A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan continues. If he had lived Marshall would have been 100 on July 21, 2011. Join me in the countdown to his centennial, and an exploration of more of his observations on the way media work in the electric age in which we live.

Management education

The strange new world of management

Marshall McLuhan (1972, age 60)  Welcome to the unknown.

“With the acceleration of change, management now takes on entirely new functions.  While navigating admidst the unknown is becoming the normal role of the executive, the new need is not merely to navigate but to anticipate effects with their causes.”

Me (June, 2011, age 58)  Meaning?

You can not escape the future, sidestep it or go around it.  To succeed in it you must be part of it; you must make it happen.  Exhilarating isn’t it?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Mark Federman and Derrick De Kerckhove, McLuhan for managers: new tools for new thinking, 2003, p. xiii.


Michael Hinton Saturday, June 25th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Business, Management No Comments

You’ve got to suffer if you want to be a senior executive.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  He only gets the noise!

“Electricity  … has made the harmonizing of production schedules as rigorous as that demanded of the members of a large symphony orchestra.  And the satisfactions are just as few for the big executives as for the symphonists, since a player in a big orchestra can hear nothing of the music that reaches the audience.  He gets only the noise.”

Me (June, 2011, age 58).  Do you have an ear for Management?

Only McLuhan with his preternatural sensitivity to noise could take the idea of a business executive being like a player in a symphony orchestra and turn it into a nightmare.   Despite what you thought the problem with being a senior executives isn’t that  you’re lonely at the top it’s that you can’t get a moment to yourself.  If you think about it that’s what Dr. Henry Mintzberg has been saying years about the Manager’s job, it’s chaos.

Cordially, Marshall and Me



Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 355.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Thursday, June 9th, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Education, Management No Comments

Yesterday’s Speeches.

Marshall McLuhan (1966, age 54/55). Nobody wants yesterday’s speech?

Tony Schwartz, the New York sound wizard, has done it again.  He has embarrassed me.  I asked Tony if he would record one of my big speeches.

He said, “No!  Who wants to listen to something you said yesterday, Marshall.  They want to hear what you have to say today!”

He’s absolutely right, bless him.  Information is coming at us so fast that anything I said yesterday must be obsolete.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Why do people collect them?

Speeches in business age quickly.  Yet many people continue to ask conference speakers for copies of their presentation slides.  Why?  (I am not talking about the presentations of celebrity speakers, but rather the hard-copy of Joe and Mary director of marketing.) It is difficult to believe there is much to be learned from these slides.  Perhaps the collectors believe they are paying the speaker a compliment.  Most speakers I would guess do not feel complimented.  Most have better things to do.  Perhaps the collectors hope they can use a slide or two in an upcoming talk.  But I see little sign that these collected speeches or presentations are actually used in this way.  Which leads me back to the question.

Why do people collect yesterday’s speeches?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, Who Was Marshall McLuhan? 1994, p. 153.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Where do you get your information?

Marshall McLuhan (Fall 1953, age 42).  Books!

“Marshall, must you spread your books throughout the house?”

“No, Corinne, but it serves me to do so.  It reminds me of what I have read.  Also I like to pick a book up and dip into it every now and again to add to and refresh my memory.  Having them about me this way is a great help.”

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Books!

While McLuhan enjoyed talking to people, Philip Marchand says he got most of his information from books.  On average, says Marchand, McLuhan read 35 books a week, which seems like a lot, even for a university professor.  I get most of my ideas for this blog from books, but not exclusively from books.  On average, though, I cannot say I read more than two books a week. (May be – like McLuhan – I should skim more.)

Where do you get your information?  How many books do you read in a week?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger, 1989 p. 179.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, July 17th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Education, Vol. 1 1 Comment

Beware the specialist!

Marshall McLuhan (1967, age 65/66). What is a specialist?

As I was telling Howard Gossage just as a drama is a technology for delivering tragedy, a specialist is a technology for delivering his specialty.  Architects solve problems with buildings, surgeons solve problems with surgery, and lawyers solve problems with law suits.  Generalists have a great advantage over specialists because they are not committed by their training to particular solutions.

Me (June 2010, age 57). Howard Gossage explains …

Marshall McLuhan liked to assert ideas but he did not like to explain them.  In McLuhan: Hot and Cool (pp. 28-29) Howard Gossage makes an attempt to provide an explanation for McLuhan’s idea that the specialists goal is to advance their specialty not to solve your problems.

“Once you take a problem to a specialist you are wired in to a specialist’s solution.  However well executed it is, the odds are against its being a real answer.  Let us say your company is having growing pains, and is uncomfortable in its present quarters.  So you go to an architect.  Let us also suppose that he is a very good architect …  So he inquires after your needs, your ambitions, your hopes, your fears, what manner of people you are, etc.  Do you know what you are going to end up with?  A building.  Now, a building, however nice, may not be the answer to your problem at all.  Perhaps the real answer is to stop expanding,  or fire the traffic manager, or [have] everyone stay home and do cottage work connected by closed circuit TV.” (pp. 28-29.)

Cordially, Marshall and Me

What do you think?  Should we beware of specialists?


Reading for this post

Howard Luck Gossage, “You can see why the mighty would be curious.”  In McLuhan: Hot and Cool, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn.


Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Friday, June 25th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Education, Vol. 1 1 Comment

The problem with the Shannon-Weaver model of communication

Marshall McLuhan (February 1, 1979, age 67). Communication is not about transportation!

