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Jackson, Brad. Management gurus and management fashions: a dramatistic inquiry. London: Routledge, 2001 xvi, 208 pp. ISBN 0 415 24945 7 47 55.00 (18.99 pb)

Brad Jackson's exploration of the phenomenon of the management 'guru' is a very interesting and satisfying book. Jackson explores something more than the nature and performance of the management guru - it seeks to understand how organizations function and how managers work, providing a cogent, coherent, scholarly account of the phenomenon of management fashions and an their meaning.

We are all aware of the impact of the management 'guru' and of management fashions. In the organizations we work in many of us will have experience of MBO, PPBS, TQM, empowerment, BPR and more besides. These management fashions seem to come on us like waves, sometimes washing away outdated practices, sometimes breaking on the shore of vested interests and indifference, or trickling away to little wavelets that leave no lasting impression on the organization.

Jackson explores these management fashions through the lens of a theory of human communication known as Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA), which is embedded in the more general Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT). SCT explores how the differing interpretations of symbols by different individuals or groups tend to converge when communication takes place between those individuals or groups. FTA is a structured method of rhetorical analysis derived from the work of Robert Bales (1970) on small group interaction. The 'fantasy' in FTA is nothing to do with the normal sense of the word which would evoke ideas of Baron Munchaussen or Walter Mitty, but means 'the creative and imaginative interpretation of events that fulfils a psychological need' (Borman, 1985: 5, cited by Jackson). Why FTA might be appropriate to the study of management fashions, and how it is carried out are the subject of Jackson's Chapter 3, which gives a very helpful account of the methods and the theoretical framework.

Jackson chooses three cases for his analysis: business process re-engineering as set out by Hammer and Champy, Steven Covey and his seven habits of highly effective people, and Peter Senge and the 'learning organization', the principles of which were set out in The Fifth Discipline.

To go over each of these gurus, of course, would be to precis the entire book, which is not what a review is about. However, Jackson identifies a number of themes that are in common across the outputs of the gurus. I enjoyed his postulation of a 'master analogue' in each of them: the 'pragmatic' approach of re-engineering - 'You have to do this because it is the only thing to do.'; the 'righteous' approach of Convey (appropriate for a devout Mormon?) - 'You have to do this because it is the right thing to do.'; and the 'social' master analogue of Senge, 'You have to do this because it is a good thing to do.' In fact, I detect an essentially religious analogue in all three of these and, in addition, something to which Jackson does not refer - an essentially Utopian perspective in all three: 'You have to implement this approach throughout the organization in order to achieve total organizational renewal.' Inevitably, as with re-engineering, for example, the Utopian demands lead to dystopian results, since Utopian ideas are essentially unrealisable in organizations that employ ordinary human beings.

Jackson notes that knowing how gurus and management fashions function is no guide to what the next may be, and he also notes that recent fashions, such as knowledge management and e-business, owe their prominence not to a single guru but to the activities of the international consultancies, such as Price Waterhouse and Accenture. Perhaps the age of the guru is past?

I can do no more than suggest that your read this book and engage with its arguments - it will be of more value than any of the works by the gurus under investigation. However - borrow it from your library, £50.00 is more than I would be prepared to pay even for a good book!

Professor Tom Wilson
Information Research
March 2002