The Evolution of Management Thought
Through the practice of management and the continued development of commerce and wealth we are transforming our lives. In Massachusetts (USA) in the 1850s the life expectancy of a male would have been 37 years of age and a female 40: in 1929 it was 58 for a male and 61 for a female; nowadays life expectancy would be in the region 70-80 years. While appreciating the past success of ‘management’ we would also recognize that today’s accelerating pace of change is putting pressure on our organizations to be at the forefront of management thinking. If we want to maintain our standard of living our rate of change has to be comparative to the rest of the world. But our present day management thinking has evolved from a whole range of influences over an extraordinary long period of time. In his comprehensive book ‘The Evolution of Management Thought’ Daniel A Wren writes: " Within the practices of the past there are lessons of history for tomorrow in a continuous stream. We occupy but one point in this stream. The purpose .. is to present…the past as a prologue to the future." So with the aim of accelerating the development of our management practice for the future let us examine that stream of evolving management thought of the past. Our Christian past has taught that us that there was a beginning (Adam & Eve) and there will be an end (Armageddon) and in between we should hear the word of god and obey his commandments. We therefore tend to think linearly as well as in terms of authority and compliance. In contrast the religions of the East emphasise the cyclical and regenerative properties of nature. They therefore think in terms of cyclical processes and of being at one with God and authority. The Greek influence is evident in that we retain the Socratic concept of searching for the truth by the judging of a proposition by stringent examination to confirm its validity. It is a process of thesis – antithesis – synthesis. It is uncomfortable with half-truths and poor at building up solutions from parallel thoughts. From Aristotle’s analytical skills we have developed problem solving methods that break down complex issues into component parts. But in this process we often lose sight of the whole and how important is the interrelationship of all the parts. Hierarchical control structures were recorded in the writings of the Chinese General Sun Tzu of 600BC China, and it is of note than our own military command structures still resemble those of ancient times. Father Luca Pacioli invented the double entry bookkeeping system in 1494. Our accounting systems to this day are based around these principles. During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church dominated life and provided the hope of afterlife as the only consolation for this one. It discouraged the pursuit of gain. With the reformation our beliefs move onto considering that salvation comes from a life of diligence and industry – the work ethic is nurtured and established. And at the same time comes the importance of education - the reformers of the sixteenth century Scotland had the stated aim of having a college or grammar school in every burgh. From this general movement comes the liberty ethic where we as individuals establish our rights and start talking about government by the people for the people. And onto the Market ethic of the eighteenth century with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and the encouragement of free enterprise. And into this evolving culture comes James Watt’s work in the development of the steam engine as a source of power for factories and the resultant move from cottage industries and into factories At one in the same time we have the development of mathematical thought. Isaac Newton and Simon Laplace’s findings encourage the view of the universe being a gigantic mechanism, which follows determinable laws. In other words when we work out these laws we will be able to find the root cause of events and be able to...
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