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Over the years, I have learnt not to trust any expert who starts a paragraph with ‘Research shows that…’ It is usually done when nobody can ask, ‘excuse me, which research?’

Business management academics are particularly good at these two things. One, to say ‘research shows’, and then expect that anything that follow gains universal legitimization. Two: to call research anything from interviewing 50 CEOs to sending a questionnaire to hundreds of managers.

Investigative journalism is usually of much higher calibre than academic management research. When the number of published so-called case studies measures the effectiveness of the ‘function’, there is something wrong.

Am I a bit harsh? Perhaps, since there are good management/education/academic research pieces. But they are buried in a jungle of the merely descriptive: Company X did Y and  Obtained Z. Research shows? Questionnaires to 500 managers. ‘Research shows?’ Of course we can always have what Richard Branson says. ‘Successful leaders do?”

Stanislaw Andreski (1919 – 2007), British sociologist and university professor wrote a famous book in 1972 with the title Social Sciences as Sorcery. One paragraphs reads:

‘much of what passes as scientific study of human behaviour boils down to an equivalent of sorcery’.

And also:

‘pretentious and nebulous verbosity, interminable repetition of platitudes and disguised propaganda are the order of the day, while at least 95 per cent of research is indeed re-search for things that have been found long ago and many times since’.

 Some more lines that made my soul smile, this time about Talcott Parsons so called ‘voluntaristic theory of action’:

‘Translated from the tenebrous language in which it is couched, this theory amounts to saying that in order to understand why people act as they do, we must take into account their wishes and decisions, the means at their disposal and their beliefs about how the desired effects can be produced’ (…)  ‘The emergence of this piece of knowledge amounted, no doubt, to an important step in the mental development of mankind, but it must have occurred some time during the Paleolithic Age, as Homer and the Biblical prophets knew all about it’.

How true of so called Mangement Studies, leadership studies, change studies and in general that nebulous ‘Management Education’

In a recent short article (I will not say where) by a business academic (I won’t say who), professor of a world leading Business School ( I will not say which one) the professor said that ‘in order to achieve empowerment in an organization, first the organization  needs a clear statement of purpose that explains who they are, what sort of business they are in and what they are trying to achieve’. Andreski’s Paleolithic.

The same academic, a few inches above said ‘Research shows that…’ Not kidding.

PS: We need, truly, new Management Education with a new curriculum and a new management.  I have my list of what I see as the New Disciplines of Management.

To be continued here

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  1. Paul

    Another fascinating and challenging article Leandro. I have a couple of questions about it please.

    1. Is the unnamed professor of the unnamed business school wrong? Or is the issue that it’s not a new thought? or something else?
    2. Your post script starts with ” We need, truly, a new management education…” – Here’s a definition of research; “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” You seemed to have reached a new conclusion – based on research?

    This latest post puzzles me enough – I know, my problem not yours – to ask for clarity from you.

    • Leandro Herrero

      The unnamed professor occupied a few precious inches saying noting new. Perhaps I reacted with too much irritation. I will be more tolerant when I grow up.(But, will I ever put up with the have a ‘mission+ have a plan+ execute’, by the way here is my bill for saying that’? ) My postcrip is not based on any research. Its the contant realization that management toolkits developed 50 years ago are not suitable for my clients/leaders today… and when they send staff to Big Learning Centres, they come back with a better view of spreadsheets. Keep challenging! Thanks for taking the time. You’ve just won a complimentary copy of my latest book HOWEVER

      • Paul

        Points clarified. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

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