Books: Unequal sequel - The world is full of bad managers. It doesn't need a bad book about them, says John Kay

Books: Unequal sequel - The world is full of bad managers. It doesn't need a bad book about them, says John Kay - The Helpless, Hapless and Hopeless Manager. Adrian Furnham

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Helpless, Hapless and Hopeless Manager. Adrian Furnham

Whurr Publishers pounds 14.95

Almost all books on psychol- ogy are about unhappy people and the problems they faced. The explanation is easy: it was rarely the well-adjusted who went to consult Dr Freud. Almost all books on business are about successful companies and the problems they resolved. The explanation here is easy too: people who have failed in business rarely write books about their experiences. Perceiving this gap, psychologist Adrian Furnham found a niche in the market for a book on bad management. The Psychology of Managerial Incompetence was a publishing success - the present volume is a sequel.

This book is aimed at buyers of the Little Book of Calm market rather than readers of academic monographs. There are three parts to it. There is a series of quizzes of the kind found in women's magazines. This begins with obvious parody. Do you agree or disagree with statements about yourself such as: 'While you have some personal weaknesses, you are usually able to compensate for them'?

Furnham notes that people typically find assessments based on these kinds of statement amazingly accurate. This is, of course, the basis on which astrologers and fortune tellers win the admiration of their clients - by making statements that appear to be specific but are in fact entirely general. And every consultant will recognise the method.

Another section of the book contains extracts from military appraisal forms. These are often amusing: 'Posting this officer to America would be akin to restoring tax on tea' or 'This young trainee has become so large that even loafing appears to have become hard work'. And the larger part consists of short essays on a variety of subjects - from reminiscences about queues in airports to genuinely thoughtful pieces about compulsions. Even so, this is a disappointing book.

Furnham is a serious psychologist and serious psychology should have much to say about management issues. He writes well, but not to proper effect in this volume. The technique of mixing research findings among anecdotes, jokes and quizzes might work but not when the anecdotes, jokes and quizzes overwhelm the rest. The result is a book that is mildly amusing and entertaining but lightweight. On this reviewer's grading, the test result is emphatically 'Could do much better'.

John Kay is a director of the consultancy London Economics.

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