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Hello all
Manager-Tools is an amazing podcast. I love it because of its howto and what-to-do approach. However sometimes, I seem to detect in some casts Mark's contempt [maybe that is too strong but it comes out that way] for theory.

I think that is rather unfortunate and is contrary to some of the very things advocated for on the show. For example, most of HBR [which you agree is one of the best business magazines out there is more theory than practice].

In my practice as a techie, I have discovered that the difference between the brilliant solution solvers and the merely good guys is their understanding of theory. Good theory provides a good framework or map of the terrain [but is NOT the terrain] and we all know how ineffective it is to try to wade into new territory without a map.

I have a tremendous respect for Harvard's Clayton Christensen and he makes a very compelling case for the usefulness of theory and how the most difficult problems we face cannot be solved with analysis of data and what currently works. He says and I agree [b]"... theory is a statement of cause and effect"][/b]

Back here at MT ... DISC model is theory ... it works. ..... the problem is that most people don't understand the implicit theories they are using and sometimes those implicit theories are wrong or incomplete.. In the end, the reason most of us love MT is because it is backed by sound theory..... I am yet to see where flawed theory leads to good execution. So Mark & Mike ... keep the excellent good-theory-backed practical advice coming.

AManagerTool's picture

I think Mark's contempt for theory is not contempt at all. I hate to speak for him but I think it's only his recognition that there are thousands of resources out there devoted to theory. There are whole management schools devoted to teaching it. It's practice that consistently gets short shrift. Mark's fight is to increase the practical knowledge base of management not depreciate the theory behind it.

bffranklin's picture

[quote="mukom777"]
I think that is rather unfortunate and is contrary to some of the very things advocated for on the show. For example, most of HBR [which you agree is one of the best business magazines out there is more theory than practice].
[/quote]

Mark has stated that he subscribes to HBR and that it is a delight. I think Tool is on the mark (as usual) with his assessment.

http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/06/books-and-reading/

TomW's picture

I'm not sure what your point is. First you say that they don't like theory, then to keep the theory-backed content coming. Which is it?

The goal of MT is stated as giving managers actionable advice. For example, the DISC casts, while based on a theory, tell managers how to identify their teams' tendencies and how to modify their communications appropriately. Some people do that perfectly well and don't even know what DISC is. Not all great problem solvers even know that there is a theory behind what they are doing. It's great that you've met people who fit a certain mold, but not all people are like that.

Management theory is a lot more philosophical than simple cause and effect. Saying it's just cause and effect implies a mathematical relationship that cannot exist when you are dealing with people. Amazon.com has entire sections of books that offer competing management theories. If it were simply cause and effect, it would be more like the math text book section, just teaching the same proofs and theorems in different ways.

I'd say that MT is all about management behavior. You company shareholders don't care what theories you subscribe to as long as you are effective in getting results.

I have seen very bad theories that end in good execution (usually with a really bad strategist and a really good implementation team). It's the result that matters most in business, things like raising profits, cutting costs, improving margins, etc., all while staying withing regulatory constraints. None of those are directly related to what theories you subscribe to. It matters that you got them done.

cwatine's picture

What M&M did for me, is this : they made "management" become real.

Before, "management" was a vague concept.
After, it was a set of tools I could use. I at last could see where to start!

I recently realized this when talking with one of my managers. He felt exactly the same when he started using the Manager Tools. Things became real, actionable and easy.

Now, there is theory behind all of this.
One part of it is : you can't change your paradigms just "intellectually" (in your brain). To change paradigms, you must experience them. It is much more powerful in my opinion to experiment and then understand the theory than the other way around.
David Allen based his GTD method on this.

perfexcellent's picture

Hello all,
Please let us not blow that thought out of proportion. MT is a great cast because Mark & Mike can take theory, and put it into practice with context. It is not the practice that comes first ... but something in their heads [theory]

Yeah, some people have done well without explicit theory but those people will be even better once they understand and can properly apply theory.

What I am saying is this: The excellent grasp [with context] of theory AND the practical how-tos that MT provides is a LOT better than just how-tos on their own. I believe understanding the theory is the key to adapting the advice to various situations.

