In search of excellent profits, the gurus join the circus

Management Speak
October 6, 2006

David Greatbatch and Timothy Clark believe that while management gurus' books and theories have been subjected to a fair amount of academic scrutiny, their live performances have not. Management Speak aims to fill this gap. It is an analysis of some lectures given by four leading American management gurus - Tom Peters, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Peter Senge and Gary Hamel.

To see how and why the gurus perform on stage in the ways they do, the authors studied videotapes of their lectures in minute detail. Although they analyse the videotapes with acuity, the authors miss the bigger picture: the commercial marketplace in which the gurus operate.

They acknowledge that the gurus earn vast sums but do not quite appreciate the sheer commerciality of the entire lecture-circuit circus - from the carefully targeted upfront marketing to the follow-up audience response research, which the gurus use to hone future performances. Earning more and bigger fees permeates everything the gurus do. There is nothing improper about this: it is their trade.

Of course, it is not only the gurus who have a financial stake in the lectures. Organisers want them to pull in the crowds, and the audiences pay big bucks for their tickets hoping to learn how to lift their careers.

Greatbatch and Clark are keen to show that the gurus' rhetoric differs from that of religious and political orators, and they pinpoint the differences perceptively. But this is comparing apples and oranges: religious and political orations are not commercial enterprises, and their orators are not in it for the lucre.

In sum, the authors analyse the minutiae of the gurus' lectures astutely but fail to identify how commercial imperatives drive their performances.

If you keep in mind the gurus' profit focus, many of the questions that puzzle the authors answer themselves.

Winston Fletcher is chairman, The Royal Institution.

Management Speak

Author - David Greatbatch and Timothy Clark
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 155
Price - £70.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 415 30622 1 and 30623 X

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