You are undoubtedly familiar with the Shannon-Weaver model of communication.  I was just telling Pierre Trudeau about it.  Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver were mathematicians who said that the chief difficulty of a sender in getting a message through to a receiver is “noise.”  And their remedy for noise is to increase the electrical charge in the circuit.

This type of thinking is what’s wrong with most communications.  They don’t hear you and your solution is to shout? That’s a transportation solution.  What’s needed is a transformation solution.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   But how do you affect transformation?

One thing you can do is stop looking at communication as a transportation problem.  Frame your task from the beginning as transformation.

Transportation is ridiculously easy with current technology, which perhaps accounts for its attractions. I’m curious to know, what do you think? Why are we spending too much time on transportation and too little on transformation? 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 524-25.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, May 22nd, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

The reading public no longer exists.

Marshall McLuhan (January 12, 1973, age 61). Thousands of reading publics exist

When I was at Cambridge, in the 1930s, the library of the English School maintained displays of a small number of relevant books covering a variety of different fields.  Looking over the shelves I came away with the distinct idea that this was what you needed to know to know what was happening in history, poetry, or any other field.  Today however such an impression is an impossibility.  So much is being published – in America alone 39,000 books are published every year –  there cannot be a reading public only publics.  We read what we will and except for very modest area of overlap our reading separates us from one another.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Thousands have become millions.

Every book club is a reading public.  Each blog has its reading public, some large, most small.

What are the implications?  Are programs like “Canada Reads” necessary to maintain a sense of community?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 462.

Deborah Hinton‘s post @ Communication Matters

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture, Technology, Vol. 1 1 Comment

Store house or slaughter house?

Marshall McLuhan (March 7, 1969, age 57).  Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one

The college President was overheard saying that the reason universities are such great store houses of knowledge is that students enter them knowing so much and leave them knowing so little.   That one always cracks me up.

Me (April 2010, age 57).  What is the role of the university?

At this time of year, when students at colleges across the country are busy studying for and writing final exams, it is worth thinking about the role of the university and what it is that students learn at them.  The serious side of the joke Marshall McLuhan tells is that what students learn at university is that a good deal of what they thought was true actually isn’t.  And as a result they leave the university knowing less, but knowing more.

What did you unlearn at college or university?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 362.

Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Friday, April 23rd, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Education, Vol. 1 1 Comment

What’s wrong with competition?

Marshall McLuhan (October 8, 1966, age 55). What a day!

It’s amazing when a new idea hits home.  Take today, I’m talking with George Leonard, who’s an editor with Look.  We start at my house on Well’s Avenue at 10 am and finish up at 11 pm.  I know we had lunch and dinner together but I only remember the conversation.  The subject of competition and education came up.  Everyone knows it has negative effects on students’ performance, but the races still keep on going.  Why?  Well I said what if your goal isn’t helping kids to think but to conform?  The competition is great because it encourages kids to be alike to resemble one another more and more closely, albeit with some doing things faster and some better.

Me (April 2010, age 57)  Have a look at Look

The heartland of competition is sports.  Everyone knows what they want to do and goes about doing it – which turns out to be what everyone else is doing – as quickly as possible.  But is this the model that is wanted for the workplace and education?  To all have the same goal, to run on the same track, to go quicker, faster?  The conventional wisdom says yes, the only down side being the stress.  But is the best of all world’s one where everyone winds up resembling everyone else?

How well does competition serve your ends?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan and George Leonard. “The Future of Education.”  Look, February 21, 1967.

Tags: , , ,

Michael Hinton Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Education, Management, Vol. 1 1 Comment

What went wrong?

Marshall McLuhan (September 17, 1964, age 52). Not the Hawthorne experiment!

Why do people insist on seeing the Hawthorne experiment as a failure?    Is it really a case of the observer getting his finger stuck in the experiment and screwing up the results?  Or was it actually a great success.  If you think about it, what the Hawthorne experiment actually teaches is that the testing finger is a marvelous way to establish conditions to ensure learning and productivity.  Which reminds me, I’ve got to run, I’ve a stack of exams to grade.

Me (March 2010, age 57). Testing can be good for you.

In 1927 a group of Harvard business school professors were invited by Western Electric to study ways of increasing productivity at their Hawthorne, Illinois plant.  The company believed that by improving lighting in the plant they could increase productivity in the making of telephone equipment.  But they were getting odd results.  No clear relationship could be found between improved lighting and productivity.  The Harvard professors increased the sophistication of the tests.  A group of woman workers were isolated from the rest and one-by-one changes were introduced: lighting, rest periods, hours, pay.  As a result with careful measurement the professors could isolate the effect of each variable by holding the others constant.  For example they could compare the output of the group working x hours a day with lighting level y and pay level z to the output of same group working x hours a day with lighting level y and pay level 2z – the difference in output being the effect of increased pay.  Unfortunately the results didn’t seem to make sense.  They found that output shot up when controlled changes were made.  They also found it shot up when no changes were made.  What was going on?  The professors concluded that the women’s productivity went up because of the fact of testing.  The testing, it was thought, rather than the conditions under which groups worked, had shaped them into cohesive highly productive teams that wanted to perform better and had an audience (the professors) to perform for.

Should managers be doing Hawthorne-type testing today?  Why don’t our schools spend more time on testing and less on the content of the curriculum?  How can you and I put the lessons of Hawthorne to work in our organizations and our lives?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p.310

Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments