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

Babson College history professor Hoopes traces American business theory’s antidemocratic strain by starting with “management manuals” for slave owners and overseers, seeing plantations as among the nation’s earliest forerunners of the modern corporation. The inference that modern workers are just as commodified as slaves isn’t accidental; one of Hoopes’s theses is that management gurus, by nature idealistic and utopian, are uncomfortable addressing the fundamental discrepancy in American culture between corporate power and political ideals. In order to avoid confronting that contradiction, they posit “bottom-up” organizational models-in one extreme case, suggesting corporate authority doesn’t exist, but is conferred upon managers by employees who reject the responsibility of decision making. By examining the lives and writings of eight 20th-century business writers, Hoopes aims to demonstrate how their management theories have steered American industry wrongly. By pretending corporate power doesn’t operate from a “top-down” model, management theory fails to address the moral questions that come with authority, he says. And it’s that blind spot, he claims, that leads to the self-deception and self-righteousness that fuel corporate scandals. The book’s biographical elements are strong, offering brief but well-rounded portraits depicting not only the successes but also the shortcomings and failures of figures like Frederick W. Taylor, whose ruthless quest for efficiency put him in conflict with the laborers he sought to regiment. He also highlights theories that still have some practical value, such as Peter Drucker’s proposal to promote specific objectives rather than abstract missions. Knowing the weaknesses of popular theories is useful in its own right, but managers looking for quick fixes to ethical dilemmas won’t find them here.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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