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False Prophets: The Gurus Who Created Modern Management and Why Their Ideas Are Bad for Business Today [Paperback]

James Hoopes
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Book Description

17 April 2003
According to Jim Hoopes, the fundamental principles on which business is based-authority, power, control-are increasingly at odds with principles of life in a democratic society-freedom, equality, individualism. False Prophets critically examines the pioneering theories of the early management thinkers, such as Taylor, Follett, Mayo, and Deming, which intended to democratize corporate life yet have proved antithetical to the successful practice of business. Hoopes challenges popular management movements that followed in the wake of these thinkers and accuses today's business theorists of perpetuating bad management in the name of democratic values. He urges executives and managers to recognize the realities of corporate life and learn to apply the principles of power. He also unveils a new management agenda that will be of paramount significance to modern organizations.A rich and lively read, False Prophets provides a refreshingly new and original overview of the history of management in the larger context of the American culture, brilliantly illustrating its evolution-from the ivory tower to the shop floor.

Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper ed edition (17 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738207985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738207988
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 15.1 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 365,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

James Hoopes is Distinguished Professor of History at Babson College. An expert on American culture and intellectual history, he is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEH Fellowship, and a senior Fulbright lectureship in England. He also received a grant from Alfred A. Sloan Foundation to support the writing of this book. The author of several books, he lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

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To call management "un-American" seems a contradiction in terms. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! 16 Oct 2003
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Despite its title, this book doesn’t say much, or much of substance, about business today. Instead, it concentrates on lively professional and personal profiles of eight twentieth century management theorists of varying impact. Hammer and Champy, who launched the 1990s re-engineering movement, are mentioned only in the conclusion, and the gurus behind managing for shareholder value aren’t mentioned. A little less detail about peccadilloes of the long dead and a little more about crucial management ideas that have shaped contemporary business might have made the book more relevant. Interestingly, it indicates that slave owners anticipated some of the progressive ideas in modern management but the author leaves it to the readers to make the connection: voila, contemporary workers believe the cant of empowerment about as much as the slaves believed the plantation master’s pieties. We recommend this book for its anecdotal, gossipy entertainment value. It will make you cautious about management consultants — but if you aren’t already, you can’t have spent much time in business
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4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! 7 Jun 2004
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Despite its title, this book doesn't say much, or much of substance, about business today. Instead, it concentrates on lively professional and personal profiles of eight twentieth century management theorists of varying impact. Hammer and Champy, who launched the 1990s re-engineering movement, are mentioned only in the conclusion, and the gurus behind managing for shareholder value aren't mentioned. A little less detail about peccadilloes of the long dead and a little more about crucial management ideas that have shaped contemporary business might have made the book more relevant. Interestingly, it indicates that slave owners anticipated some of the progressive ideas in modern management but the author leaves it to the readers to make the connection: voila, contemporary workers believe the cant of empowerment about as much as the slaves believed the plantation master's pieties. We recommend this book for its anecdotal, gossipy entertainment value. It will make you cautious about management consultants - but if you aren't already, you can't have spent much time in business.
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Was this review helpful to you?
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Management Is Anti-Democratic 6 Sep 2008
By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Hoopes' book presents a gallery of management thinkers and introduce their work through the lenses of a political science perspective. Political scientists who use the concept of power to describe economic or social mechanisms are sometimes prone to its abuse: they see politics everywhere, and they consider all references to general ideals or moral sentiments as stratagems used by rulers to obfuscate the brutal exercise of top-down authority.

Power is indeed a key concept for political scientists, as interest is for economists, and both concepts may help them to build theories or propose models of corporate behavior. But management scholars are practically oriented, and they know that power or interests can sometimes be bad for practice. That is why politics is a bad name in a private business setting, and motivation takes many forms other than paycheck retribution.

According to Hoopes, the simple existence of top-down management power contradicts the democratic political values at the heart of American culture. "Ordinary citizen get their closest exposure to undemocratic government when they go to work for a corporation." The book argues that remembering that contradiction, rather than covering it up, as many management theorists have done, is the best way to manage well. "Top-down power and its potential abuse are here to stay in corporate America. It is foolish to think otherwise." So it is better to admit that we live two lives, one as free citizen and one as submissive employees, and that instead of extending corporate values in our democratic institutions we should build checks and balances in our political system to limit the abuse of management power. Unfortunately this is not the direction that management gurus have taken.

