The Ascent of Man(agement)

By Steve David, Skymark CEO

My grandparents used to have a big book with an illustration which showed the hypothetical rise of man, from mostly monkey to modern man. You've probably seen it too. As I think back on it, it makes me wonder...

How is the history of management tied to the more general history of mankind?

The two must go hand in hand, for where there are people, there is society. Where there is society, there must be some forms of organization, which in turn implies forms of management.

Is mankind making progress? Physically, yes. We stand taller and straighter. Our brains are larger, particularly our cerebrums, where we do our higher-order thinking. Technologically, it's obvious that we are advancing rapidly. Socially - who knows? There have been lots of bad things in society for a long time. Archeologists have found ancient skeletons with arrowheads lodged between vertebrae, and that sort of thing. And we still have Cambodians and Rwandans and Bosnians dying by the thousand.

Are we getting to be better managers? On balance, I think that the answer is yes. We've learned a lot about motivation, dispersed intelligence, listening to customers, and sharing information. We can use control charts to avoid wild goose chases while at the same time detecting real problems.

Can we get better faster? Again, I think we can. There are more students of management, and would-be instructors, than at any time in human history. If we can somehow tap into their thought processes and combined experiences, we could piece together a picture of what works, and what doesn't.

There are a couple of practical ways that we can accomplish this "pie in the sky" goal, or at least move in the right direction:

  1. We should encourage the benchmarking of best practices in all sectors. For example, if Norway solves a traffic problem in Oslo, their solution should be described in detail so that engineers in Athens can try it. This happens already, but the data is harder to come by than it should be. One thing that we are planning to do at Skymark is to develop a library of PathMaker pathways, which people can browse through, to see if there is something to benchmark on.

  2. We should design experiments which test the most important new theories of management, and monitor the results over the long-term. There are thousands of new management books written each year, each with some purportedly new ideas. Somehow, we need to extract, compile, reduplicate and test the new theories.

There's probably a way for the private sector to handle most of this work. After all, if I'm right, and it is valuable information, people will be willing to pay for it. What will it look like?