Born 1939; educator
Education: McGill University; MIT.
Career: Worked for Canadian National Railways 1961-1963; later he was visiting professor at a number of universities and business schools; President of Strategic Management Society 1988-91; consultant to a large number of organizations; visiting professor at INSEAD; director of the Center for Strategy Studies in Organizations at McGill University; professor at McGill
The work of Canadian Henry Mintzberg counters much of the detailed rationalism of other major thinkers of recent decades. From his first publication, The Nature of Managerial Work, Mintzberg has challenged orthodoxy, arguing the case for a more intuitive and humane approach to strategy formulation and practice, as well as to the structure of organizations. The Nature of Managerial Work exposed many of the myths surrounding senior managers, revealing them to be creatures of the moment rather than far-sighted strategists carefully planning their next move.
Mintzberg has generated a unique reputation, as someone apart from the mainstream able to analyze basic assumptions about managerial behaviour. His most recent work tackles head-on the role and process of strategic planning. Mintzberg argues that intuition is 'the soft underbelly of management', and that strategy has set out to provide uniformity and formality when none can be created.
Despite a series of highly important and influential books and appointments at two of the world's leading business schools (McGill in Canada and INSEAD in France) Henry Mintzberg remains something of an outsider in the world of management thinking.
While his books are scholarly rather than populist, he emphasizes the creative and spontaneous, the right-side of the brain rather than the left side with its predilection for analysis and rationality. He is a wry humanist who carries out his work with academic rigour. 'A well published waif' is how he jokingly describes himself. 'Perhaps the world's premier management thinker,' says Tom Peters.1
There is a sizeable dose of cynicism in Mintzberg's world view. Though, when asked, he is quick to add the explanatory coda: 'I am sceptical about everything except reality.' To keep hold of reality, he eschews the management guru merry go-round. 'There is a lot of obnoxious hype about being a "guru" to the extent that the medium can destroy the message,' he says, I'm in one of the most competitive fields around, but I've never felt competition for a moment. You can compete by competing head-on or by not competing at all. I care about doing things well, not doing them better that is a low standard.'
Mintzberg's name was initially brought to a wider audience with his first book. The Nature of Managerial Work (1973). An article in the Harvard Business Review ('The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact')2 brought Mintzberg's research further into the public eye. Its origins (and those of subsequent books) lie in Mintzberg's grand plan. 'In 1968, I set out to write a text called The Theory of Management Policy, to draw together the research-based literature that helps lo describe the processes of general management.' Mintzberg's plan has expanded each of the three central chapters became books, and an early section of the fourth chapter also developed into a book.
At the time of its publication, The Nature of Managerial Work was radically alternative and rapidly dispensed with much conventional wisdom. 'I had a lot of difficulty getting my first book published', Mintzberg recalls. 'One publisher said they were publishing a book just like it - 20 years later, I have yet to see the book.' In his research, Mintzberg got close to managers actually managing rather than pontificating from afar. His research involved spending time with five organizations and analysing how their chief executives spent their time. While this tracking approach is now commonplace, in the early 1970s it was ambitious...
References: 1 Peters, T, 'Plans down the drain ', Independent on Sunday, 24 April 1994.
2 Mintzberg, H, 'The Manager 's Job: Folklore and Fact ', Harvard Business Review, July/August 1975.
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