MBWA Redux

With Noel Guinane’s permission, we’ve moved his Comment up to become a Post; note in particular the quote from Fred Schwed:

I love the idea of Management By Walking Around. Shame in a way that it was taken as a revelation since I really don’t know any other way of running a business. Nothing I can think of in business is more boring than sitting behind a desk dealing with masses of reports (unless it’s having to sit through endless PowerPoint presentations).

Tying the subject of MBWA to Wall Street, our engine of commerce, here’s something Fred Schwed Jr. said:

“… your true speculator starts near the corner of Wall and Broad and doesn’t wander farther away than the next two tickers. He knows that in some savage unvisited spot like Jersey City a corporation is actually in business, but he doesn’t really think that important. What fascinates him is that against this vague concept of a living business certain pieces of engraved paper can be issued, and that with these pieces of paper thrilling games can be played.

“He does not easily conceive the business in terms of workers, management, products, processes, markets, and patents. Much more simply he thinks of the Norfolk and Western Railroad as NFK, and the United States Steel Corporation as X. What is most clearly in his mind is that if he wants to make a play a fellow can always find a close market in X but not in NFK.”

You might not think a connection can be drawn between Wall Street speculators and corporate managers, but I have seen the same tendency in both to view a business as an abstract collection of assets and liabilities that can be moved around like pieces on a chess board. The speculator might have an excuse—his interest is making a quick kill, but the corporate manager has been hired to manage the business.

I think the reason MBWA hasn’t caught on as much as it should is because it’s viewed as too much work to get off your backside and learn about what’s really going on in the business. There’s a certain appeal to playing mental gymnastics with your pals. I call it Theoretical Management. It’s management by theory, not practice. You see it everywhere—managers telling us what could be and should be, but unfortunately isn’t.

Tom Peters posted this on September 7, 2005, in Strategies.
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