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On the value of management
Absorbing the past to understand the present
and inform the future
Sydney Graduate School of Management, University of Western Sydney, Parramatta, Australia
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to consider the value of management history as a contributor to the development of the theory and practice of management and, to the extent that it is necessary to absorb the past in order to understand the present and inform the future, consider what happens to the knowledge base when the surviving “contributions” to the knowledge base are partial and, indeed, erroneous.
Design/methodology/approach – The articles that constitute this special issue form the launching-pad for this discussion, with the ideas presented here combined with previous research and commentaries on the issues raised.
Research limitations/implications – In The Life of Reason, Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Managers looking for the “next big thing”, without being able to incorporate it effectively into their experience, and the experience of those who are long gone, are condemned to repeat not just the past, but also the mistakes of the past. Accordingly, it is also critical for management scholars to both recognise and take advantage of earlier thinking and empirical work to inform their contemporary musings and research if they are to provide meaningful frameworks for practitioners.
Originality/value – Drawing on the themes presented in the articles of this special issue, the paper demonstrates the value of knowing accurately the history of management thought to scholars and practitioners alike.
Keywords Management history, Management theory, Working practices Paper type Conceptual paper
The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do (Sir William Deane, 1996).
The usual readers of Management Decision, who, from time to time, may have sneaked a look in the “sealed section” that has been the Journal of Management History, might wonder why Management Decision would devote a whole issue to the topic. After all, Management Decision’s self-stated remit is to offer “thoughtful and provocative insights into current management practice” – it is a journal focussed on the practicalities of management and management decision making. That being said, one
Vol. 43 No. 10, 2005
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is reminded of Lewin’s (1951, p. 169) exhortation that: “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”. The purpose of this special issue is to identify and chronicle the ways in which contributions by early writers in management have been (or at least could have been) absorbed into current understanding and can inform the future development of management ideas – the issue then, is about good theory and is, therefore, most practical.
There are few general management texts today that do not start with homage to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century writers on management and administration – Weber and bureaucracy, Taylor and scientiﬁc management, Fayol and the classical school of management, and so on. A quick “tiptoe through the tulips” of their (claimed) main ideas, a passing nod to Chester Barnard and Elton Mayo, and then it is on to Maslow, Mintzberg, Drucker, Porter et al., with nary a backward glance. The notion appears to be that these writers, mostly long dead, are only of “historical” interest, quaint in their ideas that more modern minds have evolved beyond in their...