Stewart: ultimately, it’s all about values, and not an MBA

The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart argues against the value of Winslow Taylor’s methods, an MBA education, and much of management theory. His tone is often snarky and flip, which is a shame because it undermines the delivery of some great ideas, such as this discussion of values:

…as anyone who has studied Aristotle will know, “Values” aren’t something you bump into from time to time during the course of a business career. All of business is about values, all of the time. Notwithstanding the ostentatious use of stopwatches, Taylor’s pig iron case was not a description of some aspect of physical reality — how many tons can a worker lift? It was a prescription — how many tons should a worker lift? The real issue at stake in Mayo’s telephone factory was not factual — how can we best establish a sense of teamwork? It was moral — how much of a worker’s sense of identity and well-being does a business have a right to harness for its purposes?

Someone else pointed this out to me recently by saying, “We know that McDonald’s has values. Because if they didn’t, they’d be selling crack.

Customer-centered poetry

In Good Poems Keillor suggests that what makes a poem good depends both on what one intends to use it for and who intends to use it. If one wants a poem for English majors to analyze in a seminar room, certain qualities are likely to be prized—complexity, density, ambivalence. But if one intends poems to reach a general audience in the ordinary business of their day, then other qualities are primary—such as expressive power, music, and memorability.

Good Poems is not a volume aimed at academic pursuits but at ordinary human purposes. And it insists that poetry can still play a meaningful role in those purposes. So unambiguously dedicated to the notion that poetry is a vehicle for truth, self-awareness, and inspiration, Good Poems is a post-modernist’s nightmare in nineteen chapters.

from Dana Gioia’s review of Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor.

Open-source business sucks! No wait, it doesn’t!

Sigh. The current issue of the Economist has a story called “Open, but not as usual: As “open-source” models move beyond software into other businesses, their limitations are becoming apparent” which I had to read to learn about these limitations. But the article — while mentioning the usual glitches — is generally bullish on open-source business, praising it by the end of the article.

The tension in the article is derived from what seems to be common misunderstandings about open-source software, that 1) open doesn’t equal unstructured, and 2) open doesn’t equal innovation.

So after they duped me into reading the whole article I’ll refrain from honoring them with a link to spare you, dear reader, the trouble.

Gain, v3.0

The new & improved Gain — the AIGA journal of business and design — has just re-launched. Congrats to Karen, Jeff, Liz, and the gang.

BusinessWeek’s innovation channel

BusinessWeek launched it’s innovation channel recently. Overall it’s a giant wallop of publicity for the design/innovation field, though the page itself could use some design — I think I noticed a kitchen sink in there about 3/4 of the way down. Still, a whole lotta new content to browse and a valuable new voice is a good thing at this point in the conversation.

Business book summaries

I was just thinking it would be great to have summaries of all those books I’ll never get to read, and of course someone has done that already. But this company is emphasizing the variety of formats they offer, when I bet business people would most prefer a bound collection of these published once per quarter.

Tomato TomA[h]to, the Re-Imagine Manifesto

Tom Peters just released his Re-Imagine Manifesto, Tomato TomA[h]to (.pdf) which captures the spirit of the book series and probably most of what he’s saying these days (and how he’s saying it). Such as…

They say, “If it can’t be precisely measured then it isn’t real.” [And I suppose if it can be measured it is real? Think Enron? Adelphia? WorldCom?”]
I say, “If it can be precisely measured it isn’t real.” [Think Age of Intagibles & Relationships.] [Think: “He knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.”]

It’s Synergistic!

I saw this posterboard in a conference room in corporate America recently:

definition of synergistic, which is the same as synergy

…and I just had to take a picture of it. While at first it strikes me as a funny word, I’ve been seeing more and more corporate language bashing, and I find it discouraging. It’s too easy to position people who use corporate-speak as the other and label them corporate drones. Language is learned, and so this language acts as useful shorthand to the initiated — which is true in any discipline. If creative and analytical people are going to work together, we need to jump this hurdle.

Synergy is usually the word I think of to illustrate this. It’s hard not to say it without sounding silly because of its use in dot-com exuberance. And yet it has a specific and important meaning to business; the merger of AOL and Time Warner could have resulted in synergy, and that should have been a focus of their integration efforts.

Corporate speak really only fails in two cases:

  1. When the speaker incorrectly assumes the audience knows the vocabulary, as when government speaks to the public
  2. When fancy words substitute for substantive ideas. This is really a case of bad thinking and not a language issue.

Narrow vs. board perspectives on business

Steve Diller, who is collaborating with Nathan Shedroff on a book about Designing Meaningful Experiences, raises the issue of how writing for business differs from writing for academia (and, IMO, designers)…

Most people I know who manage businesses complain about the simplistic nature of much of what’s available. At the heart of the “typical” business book appears to be an assumption that ideas are, essentially, opportunistically-applied tools, rather than frameworks for broadening one’s perspective on the world. Academia, in contrast, focuses on the broadening of perspective, but frequently at the expense of usefulness.

He’ll be writing more on the Cheskin blog, which incidentally has a cool photoblog.


When I worked in advertising, I witnessed the magic of great copywriting. Copy can make an ad or ruin it. I was reminded of this on a recent SAS flight where the sugar packets read only, ‘As sugar dissolves, it spreads happiness,’ and the salt, ‘The color of snow, the taste of tears, the enormity of oceans.’

In our haste to dis the (correctly perceived) superficial and purely-commercial advertising industry, we miss the opportunity to learn from its decades of experience. Sites powered by great copy, in the right situation, can be wonderful.