Hoopes begins his tour of portraits with Frederick W. Taylor, the founder of scientific management. Taylor is now considered mostly an embarrassment in the history of management, and he serves as a negative milestone against which later approaches were constructed. But his emphasis on efficiency, low costs, and pay to performance still makes sense today. Better, Taylor can be portrayed as a pioneer of knowledge management, as he saw knowledge as a key resource that had to be properly managed by teams of experts. His success owes much to the state of management education at his time: "new business schools such as Harvard had embarrassingly little systematic knowledge to teach and desperately embraced Taylorism to fill class time (....) Students attention could be concentrated on instruction cards, slide rules, and time study, lending business schools a facade of science and academic rigor."

The other scholar who took Harvard Business School by storm is Elton Mayo, whose human relations movement imposed a new curriculum in management education. The Australian social psychologist is cast as the villain in Hooper's story: he is depicted as lying about his curriculum, and as substituting intellectual aloofness for academic rigor. His dream was to replace democracy with therapy: he treated Bolshevism as a mental illness, and labor grievances as symptoms of deeply-held neuroses. HBS, where his recruitment owed more to his ability to attract money from the Rockefeller foundation than to his scientific credentials, gave him the institutional power to develop and sell his ideas, which reinforced the managerial profession's claim for social status based on its dedication to human service. Although he only supervised the study from afar, he is mostly remembered for the Hawthorne experiment at General Electric, which demonstrated that gentle and caring supervision created better group dynamics. But he is still considered as the founder of Organizational Behavior, a discipline that has become a part of every business school curriculum.

By contrast, Mary Parker Follett gets many praises as a shining personality and a brilliant social theorist. Trained as a political scientist, she contributed original insights to social theory and business management by trying to integrate the opposite interests of bosses and workers. Using her social work experience as a new model of political democracy, Follett eventually came to believe that a corporation at its best is a person. According to her, "the group, because it means a larger life than our single, separate lives, thrills us and raises us to new levels of efficiency and power." She believed that all employees should contribute to management, and she may have erred in her confidence in leadership as a substitute for power, yet her thoughts reflected the better aspects of corporate life.

Finally, Peter Drucker, whose portrait closes the volume, is the only management expert who deserves the title of guru, used generously throughout the book. His mix of social theory and practical business advice attracted a cult following, not only in the United States but also in Japan and in Europe. Fleeing central Europe's descent into chaos in the 1930s, Drucker began his career as a journalist and did some fieldwork at General Motors before moving to academia, where he became the quintessential business guru. In the 1960s, he first called attention to the growing role of knowledge workers; in the 1970s, he pioneered management by objectives and called attention to Japanese companies' distinctive practices; in the 1980s, his increasing disenchantment with corporate America led him to turn his focus to nonprofit organizations, which were in bad need of rigorous management techniques. Drucker also played a role of the ubiquitous social critic for business managers who usually have little time for sociological treatises and philosophical thought.

My impression upon reading this book is mixed. The introductory chapter presents a strong thesis, namely that management gurus obfuscate the anti-democratic nature of corporate power, but this basic insight covers only a limited aspect of the management doctrines that are reviewed in the subsequent chapters. It is not obvious that the author has actually read all the material that he covers--not that the management books of these mostly forgotten authors are worth re-reading anyway. If you need a critical introduction to the thoughts and doctrines of management gurus, I find The Witch Doctors by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge a much more pleasant and informative read.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sharp moral analysis of management 24 Nov 2008
By Jussarian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Edmund Burke wrote that 'coarse distinctions' are the foe of good judgement. James Hoopes' writing here is no enemy of good judgement. He makes clear ethical distinctions about the moral content of rule by managers and political rule by the people. In the early days of management writing in the slave south - one of the historical highlights of this book - such distinctions would have been commonplace. But in our day, with the spirit of Humpty Dumpty governing the use of language in business, academia and politics, Mr Hoopes' assertion that management is un-American is bold iconoclasm.

