Does Management Advice Actually Work?

So I was getting a root canal last week and I asked the doctor if they were going to use a checklist. “After all,” I said, “as everyone knows, Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto showed that the use of checklists dramatically reduces the chances of medical error, like maybe root-canaling the wrong tooth.”

She replied, “Atul who? Open wide.” ZuhhWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

Once the Novocain wore I off I went to over to Whole Foods for something to eat. I noticed that the checkout lines were all backed up, and I asked the manager, “Tell me, have you ever considered taking a Toyota Lean approach to revamping your checkout stations? There seems to be a considerable amount of muda here getting in the way of delivering the value of time savings to your customers.”

He looked at me and said, “Toyota what?”

When I got home, I watched this report on CBS about how corporate/company meetings are a big waste of time and money — 37 billion dollars a year by one estimate. I thought this was awfully important. I was going to share it with one of my clients, but unfortunately we could never get together to discuss this new idea, as we were both tied up in meetings all day.

I am very sensitive to human suffering, especially when I am the human doing the suffering. While a certain amount of misery is inevitable, an awful lot of extraneous human suffering can be traced to a management decision somewhere that inevitably led to it. So, like so many other people, I think management-ology is an important subject. But I am starting to wonder if there is any point in it.

We live in a virtual sea of management advice these days. There are books, blogs, articles, magazines, seminars, university courses, webinars, consultants, speakers, and trainers, all there to cultivate better management. So here’s my question: is any of this management advice actually . . well . . . you know . . . working?

I am sure there have been many individual epiphanies and improvements here and there, but if you compare our current state of overall management expertise and effectiveness to the big picture of historical norms, can we honestly say we have better leaders and managers nowadays? In making your comparisons, remember that Romulus and Remus never read Good to Great, Eisenhower never read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and NASA put men on the moon without a single visit from Tony Robbins.

I hate to be the one to say it, but when it comes to trying to persuade people in power to do something different, logic, efficiency, and serving the greater good are turning out to be ineffective arguments. We must always remember that when people possess power, their primary goals are always to maintain it, to increase it, to enjoy it by exerting it over others, and to remain as comfortable as possible. Any new idea, no matter how well researched and thought out, and no matter how great its potential benefits to the workforce or the general populace, must serve those goals if it is to be implemented. Otherwise, one must rely upon the wait-for-a-cataclysmic-event-to-require-change approach.

I just realized that Niccolo Machiavelli told me all this 500 years ago. Did I listen to him? Of course not.

About the Author: Justin Locke is a largely uninvited participant in discussions of management philosophy. Visit his website at

photo credit: LifeSupercharger via photopin cc

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