Sa Apocalypse of management (Les Belles Lettres), François-Xavier de Vaujany, researcher at Paris-Dauphine-PSL University and expert in organizational theories, examines the birth of modern management and its current dysfunctions. By illuminating the past, it gives us clues to better understand the present and imagine the future.
How did World War II allow the United States to impose governance as we know it today?
Francois-Xavier de Vaujany: When the United States went to war, the country was still weakened by the crisis of 1929, its unemployment rate was high, its military power was minor. To win, he launches into the manufacture of large quantities of weapons, tanks and ships, in a hurry. The United States is flooding the market of their production, thanks to the mobilization of the industry and the implementation of logistics strategies, project management, etc.
Therefore, scientific management is important, with digital reinforcement. By the end of the war, the country was the leading military power in the world, its unemployment was almost gone and its wealth was equal to half of the world’s GDP! Great winner in conflict, it is establishing its dominance, with its standards, management schools, its consulting firms and, soon, its IT industry …
How has digital become an ally of management?
Electronic computers, which make it possible to process an important mass of information, allow the country to ensure control of the production, planning and coherence of information. Thus, the army would be the main financier of the computer industry, and this until the 1960s (Arpanet, ancestor of the Internet, was born of military will). Therefore, management is equipped.
At the same time, an American thinker, James Burnham, predicted the advent of a managerial society.
Sa The era of organizers (Revolution Management, 1941), James Burnham actually explained that among the “capitalists” and “proletarians”, a new type of society emerged, that of the “managers”. Two characteristics of this profession: having a title issued by a business school and mastery of new technical skills (market research, strategic planning, management control, etc.). According to Burnham, this new class will be dominant in the private sector. sector, but also in administration, hospital, school … He is right!
This evolution became possible primarily thanks to the efficiency of computer tools, which gradually distanced managers from the heart of the action and allowed them to accurately build their power at this distance.
Does the McKinsey case prove this to us?
Here, too, history is rich in lessons. The consulting market was born in the United States in the 1930s, following new regulations. When World War II broke out, the government called in these experts. When the conflict ended, Europe and Asia were destroyed and had to be rebuilt, these same companies set up branches to provide advice and implement the Marshall Plan.
For thirty years, these American companies enjoyed a quasi -monopoly in the consulting market. This situation allows them to install their technique and their power. The McKinsey affair is the visible trace of an emerging phenomenon for decades.
Why are you talking about managerial apocalypses?
We must understand the term apocalypse in its etymological meaning of “unfolding”, “revelation” of an imminent new world. This American, digital, global management, set up during World War II, works in this mode: it needs to make existing products or services incomplete in order to commit new, better ones. A system that dramatically echoes the principle of planned obsolescence, which was theorized in the 1930s in the United States. This model works by establishing the planet as an infinite resource, with the ecological effects we know today.
What are the alternatives, in your opinion, to this style of management?
I don’t want to lose these “apocalypses”, but maybe even more secondary in our lives. They have enabled development in many areas: health, education, democracy… Digital technology offers tremendous opportunities for exchange. I believe in this system. However, I think it’s urgent to put it in conversation with something else. Sa The little prince, Saint-Exupéry painted the image of a businessman who no longer knew how to “dream”.
Here’s a track: let’s walk, experiment, encourage drifting and let go! I have long studied the movements of makers, cooperatives, third place. Everyone experiences a different management. The two types of management can – and, in my opinion, should – coexist: control and permanent experimentation. In my twenty years of teaching, I have seen a new generation coming, driving more and more in this direction. More and more young graduates are trying alternative forms of management or companies are open to these alternatives. So optimistic I am!
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