Descending the ivory tower

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HABARADAS

RAYMUND B. HABARADAS

Many academics often find it difficult to descend their ivory towers, where they think up those elegant theories and frameworks that influence the world. This probably accounts for the attractiveness of “conceptually based” theory building approaches for these individuals. After all, didn’t Albert Einstein, the quintessential thinker, formulate his Theory of Relativity through sheer intellectual power? And didn’t Leonardo da Vinci, a veritable renaissance man, design a prototype of the flying machine, several centuries before the Wright Brothers successfully defied gravity?

These geniuses gave birth to ideas, and it was left for “lesser mortals” to test the usefulness of such.

It cannot be denied, however, that a great deal of useful knowledge in the field of management came from individuals who had observed business conditions up-close.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, for instance, articulated the concept of “scientific management” after the experiments he conducted at the Midvale and Bethlehem Steel plants in the early part of the 20th Century. The “general principles of management,” on the other hand, are the product of Henri Fayol’s experience as a manager. Even the recent classic Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Porras is an outstanding example of business research grounded in reality, providing us with valuable insights about what makes for “visionary” companies. Indeed, there is a rich tradition of empirically based studies in management literature that have led to some useful theories of organization.


Today, I give tribute to management guru Peter Drucker. In his seminal work Concept of the Corporation (first published in 1946), he set out to describe “how a big business was organized and structured, how it functioned, and what its basic problems were.”

At that time, these questions had never been asked before. According to Drucker (1972), in the preface of the book’s revised edition, “neither economist nor political scientist at the time concerned himself with institutions, let alone with business and enterprise.” He added that “students of management were almost totally absent then.”

Concept of the Corporation, in the author’s own words, was “the first study of a major institution of this new pluralist society of institutions.”

Drucker was, of course, aware of the “prototypes” of large organizations. He cited “the masses of laborers who built the pyramids, the armies that fought the Napoleonic wars or the American civil war, forces much larger than anything man had till then thought possible.” These historical precedents, coupled with his initial observations of big business, led him to the proposition that “there is a real difference between these traditional large organizations and those of today.” Fortunately, he did not stop with this proposition. Taking advantage of the invitation of General Motors Corp., that engaged his services as a consultant, he pursued his idea (i.e. the concept of big business); he tested it, and he validated it.

Drucker did not isolate himself in his ivory tower. Instead, he “got his hands dirty” during his more than two-year engagement at General Motors. His masterpiece is an outcome of both conceptually based and empirically based approaches of scientific research. Concept of the Corporation was not only a hit during its time. It is acknowledged as a management classic, one that has been appreciated by both academics and business practitioners over the past 67 years.

Raymund B. Habaradas is an associate professor at the Management and Organization Department of De La Salle University, where he teaches Management of Organizations and Management Research.He welcomes comments at rbhabaradas@yahoo.com.The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.

 

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