A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

What do managers do?

Marshall McLuhan (December 14, 1960 age 49).  They get someone else to do it and they make sure no one else gets in the way

I just sent off a letter to Claude Bissell, the President of Toronto University, to give him the benefit of my most recent thinking.  Hope he finds it useful.  I know I do.  For example, what do top executives do?  Most people say executives make decisions.  But that’s not the job.  Decision making is impossible in a world that’s changing at high-speed.  That’s why so many executives settle for non-decision-making.  That’s the easy but ultimately ineffective way out.  What’s hard and more effective is to organize or rather coordinate people to make their own decisions when and where they have to and work with one another to achieve results.  That is what a symphony conductor does.  As information levels and the speed of change keep rising the coordinating or conducting job of the manager-conductor will get greater and greater.

Me (January 2010, age 57).  McLuhan versus Mintzberg

Recently Henry Mintzberg wrote a book, Managing, that is a rewrite and update of his 1973 book, The Nature of Managerial Work.  Among Mintzberg’s more controversial views is his claim that the job of the manager hasn’t changed in thousands of years.  Marshall McLuhan, it’s safe to say would have disagreed with Mintzberg.  McLuhan’s fundamental point (see above) is that in the high information flows of the electronic age things are moving too fast for executives to make the decisions.  They need to be conductors or organizers, of the other people in their organizations who need to be the ones who decide and act.

What do you think?  Has the job of the manager changed?  Is Mintzberg right that the President of SNC Lavalin, say,  and Cheops’ contractor could switch positions and the great pyramid of Giza and a rail system in Algeria would still get built without a hitch?

(Announcement:  The winner of the classify Marshall McLuhan contest is Deborah Hinton,  for her entry, “I’d say McLuhan is the third person in our marriage.” )

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Henry Mintzberg.  Managing. San Francisco:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, pp. 274-276.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, January 19th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Management, Vol. 1 No Comments

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