Is Mamagement an Art or Science

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Is Management an Art or a Science? A Clue in Consilience
Nicholas C. Peroff

s effective management an art or a science? Can it be both? How, exactly, should we think about the management of an organization? For years now, an often spirited art-versusscience debate has ranged through an extensive body of literature on organizational management (Bohn, 1994; Calkins, 1959; Hubner, 1986; Mathur, 1994; Schiemann and Lingle, 1997; Shallenberger, 1960; Weick, 1996), and many subfields of management, including organizational behavior (Caminiti, 1995; Choo, 1995; Watkins, 1993) and leadership (Lester et al., 1998, Pitcher, 1997a, b).1 An art-versus-science dialogue flourishes in business administration (Ashkenas et al., 1998; Bort, 1996; Gilad and Herring, 1996; Haslip, 1996; Lewis, 1997; Marullo, 1998; Mullin, 1994; “Outfitting an Office…”, 1997; Sexton and Smilor, 1986; Sherden, 1994; Smith, 1998; Timpe, 1986–9) and related areas such as banking (“Evasive Action…”, 1995; “Risk Management…”, 1997; Wray, 1996). The debate also continues in public administration (Beard, 1939; Lepawsky, 1949; Lynn, 1996; McDonough, 1998) and related areas such as health administration (Jeska and 92



Rounds, 1996; Kay and Nuttall, 1995; Meszaros, 1997) and corrections (Bowker, 1982). Edward O. Wilson is not known as a contributor to the literature on management. His early work is on the study of social insects, particularly ants. When he wrote Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975), he inaugurated the scientific study of animal societies and communication. All told, he is the author of 18 books, and two of them, On Human Nature (1978) and The Ants (1990, with Bert Holldobler), received the Pulitzer Prize. He is currently Pellegrino University Research Professor and Honorary Curator of Entomology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. With the publication of his latest book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), Wilson entered the management as art versus science debate, simply because his book is about everything. Consilience means a “jumping together,” which is what Wilson wishes would happen with the natural and social sciences, the arts, politics, ethics, and every other form of human knowledge. He believes that all real phenomena, from galaxies and planets to people and subatomic particles, are based on material processes that are ultimately reducible to a small number of fundamental natural laws that explain everything. All explanations for everything are causal and all causes are material. Wilson laments the increasingly complex, specialized, and fragmented state of human knowledge today and argues that the progress of science has always been a story of increasing consilience. Is management an art or a science? If Wilson’s belief in a unified theory of everything is correct, maybe we should be asking a much larger question. Is a consilience of all of our ways of thinking about management feasible?



Science is extraordinary. With the aid of science, we can visualize matter across 37 orders of magnitude, from the largest galactic cluster to the smallest known particle (Wilson, 1998a, p. 47). When 93


science is done correctly, it can advise us in all of our day-to-day decisions and actions. Wilson only acknowledges one resource limitation on the pursuit of scientific knowledge, a lack of data. Wilson is a natural scientist and, for him, science is not a philosophy or belief system. Science is science. It involves the expansion of sensory capacity by instruments, the classification of data, and the interpretation of data guided by theory. Scientific theories are falsifiable. They “are constructed specifically to be blown apart if proved wrong, and if so destined, the sooner the better” (1998a, p. 52). Science is a method of doing things. It “is the organized, systematic enterprise that gathers knowledge about the world and condenses the...
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