Printer Friendly

The editor's chair.

For years, one of my stock lectures in the management intro course I taught traced the origins and development of key management concepts. I noted that "classical" management theory bore the unmistakable imprint of the military, especially the Prussian army. Concepts such as "unity of command," "separation of line and staff," and "chain of command" bespoke obvious borrowing from the military metaphor.

So-called classical management theory supposedly was overtaken by other schools of thought as a "modern" management theory developed. One has to be struck, though, by the continuing influence of the military in the way we think and talk about organizations. I have not conducted any formal etymological research, but I would bet my $310 DeMarini softball bat that "morale" ultimately derives from army usage. And who does not hear almost daily references to the "troops," "front line of operations," and "second in command"? Even "chief executive officer" has the suggestion of a martial air.

You may argue that such figures of speech are merely that, having no import on how we actually think about or manage organizations. But Aric Rindflieisch argues forcefully in "Marketing As Warfare" (beginning on p. 3 of this issue) that metaphors do in fact constrain thinking and influence actions. Moreover, contends Rindflieisch, the dominance of this particular metaphor is perhaps ill-adapted to the contemporary environment of marketing.

At the risk of inviting wholesale accusations of heresy, I will take this discussion a step further and challenge the appropriateness of our overweening fondness for the term "strategy." I can think of no other word or phrase so preeminent today in both formal and informal discourse on management. Note in this issue that five articles have "strategy" or "strategic" in the title. I submit that the currency of this term attests to the continuing dominance of the metaphor of the military in our thinking about organizations.

Rindflieisch suggests that the warfare analogy in marketing dates from the generation of marketing managers who had served in World War II. I wonder if the appeal of military metaphors is not transgenerational. What could be more flattering to CEOs than to think of themselves as generals, deploying their forces in the theater of operations, perched on their vantage point with high-powered binoculars, adjusting this or that division in response to what they see in the "big picture"? What better justifies their salaries and perks than to attribute success or failure to "strategy," which is the exclusive responsibility of the general? What better defense could they have for the "casualties" of downsizing and reengineering than as a necessary cost of the fight to survive against a determined and ruthless foe?

Henry Mintzberg has suggested that the whole idea of strategic planning is a snare and a delusion (California Management Review, Fall 1993). More than a decade before that, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman (In Pursuit of Excellence) regarded strategy as an after-the-fact artifact--all it really contributed was a post-hoc account of where you've been, not a viable map for where you're going; the point was that "you play your way into strategy." And three decades before Peters and Waterman, Charles Lindblom described the actual process of policy-making as one of "successive limited comparisons"; its study, he said, could more properly be construed as "the science of muddling through."

Conceivably, the idea of strategy, like the metaphor of warfare in marketing, is ill suited to the realities of today's business world. But then, if we are indeed to tame the military metaphor as a model for management, somehow we will have to come up with something else that is just as intuitively appealing. Sports? That's just an indirect means of perpetuating the military metaphor, which itself inspires so many accounts of athletic endeavors. The organism, the computer, the jazz ensemble? Sorry, such imagery just does not grab people. It has to be something that taps our primordial impulses. Rindfleisch has suggested a few ideas. Any others out there, BH readers?
COPYRIGHT 1996 JAI Press, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:comments on the continuing use of military metaphors in business management
Author:Organ, Dennis W.
Publication:Business Horizons
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Previous Article:Philip Sadler.
Next Article:Marketing as warfare: reassessing a dominant metaphor.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters