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on 10 August 2014
Very interesting, but rather heavyweight.
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on 18 October 2009
Matthew Stewart has certainly ruffled a few feathers with this book. It is an easy read, each chapter alternating between a potted history of management consulting according the the author and an account of his personal experiences in the field.

It is largely about management consulting in the financial services sector and, taken as such, does offer a glimpse into why that sector combined to lead the whole world into a global credit crunch, perhaps also offering a glimpse of why that sector remains unbloodied and unbowed.

Many consultants have taken it as a personal attack on their profession, which perhaps speaks more about their current lack of security in their own tenure than anything contained in the book does.

Matthew Stewart makes a good case for managers needing to learn how to manage themselves by studying philosophy and applying a little common sense but I doubt it will stem the tide of MBA knocking at corporate doors. People want to believe there is a science of management and maybe there is, but it is still a science in its infancy as Stewart exposes.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 December 2009
As a management consultant, I was intrigued when I read the review of the book in the Wall Street Journal - it certainly promised amusement. That it delivered in spades, although it is not meant as only a personal account in the sense that Liar's Poker (Hodder Great Reads) or Bombardiers are. It mixes the author's personal experiences with his view on the consulting and management practices more broadly in alternating chapters, which largely reads well but is occasionally slightly annoying.

The author is surprisingly well read for a management consultant and very honest - his descriptions of the industry, its shortcomings and the driving forces behind it all ring true. The exposes of Taylor and Mayo and their complete fabrication of facts supporting their theories came as a bit of a surprise - we were certainly still taught that their word was gospel in my management education. As for the other gurus he criticises (from Drucker, Porter, Peters, Collins), he is also pretty much spot on but there I found less of a surprise, having been through the issues with some of their work before. He is pretty even handed overall - commending some of the authors' work (like Drucker's Managing For Results (Drucker series)) but pointing out the methodological, as well as practical shortcommings of most other of their work, which often reads as a nice fable, where one should not look to closely, lest the mirage be destroyed by ugly reality.

The history of management education in nicely intertwined with the rest, as is a basic history of management consulting as a profession. If you are looking for exhaustive discourse on any of those topics, the book is not for you - this is done more from the author's personal perspective, where examples are used to support his overall story (they ring true for sure but the author does not purport to conduct a comprehensive analysis of everything mentioned in the book).

What would make the book a bit better in my opinion is to include a page or so on the uses management consultants get put to - i.e. why they are hired in the first place, where the author falls a bit short, compared to his quite up to the point analysis of the purpose of positioning management as a science, as well as of the motivations behind business schools.

Finally, the book will probably appeal to management consultants (the ones who do not have overly inflated views of themselves), and those who were - or alternatively to those executives who do not hire consultants and with good reason. For the ones who buy into the myth lock stock and barrel, there is little hope and they will not seek it out here to begin with.
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on 18 August 2015
One the best books for any working professional. An excellent riposte to the pseudoscience being propagated by the management schools. Current management school education is based (over) reductionism of complex forces that shape business and life, resulting in (most) MBA graduates and who simply lack the capability of critically analysis of complex forces at play. This book along with those from Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker, Flash Boys) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Fooled by Randomness, Black Swan and Anti-fragile) should form the bed-rock of all professional education.

If is frightening to see how much value the consultants have destroyed ever since McKinsey, BCG and the likes started to sell their pseudoscience. I had the opportunity to view some of them in person as the set about destroying Nokia's phone business.

This book is unlikely to completely stop consultant led destruction but I do hope it saves some businesses and careers and families who rely on them.
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on 17 October 2010
I am one of those Management Consultant who often came across similar experiences in his career as those that Matthew Stewart so aptly describes in his brilliant book.

I also took the time and effort of getting an MBA half-way through my career. I was then motivated, as much now, by trying to find a deeper understanding and a 'system' behind all the practical chaos of everyday management challenges. I must say I got then what I was looking for, or so I thought... For one, I did get to understand much of that management blurb I was coming across in my work, and became skilled enough to produce quite some good one of my own.
Nevertheless, the deeper understanding that I had thought I had achieved continued to clash against my day-to-day experience - the chasm between the 'as is' and 'to be' just seemed to get greater for as much effort I was putting in to try to close it.

Perhaps I should have read this book (had it been written) just after my conclusion of my studies. The greatest insight of this book for me is that most management theory, purported as scientific, is actually based on so little factual evidence and more often than not on outright fabrications. Stewart carefully deconstructs many of the theories of great management gurus of the 20th century, from Taylor to Mayo, from Peters to Porter to show what is factual (very little) and what is wishful thinking disguised as scientific theory (very much). He does so by keeping a fairly balanced and fact-based account, quoting published research as well as his own.

Stewart also intertwines his critique of management thinking with his own personal story as management consultant, which also provides additional insights in the practical, day-to-day life of such professionals and how they come to play such a significant role in modern corporate life, despite having surprising so little to offer in terms of specific, in depth expertise (or oftentimes precisely for that reason...). In that he brings about some hilarious casts of characters and funny stories that make also for very pleasurable and entertaining reading.

