Is Management Profession is still a practice of science or art?

Recently, I saw the title of David H Freeman’s article – Is Management Still a Science? – published in November- December 1992 issue of HBR. That set bells ringing for me. Well, wasn’t practice of management already established as science in the second half of twentieth century? However, if there still was a question, why?

Let us first briefly look at what the article has to state:

“As every manager knows, new technologies are transforming products, markets, business processes, and entire industries, revolutionizing the business environment. Yet the more technology looms as a factor of competition, the more the emphasis is on the “soft” arts of leadership, change management, and employee motivation.

“On reflection, this paradox isn’t so surprising. The traditional scientific approach to management promised to provide managers with the capacity to analyze, predict, and control the behavior of the complex organizations they led. But the world most managers currently inhabit often appears to be unpredictable, uncertain, and even uncontrollable.

“In the face of this more dynamic and volatile business world, the traditional mechanisms of “scientific management” seem not only less useful but positively counterproductive. And science itself appears less and less relevant to the practical concerns of managers.

“However, the problem may lie less in the shortcomings of a scientific approach to management than in managers’ understanding of science.

“Put simply, while traditional science focused on analysis, prediction, and control, the new science emphasizes chaos and complexity.

“The new rules of complex behavior that cutting-edge scientific research describes have intriguing parallels with the organizational behaviors many companies are trying to encourage. Science, long esteemed by business as a source of technological innovation, may ultimately prove of greatest value to managers as a source for something else: useful new ways of looking at the world.

“The wide-ranging texts reviewed here suggest the broad outlines of what might become the new scientific management. Their message: management may indeed be a science—but not the science that most managers think.

The article, at this stage has delved deep into the four monumental books, which also underline four major trends in the development of management science during the 20th century.

These are:

The Principles of Scientific Management, Frederick Winslow Taylor (New York: Harper, 1911).

Chaos: Making a New Science, James Gleick (New York: Viking, 1987).

Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos, M. Mitchell Waldrop (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter M. Senge (New York: Doubleday, 1990)

The article goes on conclude that, “The scientific managers of today must be researchers who study their own organizations. And they must be designers who create the learning processes that make self-organization possible, the processes that are essential to effective performance in a world characterized by perpetual novelty and change.”

That now leads to another article – Is Management Really an Art? by Henry M. Boettinger, in HBR issue of January 1975. The author investigates what he sees as three indispensable aspects of the artistic process—craft, vision, and communication.

The article sums up with these words:

At every level of management, from shop floor to board room, across the spectrum of our institutions, whether government, business, education, armed forces, or the church, we need a rediscovery of the value of the individual imagination and a rekindling of that passion for humane purposes which is the authentic light of leadership. To manage is to lead, and to lead others requires that one enlist the emotions of others to share a vision as their own. If that is not an art, then nothing is.

Dean Stanely F. Teele, the 4th dean of HBS is more categorical in stating that “Management is a mixture of art and science …. The present ratio is about 90% art and 10% science. Though a very great deal of developments are presently increasing that proportion which can properly be called science. I am willing to venture a guess that by the end of another generation the ratio will be 80% art and perhaps 20% science.”

Peter Drucker in his landmark book The Practice of Management notes that “…managing a business must be creative rather than adaptive task. The more a management creates economic conditions or changes them rather than passively adapts to them, the more it manages the business.’  He goes on observe that “the manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business.’ Even as he concludes that, “Management can never be an exact science”, he does assert that the work of a manager can be systematically analyzed and classified.

Both these views relate to the mid-twentieth century thinking on the subject.

In the present times, Devdutt Pattanaik looks the whole concept from an Indian mythological point of view. Why we do business impacts how we do it and what ultimately gets done. It is very different from Management Science, taught in business schools around the world, which does not factor in belief, because belief is subjective truth, hence cannot be measured.

Despite the veneer of objectivity, Management Science is rooted in Western belief. Just as ancient Greeks celebrated Elysium, much-cherished heaven of heroes, and the Bible speaks of the Promised Land, ultimate destination of faithful, Management Science is goal-oriented, obsessed with vision, mission, objectives, milestones, and targets.

By contrast, the Indian way of doing business—as apparent in Indian mythology, but no longer seen in practice— accommodates subjectivity and diversity, and offers an inclusive, more empathetic way of achieving success[i]. The Indian approach is not goal-based; it is gaze-based. It does not exclude the Western model; it includes it, with the assertion that the purpose of an organization is to work towards happiness. Great value is placed on the practice of darshan (gaze): how we see the world and our relationship with Lakshmi, goddess of wealth

So Devdutt Pattanaik has developed a 3 B model, which he calls as the Business Sutra, which basically says, as is your belief, so is your behavior, so is your business. This is Business Sutra, a very Indian way of doing business.

3-b-model

To explore the concept in greater details, every first Sunday of the month, starting from February, 2017, we will revisit, Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial, Business Sutra, telecast on CNBC in 2010.

[i]  The Indian approach to business: Devdutt Pattanaik at TEDxGateway 2013

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Author: ASHOK M VAISHNAV

In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

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