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The future of management

Alas there is no recipe book for reinventing management.

By Julian Birkinshaw . 31 January 2011

We need to develop a more comprehensive understanding of what management is really about to make better choices. 


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By going back to a basic definition of management—the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals—we can frame our discussion of the activities and principles of management much more explicitly. And armed with this new understanding, we can help managers make better choices within the universe of known possibilities, rather than suggest they invent something that has never been thought of before.

Here is an example. Why should we assume that all important decisions get made by the people at the top of the organisational hierarchy? Traditionally this was certainly the case, but is it possible that important decisions might be made in less-hierarchical or non-hierarchical ways?  Yes it is. In fact, entire books have been written on the “wisdom of crowds” and “crowdsourcing” techniques for aggregating the views of large numbers of people to make better decisions. So it would be wrong to assume that all decisions made in the future will be made exclusively by those at the top of the hierarchy, and it would be equally wrong to assume that crowdsourcing will entirely replace traditional decision making structures.

The prosaic truth is that it depends—the right model depends on a host of contingencies, including the nature of the decision being made, the company’s size and background, the interests and capabilities of the employees, and so on. The right management model for your company is the one based on the most appropriate choices you make within known boundaries; between for example the principle of hierarchy on one hand, and the wisdom of crowds on the other.  Alas, there is no recipe book for reinventing management. The right choices depend entirely on the specific circumstances and opportunities facing your company, and on your willingness to experiment with unproven practices.

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