the impression I formed of the M.B.A. experience was that it involved taking two years out of your life and going deeply into debt, all for the sake of learning how to keep a straight face while using phrases like “out-of-the-box thinking,” “win-win situation,” and “core competencies.”

Management theory came to life in 1899 with a simple question: “How many tons of pig iron bars can a worker load onto a rail car in the course of a working day?” The man behind this question was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the author of The Principles of Scientific Management and, by most accounts, the founding father of the whole management business.

Taylorism, like much of management theory to come, is at its core a collection of quasi-religious dicta on the virtue of being good at what you do, ensconced in a protective bubble of parables (otherwise known as case studies).

They were supposed to save the business,” said one client manager, rolling his eyes. “Actually,” he corrected himself, “they were supposed to keep the illusion going long enough for the boss to find a new job.” Was my competitor held to account for failing to turn around the business and/or violating the rock-solid ethical standards of consulting firms? On the contrary, it was ringing up even higher fees over in another wing of the same organization.

What they don’t seem to teach you in business school is that “the five forces” and “the seven Cs” and every other generic framework for problem solving are heuristics: they can lead you to solutions, but they cannot make you think.

M.B.A.s have taken obfuscatory jargon—otherwise known as bullshit—to a level that would have made even the Scholastics blanch.

Matthew Stewart, writing in the Atlantic, The Management Myth, begins to broach the idea of the professional and its claim to moral status, before going into a account of the eternal recurrence of the same in management theory from the fads of the 90’s arguing for flat organizations and against departmentalization and bureaucracy, to their precursors in 1983, with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Tom Burns and GM Stalker in 1961, James C. Worthy in the 1940’s, WB Given in 1949, Mary Parker Follett in the 1920’s, and Professor Elton Mayo of HBS in the 1920’s. The humanist tradition of Mayo, forever interlocked and in conflict with Taylor’s ratioinalist tradition. Haven’t we seen this movie before?

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