Is management theory dead?

Happy New Year! It’s 2017, and the calendar kindly gave us a 1-day reprieve from the real world. Jobs, and schools, and thinking about everything on our to-do lists. There will be time soon enough to recap the old and think about what’s trending and what’s hot. But first, just one quick question:

Is 2017 the year we rethink our guiding mumbo-jumbo?

The Economist recently published a thought-provoking article entitled “Management Theory is Becoming a Compendium of Dead Ideas.” It compares management theory to medieval Christianity in the time before Martin Luther came around with his 95 theses:

“Management theorists sanctify capitalism in much the same way that clergymen of yore sanctified feudalism. Business schools are the cathedrals of capitalism. Consultants are its travelling friars. Just as the clergy in the Middle Ages spoke in Latin to give their words an air of authority, management theorists speak in mumbo-jumbo.”

The author points to four basic business rules that “bear almost no relation to reality”:

  • business is more competitive than ever
  • we live in an age of entrepreneurship
  • business is getting faster
  • globalization is both inevitable and irreversible

A couple of thoughts on the demise of management theory.

Management Theory in Action (Not)

A lot of small businesses face a crowded field as the Internet and ease of access to starting up have lowered the barriers to entry. But how many are truly your competition? I see a lot of gurus hanging out marketing and social media “open for business” signs, but I don’t see a significant increase in long-term sustainable businesses. For larger companies, meanwhile, it is clear that consolidation is happening at a rapid rate. This is even true in the tech universe (just think of the number of companies that Facebook and Google have gobbled up).

Regarding globalization, the U.K. just voted to separate itself from the European Union and the U.S. just went through an election filled with anti-trade rhetoric from both major party candidates. So are open markets inevitable? I would have said yes (and overall beneficial too despite the challenges), but now I’m not sure the future of globalization is that bright.

I also have ideas on entrepreneurship and the speed of business, but I’d like to hear from you. Is The Economist right? Are the “old rules of business” obsolete?

Feature photo by Gabrielle Fab; At Work by jeffdjevdet (Flickr).

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