Another one bites the dust - reflecting on my new book on management failures
Another book finished, another manuscript wings its way through cyberia to the publishers and I can relax for a bit (at least until Tuesday, when teaching starts). I imagine parents feel a little like this when their children leave home: when the first one goes there are tears and a feeling of emotional loss, but by the time the last one packs up and departs the main sensation is relief. Multiply that twenty-two times, and you can imagine a little of what I feel as my latest oeuvre departs to its unknown fate: good luck to it, but at this point I’m mostly just glad it’s over! I am sure that my enthusiasm will rise again as the publication date approaches (April 2015, with Bloomsbury).
I haven’t posted much (okay, at all) this summer because most of my time has been concentrated on writing this book. It’s been one of the hardest to write of any I have done so far, largely because this one is quite personal to me, and is on a subject about which I care quite deeply: the root causes of management failure.
We remember the big headline business crashes like Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers that rocked the world economy, or disasters like Deepwater Horizon or Bhopal or, further back, the Titanic, all of which can be ascribed in part to failures of management. We pay less attention to the less visible failures that happen under our noses, month after month, year after year. Less publicly visible, these are no less damaging to the people involved with those companies.
No one has ever managed to count the trillions in value that have been lost, the jobs lost, the lives ruined – or the death toll – from management failures over the last hundred years, or even the last twenty. Rendering such an account would be a horrifying task, and make even more horrifying reading.
And yet, most of these failures if not all could have been prevented. Contrary to popular belief, or hope, most business disasters are not the consequence of volatile business environments or black swan events. They are systemic failures, and thus are preventable. As Henry Ford – himself author of a notable business catastrophe – said, most business problems come from inside the business.
The new book is a look at those systemic failures, why they happen, how they happen, and how they might be prevented. The subject isn’t an easy one, and I confess to being a little wrung out at the end of writing it. Unlike my previous books, which were mostly descriptive, this one is an unashamed polemic. It offers personal points of view. It is at times quite scathing in its critique of failing and incompetent managers. It even uses the occasional rude word. But it comes from the heart, and I hope that will be recognised.
Whether the world really needs a book on the subject of management failures – and in particular, whether it really needs one by me – only time will tell. Meanwhile, onwards and upwards. Did I say relax? Copy-edited proofs for another project are already waiting!
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