BOOK REVIEW / Management in a new age: Managing The Unknown - Edited by Richard Boot, Jean - Lawrence and John Morris; McGraw-Hill, pounds 27.95

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The Independent Online
One of the main themes of business life is the idea that change is happening faster and to a greater extent than before.

Inspired by such developments as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of Nelson Mandela and the steps towards peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, a whole change industry has sprung up. There seem to be management consultants and academics on every corner dedicated to convincing industrialists that they must learn to think the unthinkable, predict the unpredictable and even do the impossible.

It was against this backdrop that this book - subtitled 'By Creating New Futures' - was conceived. Its purpose is to discuss 'a very different way of managing'. Calling for acceptance of ignorance and 'the ability to raise fruitful questions rather than to impose effective answers', it is guided by new philosophies of managerial leadership. These centre on 'value and direction' rather than established bodies of knowledge, which seems to mean less 'I'm in charge' and more consultation.

So far, not so revolutionary. Although even the flatter, leaner organisations still have a clear idea of who is boss, many corporations are starting to learn that there are sound business reasons for valuing employees and drawing them from a variety of backgrounds. Some executives can even be heard talking about 'vision' and 'values'.

The editors felt their aims were sufficiently ambitious to justify a new kind of book. And they have certainly broken fresh ground in that regard. The reader is, for example, treated to a step-by-step description of how it came into existence as 'a small example of creating a new future'.

The pretension does not stop there. Between the chapters are quotations, works of art and snippets of music designed to 'bring a vision of leaders who bring to the collective task all the aspects of the person, joyfully and creatively'. And at the end there is the opportunity for readers to create their own 'personal work'.

All of which is a shame - because the book is not without merits. In particular, the opening essay by the noted business academic Sir Douglas Hague is a useful overview of the likely challenges in the 21st century. But elsewhere, Coralie Palmer's look at the bases of the equitable company reminds us that 'it requires a blinkered vision to treat the social consequences of a business's policies, actions and products as irrelevant', while Roger Harrison and Graham Dawes discuss often- neglected barriers to learning that can occur in even those organisations most committed to developing 'knowledge workers'. Even among the more philosophical passages there are thoughts that managers everywhere would do well to note. None more so than the one that closes the book: that current approaches to the fast-changing business environment mean everything is taken at a rush, so there is no real basis for choice about what is urgent. If these pieces can help to produce an environment where people can work more rationally and effectively, they might be forgiven all the new ageism that precedes it.