But Mr Hoopes is no Seattle street fighter. Showing the moral difference between free government and management is only one part of his project. He knows that not everything democratic is good; and not everything good is democratic. Mr Hoopes praises management for its many achievements in the sphere of business organisation and defends it against those 'false prophets' who attempted to give it democratic legitimacy. Management is legitimate because in its rightful place, the business world, management achieves what businesses need and what society needs business to provide: profit, productivity, workplace order, efficiency, speed and flexibility.

Outside of that sphere, however, management is bad. Applying 'industrial best practice' to free government is to fetter the people. So, Mr Hoopes argues, let us weigh the worth of management and free government on different moral scales and never get them confused. Though he never makes the analogy himself, Mr Hoopes is arguing for a similar distinction we already make with judicial courts and military structures. Neither of those are democratic either, though both are useful and good and enable the larger democratic project to continue. Therefore, we explicitly confine their undemocratic powers to discrete areas and maintain those boundaries forcefully. And the members of the judiciary and military support them too. It is not legal prohibitions that ultimately prevent generals from taking over government: it is because they have internalised the doctrine of civilian control of the military. Businessmen and gurus and all of us must do the same for business, Mr Hoopes seems to say. If business cannot itself be run democratically and government regulation is too prone to failure, such an attitude is probably the only sustainable way we can defend free government from 'industrial best practice'.

My one wish is that Mr Hoopes made a longer, more detailed argument about 'how top-down power increased American productivity' (the title of part 1). He shows the clear improvements Taylor ('the demon') and Gantt made in their time. But he doesn't reflect on how they are still applicable now in the age of the long-tail and internet; nor how they have been applied to, say, agriculture or the service sector in our day (Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is good here, but of course doesn't have the same focus as False Prophets). Nor on how management can be the enemy of speed and flexibility and innovation.

But beyond that, this is an excellent book, highlighting some important and still influential thinkers of last century; giving us short bursts of business history; and revives a clear moral language with which to discuss the intersection of business and government.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! 7 Jun 2004
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Despite its title, this book doesn't say much, or much of substance, about business today. Instead, it concentrates on lively professional and personal profiles of eight twentieth century management theorists of varying impact. Hammer and Champy, who launched the 1990s re-engineering movement, are mentioned only in the conclusion, and the gurus behind managing for shareholder value aren't mentioned. A little less detail about peccadilloes of the long dead and a little more about crucial management ideas that have shaped contemporary business might have made the book more relevant. Interestingly, it indicates that slave owners anticipated some of the progressive ideas in modern management but the author leaves it to the readers to make the connection: voila, contemporary workers believe the cant of empowerment about as much as the slaves believed the plantation master's pieties. We recommend this book for its anecdotal, gossipy entertainment value. It will make you cautious about management consultants - but if you aren't already, you can't have spent much time in business.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible read! 2 July 2010
By Tiffany Jana - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is not your average textbook! I read it for a doctorate level course. Considering the state of he post 2008 global economy, this book sheds light on the dark side of management theory. It was truly eye-opening. It provides great fodder for skeptics!
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Myth of the Democratic Workplace Exposed 26 May 2004
By Ken Schroeter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Hoopes does an very good job deconstructing the neo-managment concept of a democratic workplace, contrasting it with the juxtaposition of top-down power in an ostensibly democratic society. If one believes that the US is a democratic society (it's not, it's a republic), then one might take umbrage with his not novel revelation that the workplace functions best in a top-down style. Americans, in particular unionized America, has a big problem accepting this. His examples support this, but further, add light to the discussion that top-down power must be mitigated to some degree (the adage of absolute power corrupting withstanding). After reading his book I beleive that top-down power within a workplace that changes its policies as needed based on the demands and needs of the workers while fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities, is the best mix for success: keep you eye on why the institution exists (profit and/or service), but take care of your workers to accomplish your goals, and yes, management is in charge... This book helps illuminate how we got where we are, without burying the reader.
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