"Strateic Management" sounds academic. Should management be always scientific? Since the publication of Frederick Taylor’s 1911 treatise, “The Principles of Scientific Management,” the field of industrial engineering has attempted to improve efficiency through ‘scientific management.’ At almost 100 years old, this form of industrial management is primarily based on a mechanical view of our universe as it relates to finding the ‘best’ ways to work.
Spurring powerful business models like the Ford assembly line, this discipline of speeding up productivity, controlling quality and minimizing cost remains the primary management modus operandi. Ever since then, scientists haven’t made much headway in scientific management.
In the mid-1980s, scientists used advanced computer modeling to seek order in chaos, creating mathematical diagrams at warp speed with the new technology. Though they found some fascinating data visualizations, they couldn't explain or understand the patterns. Like forecasting the weather, one could make educated predictions but never guarantee sunny skies. A decade later, some scientists stopped focusing on chaos and took a new interest in complexity.
Using advanced computer models to uncover the structure of life forms, a new approach was applied to business management. Comparing everything from beehives to genetic DNA to traffic jams to the hyperactive, complex properties of our technological and economical environment, they created many a compelling metaphor for strategic management. Still, these studies fell short of revealing any fail-proof practical applications. Today, Fortune 500s and other companies around the world still manage companies like machines – valuing profits before all else, maintaining authority with command-and-control management and relying on Six Sigma to improve quality, overreliance on the metrics on utilization, output and efficiency of mass production.
Thanks to Mr. Taylor,these practices suddenly serve to create a bureaucratic structure, distance executives from laborers and encourage them to manage rigidly and systematically. They do nothing to benefit companies that are looking to innovate in today's creative economy. If anything, it’s getting harder to weed out the chaos now that we’re bombarded with massive data and enterprise software, which forces managers to think in confining formulas. They get caught in a tangle of technology, complex processes, product portfolios and business units, and the straightjacket only tightens its grips. They watch in paralysis as these systems drain their financial and labor resources overnight.
Design Thinking is what Scientic Management needs to maintain its relevance. The only way to simplify management is to apply the voice we’ve lost touch of amidst all this white noise: our intuition. Intuition is anything but simple, yet it has the remarkable ability to bring clarity to strategic decision-making to light because it reveals a subtle qualitative and quantitative balance that is oftentimes needed for all the parts to click.
Sometimes we need to tune out the algorithms, the data and the consciousness. Sometimes it takes a white board, some weird field trips and a few crazt people to show us the world has changed and our business models have expired. We need to use our sense to get into the rhythm of disuptive competition. We need to free ourselves from the rational-logical-linear model that keeps us frozen or stagnant in a fast-moving and uncertain environment. We need a touch of finesse and the courage to wipe the slate clean.