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Management of the Absurd

By Richard Farson

Richard Farson offers us a course in semi-pragmatism, intriguing ideas to entertain, but with little supporting evidence.


Among his better ideas, Farson suggests we have a tendency to work at what already succeeds, and we fail to see or find new problems. We believe if it’s not broke, why bother.


Farson argues that big changes are easier and more effective than incremental changes. Invasion and rebellion alter companies more than planning for many reasons. Planners, for example, often lack the power to implement their plans.


Good leaders enjoy or tolerate conflicts and uncertainties, ambivalences and the unexpected. Incidents of spontaneous fun or caring—play fights, goofy dancing, revealing stories—create valuable memories. Workers don’t care whether we memorized a thousand management techniques from textbooks. Thoughtless application of techniques makes individuals feel manipulated.


Much herein appears readily apparent: (1) Image changes some people more than the truth; (2) things influence us and we influence things; (3) data searches are often futile time sinks (this book came before Google); (4) actions initially perceived as successes often produce disasters--unintended long-term consequences remian common; (5) we should judge results on more than success or failure; (6)we do not like facing unpleasant facts; (7) placebo, Hawthorne, and charisma effects affect our satisfaction with training methods; (8) individuals easily change for a day or week, but making changes last takes will and skill; (9) big mistakes often lead to the major changes that produce the most improvement, but big mistakes can also lead to despair--rock bottom can spur us or wreck us; (10) Environments matter; (11) attitudes toward others mirror back; (12) surprises are fun; (13) we loathe pretense; (14) bad feelings should not be an excuse.


This work would benefit from pushing beyond pointing out paradoxes. Merely recognizing absurdities requires little wisdom. The bigger virtue is in figuring out how to do right things despite absurdities. Absurdity recognition alone contributes to cynicism.


Management of the Absurd lacks quantifications and does not make adequate distinctions among situations, but Farson's work contains numerous ideas worth exploring.


Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 10, 2009


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