A celebration of incompetence

Ross Bentley reviews The Hopeless, Hapless and Helpless Manager by Adrian Furnham, and Blown to Bits by Philip Evans and Thomas S...

Ross Bentley reviews The Hopeless, Hapless and Helpless Manager by Adrian Furnham, and Blown to Bits by Philip Evans and Thomas S Wurster

Ross Bentley

The Hopeless, Hapless and Helpless manager

Adrian Furnham

Whurr Publishers


ISBN 1-86156-161-X

If it is true that we learn from our mistakes, then not very little is to be learnt from the vast majority of popular business books. This is because business history is written by victors. Business biographies are all about swash-buckling heroes, brilliant investors and hard working little people whose sheer ability and technique lead to success.

Adrian Furnham attempts to approach the subject from a different angle. Rather than another how to become a manager in five easy steps, this book does not kid the reader that the road to achieving these skills is an easy one. Instead, he concentrates on incompetence rather than competence. "It is about the undereducated, misinformed, egocentric and fundamentallydeluded human beings that end up being managers. They bring misery and poverty to thousands."

This device has its merits - provoking thought and no doubt uniting cynics with its challenge to traditional step-by-step management theory.

The book works best when satirising established schools of thought. Doubtless many who follow the trends in management see much of the latest thinking as simply a reformulation of well-established ideas.The weaker of these are put down mercilessly by the rapier-like wit of the author.

But he is prone to contradiction: berating the use of buzzwords and the consultant's tendency to simplify complex situations, then offering a filing cabinet full of labels for the different types of no-hoper managers he has identified. Pigeon-holing managers as "sad, bad or mad" is a dogma in itself.

This aside, there are some valuable points made about people skills, leadership and the limitations of management but, surely, taking into consideration the difficulty of the job in today's cutthroat environment, Furnham should concede that there are some half-decent managers out there somewhere.

Blown to Bits

Philip Evans and Thomas S Wurster

Harvard Business School Press

ISBN 0-87584-877-X

The old way of dealing with corporate information has been "blown to bits" by the new economy, say Philip Evans and Thomas Wurster of the Boston Consulting Group. The Net has "deconstructed" industries such as retailing and banking and has melted even the most stable of industries and the most focused of business models while creating opportunities for others.

Previously, the authors say, your business strategy could either focus on "rich" information - that is customised products and services tailored to a niche audience - or could "reach" out to a larger market, sacrificing details for a broader general appeal. In the new economy, apparently, you can have both reach and richness.

The book shows how some businesses - Microsoft and Intuit in personal finance, Dell Computers in retailing, and the Automotive Network Exchange in manufacturing supply - are thriving amid a rapid expansion of connectivity and the widespread acceptance of technical standards on the Web.

Clearly written and tough-minded, Blown to Bits has gained many industry plaudits and should be of interest to entrepreneurs, strategists, and others concerned about the new economics of the information age.

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