UK: A classical approach to the problems of society. (2 of 2)

UK: A classical approach to the problems of society. (2 of 2) - Part three, on new inspirations, compounds the book's problems for me. The author's approach seems to be that of a detached mandarin who was once an organisation man. Now he looks back and c

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Part three, on new inspirations, compounds the book's problems for me. The author's approach seems to be that of a detached mandarin who was once an organisation man. Now he looks back and comments regretfully on organisational life in general, and the nascent BT in particular. He is good on some of the basic managerial truths, which are coloured by his war stories, but he is suspect about creativity in organisations. The possibility that it is about using the ambiguities, uncertainties and contradictions in all parts of the spectrum is not considered; nor is the issue of who, in an organisation, should decide what is "just right".

Part four, called Aria and Madrigal, is good on the experiences of individuals and the tensions between them and their organisations. There are also nods towards equal opportunities and Europeanism.

For me - and I declare a bias - the most worrying aspect of the book is the lack of any focus on individual and organisational learning. When learning - and thinking - are mentioned we get praise for the McKinsey structured approach. There is little modern management scholarship here. Even a fleeting reference to Revans' axiom - that for any organism to survive, its rate of learning must be equal to, or greater than, the rate of change in the environment - might have helped towards an understanding of turbulence. British management thinkers have made great strides in this area recently, and have a growing following abroad: Max Boisot ("Information and Organisations"), Jerry Rhodes ("Conceptual Toolmaking") and Tony Buzan are examples.

I am disappointed that a book which I hoped would complement those of Charles Handy, Sir John Harvey-Jones, Tom Peters, Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Peter Drucker should leave me feeling so flat. I wanted to rise to its challenge. But I fear that Benton's endeavours may not prevent the illiterate bankers from winning; that the philistine will inherit the earth.

(Bob Garratt is a management consultant based in London and Hong Kong and chairman of the Association for Management Education and Development (AMED).)

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