’n’Roll or rock’n’roll is just another business with some distinctive postures of its own is a whole different post

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