I have bought a few copies of the book, which I am gift-distributing selectively to colleagues and friends. The first recipients were those in my team who are very keen to develop their careers further by taking an MBA course. I accompanied my gift with the recommendation to take the course, and with the big caution to take all that comes with it with a large pinch of salt...
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on 10 December 2010
I thought I was the only person who was suspicious that an MBA qualification might not confer business infallibility on a manager. I have suffered under their misguided and failed strategies and thereafter observed them adeptly avoid taking responsibility and hiding behind those 3 letters after their name.( one commentator calls them; Mediocre But Arrogant!!)Enough! this is not an attack on all MBA holders.
Stewart deconstructs the myth of some of the best known management theories. He acknowledges correctly the randomness of the world we live in; he questions the standard business education and the motives of some of the institutions providing the curriculum.
He tells his own story in alternating chapters and the only criticism I would have of this book is that at times, I wanted to skip a chapter to follow his own unfolding drama!
There is a good argument that our "elite" by their self serving application of "strategies" and blind trust in their flawed judgement have contributed greatly to the current global economic crisis.
This is a really good read, thorough and thought provoking.
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on 25 February 2011
Based on the author's personal experience when he worked as a management consultant, this book delivers a very harsh critique to the management consulting world in general, and to management gurus and buisiness schools in particular. The basic claim of the author is that good management practice is the result of a well rounded education rather than of the unscientific teachings of expensive MBA programs. This thesis is supported by plenty of facts and references, which cast a very dark shadow on modern management theories and experts. A very informative reading.
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VINE VOICEon 11 October 2009
Michael Stewart has lifted up the stone of modern corporate management, and it's not a pretty sight. He started as a philosophy graduate in need of a job, and within a very short time he was a management consultant, telling established firms how to run their businesses. Later, he became a founding partner of a new consultancy which had a meteoric but short career, and he was lucky to get his money out of the venture when he fell out of favour with the partners who had hijacked control of the firm.

Stewart's analysis of modern management theory is devastating. Business schools (and MBAs) come in for a particular drubbing: he considers them to be little better than a means by which corporations can recruit bright graduates who are burning to make a lot of money. And make money they do--after all, the managers of modern corporations can pretty much sign their own paycheques.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is how management theory has evolved in recent years: the Harvard professor Michael Porter argued that firms should maximise profits by finding activities which shield them from competition. This has had a disastrous effect on American (and European) business: instead of concentrating on developing better products, they have sought to freeze out competition. This strategy is now coming unravelled, as emerging economies are quickly learning to take advantage of our slothful ways.

Although the book is haphazardly organised--Stewart's own experiences are mixed with chapters on the history of management 'science', philosophy, and the guru industry--it's very readable. But Stewart is still at heart a modern manager with a corporatist outlook. He ignores the crucial role in the modern economy played by newer and smaller firms, usually under the direct control of their owners. Half of the private sector jobs are provided by small businesses, and they have to offer good value to their customers, or go under. This sector is the dynamic part of the economy, the one which produces new products, new services, and the lion's share of technological innovation. Nor does he seem to understand that management isn't just "about people": it's also about the goods and services that businesses sell. Stewart, like most managerial types, really isn't very interested in this--rather, he still hasn't quite abandoned the notion that managers can manage almost any activity they choose. After all, he started out at the top, and never really saw the sharp end where goods are services are delivered.

Stewart also naively believes that government regulation is needed to curb the managerial class. This is all the more surprising, since he acknowledges that American business laws are pretty much written by businesses they affect (the same is largely true in the EU). But overall, this is still a brilliant book--I'm sure I'll be quoting it for years to come.
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on 3 September 2014
Mathew Stewart uses the impossible formula of one chapter theory/history, one chapter the dude's experiences/ observations whilst in the man con business, and so on through the book. The brilliance of Lewis' Liars Poker is that what theory there is is embedded into the narrative. Taylorism has been done to death, so we don't need another chapter about Schmidt or whatever the pig iron hunk is called... or that windbag Porter. This is MBA first year. The characters are not very well drawn, they don't come to life, they enter and then we never hear from them again. There are some paragraphs that are excellent, but you have to machete your way through some dense stuff to get to them. Then it all seems to end up as autobiography.
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on 3 July 2014
I spent pretty much all of my working life listening to managers spout whatever the current management-speak fad was with increasing levels of incredulity. I kept asking what evidence there was for any of it (I have a science and clinical background...) but never got anything better than "It says so in this book!" and more usually a bunch of hand waving and bluster.

Now I know why...

There is no evidence, it all goes in cycles of fashion, but no-one in the cult of managerialism will admit that, because that would be an admission of their lack of importance, lack of evidence and the like.

We have been conned, pure and simple.

How do I know? Well, all you managers who fall back on "It says so in this book!", "It says so in this book!" but with added explanations of why the other books were wrong or just plain fabricated. Go ahead, please, prove that this is wrong, with references and full workings out!
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