Bogus anecdotes and trite observations are the staple of management books. Howard Davies, deputy governor of the Bank of England, finds "The Witch Doctors" no exception. In fact, it is exquisitely dreadfulby Howard Davies / January 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Published in January 1997 issue of Prospect Magazine
This is an important book. We know that, because it says so. The cover tells us that The Witch Doctors reveals “what the management gurus are saying, why it matters and how to make sense of it.” It is, therefore, quite definitely, a book we ought to read. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard enjoins us to “read it before buying any other business book!” This is, in other words, a book with attitude.
I mention this front cover language not because I did not make it through the text itself. I did, right through to the bitter end. Indeed, the immodest market positioning positively spurred me on, because my own relationship with management punditry has, over the years, been something of an on-off romance. I was destruction-tested at Stanford Business School and, subsequently, spent a few perplexing years at McKinsey. Perplexing, because I found it hard to understand why my clients were prepared to pay decent money to employ someone who knew so much less about their business than they did.
But in spite of these impeccable management credentials, I have always found the guru industry’s productions rather hard to take. From Peters and Waterman onwards, I have stocked up my office bookshelves with the latest tomes, promising to reveal the secrets of success, but two chapters into even the most hyped volume I find myself repelled by the usual combination of illiterate prose, bogus anecdotes, non sequiturs and wrong-headed “do-it-yourself” economics. I know that a million managers cannot be entirely wrong, but I do not have the patience to mine the nuggets of wisdom embedded in the slurry.
So a book which purports to have done the mining for me, and to “sort through the muddle of modern management theory and explain it in plain English” has my vote, sight unseen (whatever that might mean). Or should I say had. Because if Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Charles Handy and the rest are witch doctors, then Micklethwait and Wooldridge are scientolo…