I will give you an example with resumes: the Once page resume is brilliant ... but where I live and practice? ... your resume better be a small booklet otherwise the recruiters don't think it is worth looking at [sad] now, I can take the concept that you need to showcase achievements not just professional activity and modify my resume such that the first page is the classical one page MT resume .... then I fill the other pages with details.

One thing against theory [like any map] that it is always incomplete. If you have the wrong map, framework ... you still can't find your way in town until you get a better map or find someone who knows their way round to correct your map and show you around [that's what Mark & Mike do for me]

jhack's picture

Manager Tools exists primarily because there is way TOO MUCH theory out there (just go to the management section of any bookstore). There is almost NOTHING about practice; meaning what, exactly, do you do?

Mark and Mike are in fact very deep into the theory and are quite up on the research. If you want the theory and research, there are lots of resources.

If you want practical knowledge, however, good luck finding it.

M-T is a treasure trove of practice. The best part, it's based in good theory and backed by research.

John

cwatine's picture

I agree with this. And it is even worst here in France.
MT was an eye opener for me and my people and I suppose it will be for many other people.

If this is your point, Mukom777, I think no one would argue that their can't be good practice without a good theory behind. The key in MT is not the theory or even the tools. It is the way they are presented and used...

Maybe leraning the theory will also reinforce practice, but M&M don't put emphasis on theory because their vision is not about that.

Now, they give us keys if we want to learn the theory behind it : by advising books, etc

asteriskrntt1's picture

If it is not obvious, Mark and Mike are not just consultants - they are actors.

Yes, Mark and Mike play roles in the Podcasts. They play a good cop bad cop set up to give the Podcast contrast. This makes the lessons they are giving over more impactful.

And as a general point of communication - if you present an idea and a large number of people say they understand your idea in a certain way, I am not sure the onus is on them to not blow something out of proportion.

The onus is on the presenter to ensure that the original idea was presented clearly. As M&M have pointed out a number of times quoting a fairly smart guy (Peter Drucker) "Communication is what the listener does."

Telling the audience they don't understand is equivalent to the non-apology when you say something like.. "I am sorry your feelings were hurt".

scm2423's picture

To me it is not about theory or practice, it's about results. Some people can take a theory and apply is without any guidance others need the theory and then a model of how to apply it. But at work you are measured by your results. Who would you want working for you, someone who knows the theory, someone who might not know the theory but knows how to apply it, or someone who gets the results you want?

BJ_Marshall's picture

I recently had an experience that I think makes a good analogy to why I find the theory-backed actionable content so compelling.

I don't just like to know what to do to be more effective. I also need to understand why this action is more effective.

I recently decided to drop Windows in favor of Linux on my laptop. I googled and tooled around Kubuntu forums for help in getting my laptop to work right. This includes things like getting wireless Internet to work, setting up applications, etc.

I'm a complete n00b (newbie), and the forums told me what to do. They never told me why. I would "echo blacklist" this and "lspci -v | grep 'audio' " that. I have no idea what any of that meant or why it worked. I already know how to follow directions; I learned nothing.

I don't like learning nothing.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="scm2423"]To me it is not about theory or practice, it's about results. Some people can take a theory and apply is without any guidance others need the theory and then a model of how to apply it. But at work you are measured by your results. Who would you want working for you, someone who knows the theory, someone who might not know the theory but knows how to apply it, or someone who gets the results you want?[/quote]

I want someone who knows the theory and knows how to apply it.

The most actionable and applicable thing in the world is a prescriptive list of instructions that are followed to the letter. Something like a script, maybe a telemarketer script where anyone who can read and talk at the same time can be sat in a call centre and make calls to sell whatever the heck it is you want to sell. Does it work? Sure, so long as the situation complies exactly with the situation and every possible outcome has been forseen and catered for in the script. If the situation goes off script then you'd better hope that the person following it has some knowledge of the theory else they'll be sunk.

There was a Dilbert cartoon some time ago where an MCSE is fixing a problem and shouts something like "I call upon the power of certification!", which obviously doesn't work, and when the problem is still there responds "Oh, that's all I remember from the course." Ok, that's a gag about the problems of hiring people on the basis of certifications that can be gained through crammer courses without actually knowing anything about the underlying technology, but the principle holds true (as has sadly been proven true on far too many occasions, even if you only take the ones I have personally observed).

Stephen