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Who needs management theories? Give me practicalities …

I remember someone made a comment at a conference a while ago, and it got a big laugh.

An academic is someone who looks at something working in practice and wonders what it looks like in theory

Hmmm. Does that mean:

A practitioner is someone who looks at something working in theory and makes it work in practice?

I don’t know. Can get my knickers in a twist here with this one, but I do find it intriguing how many people consider folks like me to be theorists. Theories? Thestories? Are these just stories?

Basically, we all are looking for ideas and inputs. The rise of the management guru began with folks like Peter Drucker and were turbo-charged in the 1980s by Tom Peters and his successors. Today, there are loads of them and they all have something to say about management, leadership, culture, change, strategy, innovation, technology and more. But where do they get the right to say these things? Because they come up with a new idea? A new approach? A new thing?

What’s the next big new thing?

Personally, I’m pretty cynical about most management thinkers, consultants and commentators and wonder whether they have actually done something? Have they built or run a business? Can they prove their pedigree?

It’s not to denigrate management thinking – my degree was in Management Sciences (can management ever be a science?) – but that there are too many things out there that, like self-help books, are just on the idea and theory of doing things and not the practicalities and actualities of doing it.

I guess that’s why I wrote Doing Digital, as I wanted it to be a far more practical guide to change than a theoretical one. How can I say it’s practical? Because I worked in business for many years, and have then networked and observed business in practice for many years. I avoid being a theorist. I think of myself as a practitioner.

It’s a bit like some people talk about futurists. I dislike this term as so many futurists are just creating ideas. Ideas are great, but only if they’re implemented. For every 1,000 ideas, how many are implemented? One. If you’re lucky.

I remember going to a World Futures Forum and one of the sessions was entitled: What is the communications protocol for close encounters of the fourth kind? That’s not going to improve my business plan for 2021.

I see myself as a commercial strategist. I’m looking for ideas and future things that will make money. That’s all I’m looking for. I’m not looking at ideas and future things for the fun of it. It may be fun, but that’s not relevant to people in the commercial world.

So, just to wrap up, I thought I would share with you five management books that actually make some sense and are useful (apart from Doing Digital). This is not an all-time list but just recent books that come to mind.

The Social Licence for Financial Markets

This book is about what Mark Carney has called ‘the social licence for financial markets’ and how it can point us towards a more sustainable future. Author David Rouch argues that what it reveals contrasts sharply with the usual portrayals of markets as places of unrestrained financial self-interest. Drawing attention to a more complex reality and the presence of justice-focused aspirations in finance can positively impact individual, institutional, and systemic behaviour: change, not imposed by regulators, but emerging from the very substance of market relationships.

The finance sector should have a key role in addressing humanity’s increasingly pressing sustainability challenges. Yet the relationship between finance and society has not recovered from the 2008 crisis and the scandals and austerity that followed. The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout is sharpening some of the issues and creating new ones. Recognising that financial markets operate subject to a social licence has the potential to galvanise market participants in tackling these challenges, strengthening social solidarity on which markets also depend, and to provide coordinates for navigating a way through the post-pandemic social, political and economic landscape.  

Prosperity: Better Business Makes the Greater Good

What is business for? Day one of a business course will tell you: it is to maximise shareholder profit. This single idea pervades all our thinking and teaching about business around the world but it is fundamentally wrong, Colin Mayer argues. It has had disastrous and damaging consequences for our economies, environment, politics, and societies.
In this urgent call for reform, Prosperity challenges the fundamentals of business thinking. It sets out a comprehensive new agenda for establishing the corporation as a unique and powerful force for promoting economic and social wellbeing in its fullest sense – for customers and communities, today and in the future.

First Professor and former Dean of the Säid Business School in Oxford, Mayer is a leading figure in the global discussion about the purpose and role of the corporation. In Prosperity, he presents a radical and carefully considered prescription for corporations, their ownership, governance, finance, and regulation. Drawing together insights from business, law, economics, science, philosophy, and history, he shows how the corporation can realize its full potential to contribute to economic and social wellbeing of the many, not just the few.

Prosperity tells us not only how to create and run successful businesses but also how policy can get us there and fix our broken system.

Radical Uncertainty

This major, critically acclaimed work asks a vitally important question for today: when uncertainty is all around us, and the facts are not clear, how can we make good decisions?

We do not know what the future will hold, particularly in the midst of a crisis, but we must make decisions anyway. We regularly crave certainties which cannot exist and invent knowledge we cannot have, forgetting that humans are successful because we have adapted to an environment that we understand only imperfectly. Throughout history we have developed a variety of ways of coping with the radical uncertainty that defines our lives.

This incisive and eye-opening book draws on biography, history, mathematics, economics and philosophy to highlight the most successful – and most short-sighted – methods of dealing with an unknowable future. Ultimately, the authors argue, the prevalent method of our age falls short, giving us a false understanding of our power to make predictions, leading to many of the problems we experience today.

No Rules Rules

It’s time to do things differently. Trust your team. Be radically honest. And never, ever try to please your boss. These are some of the ground rules if you work at Netflix. They are part of a unique cultural experiment that explains how the company has transformed itself at lightning speed from a DVD mail order service into a streaming superpower – with 190 million fervent subscribers and a market capitalisation that rivals the likes of Disney.

Finally Reed Hastings, Netflix Chairman and CEO, is sharing the secrets that have revolutionised the entertainment and tech industries. With INSEAD business school professor Erin Meyer, he will explore his leadership philosophy – which begins by rejecting the accepted beliefs under which most companies operate – and how it plays out in practice at Netflix.

From unlimited holidays to abolishing approvals, Netflix offers a fundamentally different way to run any organisation, one far more in tune with an ever-changing fast-paced world. For anyone interested in creativity, productivity and innovation, the Netflix culture is something close to a holy grail. This book will make it, and its creator, fully accessible for the first time.

Flash Crash

On May 6, 2010, financial markets around the world tumbled simultaneously and without warning. In the span of five minutes, a trillion dollars of valuation was lost. The Flash Crash, as it became known, represented the fastest drop in market history. When share values rebounded less than half an hour later, experts around the globe were left perplexed. What had they just witnessed?

Navinder Singh Sarao hardly seemed like a man who would shake the world’s financial markets to their core. Raised in a working-class neighbourhood in West London, Nav was a preternaturally gifted trader who played the markets like a computer game. By the age of thirty, he had left behind London’s trading arcades, working instead out of his childhood home. For years the money poured in.

But when lightning-fast electronic traders infiltrated markets and started eating into his profits, Nav built a system of his own to fight back. It worked-until 2015, when the FBI arrived at his door. Depending on whom you ask, Sarao was a scourge, a symbol of a financial system run horribly amok, or a folk hero-an outsider who took on the tyranny of Wall Street and the high-frequency traders.

A real-life financial thriller, Flash Crash uncovers the remarkable, behind-the-scenes narrative of a mystifying market crash, a globe-spanning investigation into international fraud, and the man at the centre of them both.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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