Forget the MBA. All you need is common sense

BOOK REVIEW

It has become fashionable of late for business people to quip that the latest management fad is anti-faddism. After years of suffering total quality, customer service, business process re-engineering and the rest, they seem to be relieved by the thought that none of this stuff really works and that they can therefore call off the hunt for the Holy Grail.

But that, of course, is to misread the signals. The point is not that re-engineering or quality is total nonsense; it is just that neither can solve a company's problems in isolation. Just as managers should not adhere rigidly to the texts devoted to each idea, so they should not dismiss them out of hand.

After all, much of the content in these theories is based in solid common sense. Of course a manufacturer should make good-quality goods rather than shoddy ones. Of course businesses need to not just satisfy but delight their customers. Of course they need to constantly re-evaluate how they do things as the prophets of re-engineering insist. Where they typically go wrong is in putting all their energies into, first, one idea and then another and so on.

Smarter companies that are not particularly associated with any one of these ideas do not ignore them altogether, but pick and choose from them what they feel is appropriate. As an executive with one such organisation said recently: "I think we've tried just about everything over the years."

In recent years, various gurus have tried to explain why these businesses seem to have more staying power than those that appear to be forever chasing rainbows. And most have come to the conclusion that it is all about vision and sense of purpose. But, while this may be true, a new book suggests it may be due to something far less complex: making the right choices.

Quinn Spitzer and Ron Evans, authors of Heads You Win (to be published by Simon & Schuster at pounds 15.99 on 9 September), reckon that if you strip away all the complications created by management fads and their proponents, business comes down to four critical thinking skills: the ability to solve problems, to make decisions, to anticipate future trends and opportunities and to sort through complexity.

Pointing out that the founders of some of the most successful businesses of the century - for example, Dave Packard of computer company Hewlett- Packard, Akio Morita of electronics company Sony and Sam Walton of Wal- Mart - never received an MBA, they argue that this supports their contention that there is something "more fundamental at the core of organisational success than the theories found in business schools, management books and consulting reports". These executives, they add, were "not just people of action, but people of thought - critical thought". And it can be concluded that the critical thinking they brought to their businesses was more effective than that of their counterparts elsewhere.

Of the numerous examples that pepper this book, one of the most compelling is the story of how the US motor manufacturer, Chrysler, dealt with a problem in the sun visors of its popular Jeep Cherokee model.

Finding that the padded visors had started splitting soon after delivery, the company's product engineers resolved to re-engineer the whole sun visor, until company president Robert Lutz intervened. Under hisquestioning, the engineers realised the defect was a recent problem and perhaps had a simpler solution than an overhaul that would have meant the defect continued while the process was completed. Inquiries of the supplier produced the information that the problem was simply a result of wear on the tool doing the stitching: fix that and you fix the problem.

The authors, consultants with Kepner-Tregoe, a firm specialising in this area, recall how British Airways under Sir Colin Marshall emerged from the financial crisis created by the Gulf War. While many got stuck in a downward spiral of cutting costs to respond to fresh threats, BA forced key executives to examine opportunities at a time of disaster. The result was the spectacular marketing campaign billed as "The World's Biggest Offer" - essentially a seats give-away that apparently catapulted the company into better financial shape than it had been before the war.

This is a lot more inspiring than ploughing through the pages of data and difficult-to-fathom graphs that characterise many management books. But in the end, the authors risk letting themselves down by falling into the trap that their organisation, too, has names for these basic concepts and if the reader would just sign up he or she could join the pantheon.

Roger Trapp

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam