Books that take a big picture theme and attempt to explain it clearly, preferably with a sprinkling of anecdotes, are in vogue. Alain de Botton recently brought us Religion for Atheists, while Sunstein and Thaler brought us Nudge, which proposed a ‘third way’ (while trying not to call it that) between paternalism and libertarianism. Amusing us with tales of insects painted onto urinals to encourage a sense of direction, they also took aim – in a more metaphorical sense – at behavioural economics, explaining how a cheese and wine party hosted by ‘Econs’ might turn out. (Fabulously for those who look primarily for efficiency as the sign of a good party, it would appear.)

Masters of Management, a fairly updated version of the earlier The Witch Doctors (an absolute classic, available from Amazon for £0.01 at time of writing, and still eminently readable), shares this ever-so-slightly-down-the-bridge-of-one’s-nose view of the labouring millions, as one might expect from a writer schooled by The Economist. There are one or two things that the reader has to take for granted -not least that this is a by-product of The Economist, and that free market theories will be politely and eruditely defended while egalitarian tendencies can expect criticism. But a few sacred cows are declared fair game along the way, and if not exactly slaughtered then at the least given quite a public carpeting. And the wider world also makes a welcome intrusion. Though it’s not the kind of book to use such a flippant example, were it to view, say, Cabaret through economists’ eyes, it wouldn’t stop at commenting on the skilful deployment of a low-cost pool of creative labour (the turns), the ironic brand-positioning (the band), and the approach to a potentially hostile demographic (selling drinks and ‘services’ to the SS). It would also point out that the rise of fascism and the advent of war was going to have a disastrous impact on more than just the bar’s P&L account.

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The charisma thing has, it seems, raised its perfectly groomed head once more. The always readable Mervyn Dinnen blogged in response to a Guardian article by Jonathan Freedland, both exploring the apparent gap between the type of leaders we elect or support, and the kind of leaders we might choose if perhaps we put a bit more thought into the process. As is customary in contemporary business blogging circles, lines from a song were quoted. I think this is primarily an attribute of the demographic profile of bloggers, and can only plead guilty. And as songs go, Paul Weller’s Going Underground has retained the lyrical and emotive power it originally had around the time I heard being blasted live from the back of flat-bed trucks at various protests and marches in the early 1980s. Personally, however, I might have chosen a line a few bars further into the song that strikes me as both truer and considerably more cynical: “The public wants what the public gets”.

That’s not a suggestion of subservience, masochism or blind obedience, by the way. I think it’s rather closer to Gareth Jones’ observation, posted as a comment to Mervyn Dinnen’s blog post:

When you live in a bubble, that is all you know. If, for example you have 2 large dogs in your household then you house is likely to smell of dogs. You won’t notice the smell as you will be used to it. Even when you pop out to work or for a night out you won’t notice it when you come back. It’s only when you leave it for an extended period of time that you notice it smells of dogs.  However, when someone visits they can smell it but are mostly too polite to mention it.” 

Gareth’s point is about being in touch – having sufficient contact with ‘visitors’ that someone eventually has the audacity to mention the dreadful pong and suggest something is done about it. There’s a lot to be said for a breath of fresh air, after all. But Gareth’s point is also that the issue, nebulous as it might be, is systemic.

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As a highly successful business author, Patrick Lencioni may well need no introduction, although his individual style – imparting lessons through business fables – is very much a personal hallmark. From my first encounter with his book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team (which my colleague, Chris Rogers, reviewed here), I was immediately drawn to the way that he delivers his lessons in the form of a story, complete with characters, drama and plot. I had to consciously leave aside my reservations that his approach omitted the structure, methodology and models to support his argument… but as it turned out, I did not have to wait too long to sigh with relief. I found everything I sought at the back of the book.

It helped to draw me in that the first two dysfunctions he tackled were lack of trust and avoiding conflict, themes and experiences that chimed with my own thoughts and frustrations when dealing with many global senior managers and executives. Won over by the style and approach, I read on through the remaining dysfunctions and found myself appreciating a very satisfying read. (Satisfied enough to turn to some of his other works, where I found rich material on a range of approaches and ideas to free up thinking, manage meetings and handle change.)

His most recent book, Getting Naked: A Business Fable about shedding the Three Fears that Sabotage Client Loyalty, differs from his earlier output. Rather than the global CEO/CIO population, Lencioni has aimed this book at “anyone whose success is tied to building loyal and creating sticky relationships with the people they serve” – including not just service providers of many stripes but also people in his own trade: consultants.

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Looking at the coverage that The Iron Lady – a biopic of Margaret Thatcher, for those who’ve somehow managed to miss it – has so far inevitably collected, opinion is fittingly divided. Knowing I was going to see it, as it was a friend’s choice as part of her day of birthday events, I’d been following newspaper articles for a while. It struck me that the first of many ironies about the film was that those who were speaking out against the film had almost certainly not seen it. One of the leading character’s repeated points in the film is that feeling has taken precedence over ideas and thinking in modern life (one wonders what she’d have made of this recent article), yet many of those speaking out against the film seemed to be doing so as they ‘felt’ it was inappropriate or wrong. One wonders what the lady herself would have said to them. (Although wondering is something that the film is likely to generate a lot of.)

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Maybe it’s because the news is so heavily dominated by economic issues and the possible fates of European countries – waking up to the Today programme is becoming more and more like having someone murmur a Financial Times leader column at you through your pillow – but the ‘countries are just like companies’ analogy seems to be going viral. There was an example recently at Inc – Understanding the Euro Crisis: Imagine Italy Was Your Business – that was very wittily written, and actually quite a good way of explaining the interconnectedness of the European economic situation to anyone that’s been living under a rock since 2008.

Explaining things in ways that the unfamiliar can readily grasp is a proven pedagogic technique that I’m not decrying. But oversimplifying things so people think they’ve grasped something they’ve completed misunderstood is a different kettle of fish. It can be done comic effect, such as Alan Coren’s commentary on the density of the Belgian population –

For the same reason, the sprout was developed by Brussels agronomists, this being the largest cabbage a housewife could possibly carry through the teeming streets.”

but an awareness of the dangers of being taken seriously is a handy thing in any comedian.

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There’s been quite a lively debate at Business Week, where two contributors – and a long list of commenters – indulged in some weighty mutual executive briefcasing (handbagging just didn’t sound right) in response to the question: “Multi-dimensional organisational design (Matrix) is the best way to restructure a business. Pro or con?”

In the Pro corner, Jay Galbraith argues for the value, inherent merit and – in today’s trading environment – the inevitability of the victory of a collaborative approach over a command and control variety. In the Con corner, Guido Quelle sees matrix organisations as painfully slow, lacking clarity and clear lines of responsibility. Verbal bruisings have been administered and received on both sides but there’s been no knock-out punch: anyone hoping to see the late, grand old man, Peter Drucker holding the limp wrist of one argument aloft and counting to ten would be disappointed.

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… in which we explore the nature of leadership, the nature of cynicism and the crossroads where these two paths meet. You may or may not be getting to the ‘yada yada yada’ stage with video clips that make points about this, that and the other. If you are, pick another blog posting now and spare yourself. If you’re feeling more tolerant, trying watching this:

And then have a read of a TED Conference 3-minute speech Derek Sivers wrote based around the clip. Your inner cynic may be thinking several things at this point:

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