By Carol Kennedy
Morrow x 201pp x $15
Admit it: You never actually read Alfred D. Chandler's Strategy and Structure. (O.K., neither did I.) Michael Porter's The Competitive Advantage of Nations looks terrific on the bookshelf (it does on mine), but given a choice between tackling those somewhat torturous 855 pages and switching on the ball game, you lunge for the remote.
The world suffers far too many long, agonizingly dull management tomes. Yet buried in some are startling ideas, radical insights, maybe even the strategy that could forever alter how you do business. That's why Instant Management: The Best Ideas from the People Who Have Made a Difference in How We Manage could have been the most useful business book ever.
British academic Carol Kennedy tries to distill the jargon, needless detail, and plodding prose of 34 management gurus down to 201 pages of painless pith. Chandler's epic studies of corporations in the U.S. through 1920 fill just over three pages; Porter, currently more fashionable, rates five. It's Reader's Digest meets Harvard Business Review.
Unfortunately, Kennedy's condensations are adequate but shallow. There's little analysis, perspective, or context to bring W. Edwards Deming, Max Weber, and Robert H. Waterman Jr. to life. And the author's own writing is pretty drab. Had the book been double in scope, it might have been more worthwhile. Kennedy could have introduced some case studies that lend substance to the gurus' theories, added insights, even challenged a premise or two. As it is, simply listing the 45 one-line precepts that sprang from Tom Peters' Thriving on Chaos does neither Peters nor Kennedy's readers justice.
Kennedy does include a nifty glossary explaining such mysterious technolanguage as "adhocracy" and "Theory X," and tries to provide some historical context. Thanks to these features, Instant Management may facilitate some boardroom bluffing, but not much more.