‘Truth’ #8 - Getting the implementation right is not rocket science!

So, what about the challenges of implementation? The phrase, “It’s not rocket science!” is usually invoked to suggest that whatever is being contemplated is, by comparison with sending people into space, simple and straightforward. Its rhetorical use in the context of organization reflects the widely held view that dealing with the day-to-day challenges of management, and the implementation of plans and projects, ought to be relatively clear-cut. As such, these are seen as being amenable to the application of techno-rational thinking and project methodologies to organize and control what happens. Of course, people are capable of designing and developing technologies to facilitate their own human being and human doing - such as building a rocket and applying related capabilities in ways that enable astronauts to orbit the earth and land on the moon. But organization is not fundamentally an issue of science and technology. It is a social endeavour, with all of the complexities that that involves.

Unlike the technical challenges involved in sending people into space and returning them safely to earth, the dynamics and outcomes of human interaction are never fully knowable. They are not amenable to scientific analysis at all. Indeed, the practical realization of the technical certainties of rocket science, in relation to particular missions, ultimately depends on the behaviour of people - with all of their fallibility (e.g. the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters) and ingenuity (e.g. Apollo 13). So, it is true that organizational management is not rocket science. It’s not merely technically complicated, it’s socially complex.

‘Truth’ #9 - It is possible to design and deliver “And they all lived happily ever after” futures

In the autumn 20IS edition of the UK Chartered Management Institute’s journal, Professional Manager, Adrian Furnham wrote a great article entitled “Write a business bestseller”.8 In it he identifies 11 essential ingredients of what he describes as “a management blockbuster”. Whilst setting out this recipe for success in the literary world, he neatly exposes the gaps between the simplistic view of organization that such books often present, and the complex reality that managers experience day in, day out. He does this so subtly, though, that some readers might eagerly follow his supposed advice.

At first glance, Furnham is proffering some guidance to budding authors. In actuality he is deriding the naive prescriptions that prevent meaningful engagement with the dynamics of organization and a more practical understanding of real-world management practice. More thoughtful practitioners will not be seduced by the simple messages, one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’ and “they all lived happily ever after” futures that Furnham exposes. Too often, though, they are offered a false prospectus, built on what are claimed to be fool-proof, step-by-step approaches to assured success. Supposedly freeing them from having to deal with the real-world challenges which are often more akin to walking in the fog. And, as Steph Lawler says, in her discussion of identity, “The idea that we can ‘be whatever we want to be’ relies on an illusory eclipsing of the social world”.5

 
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