Zombie administration

There’s an excellent new book out on zombie economics. The thesis is that long discredited economic ideas (such as that the market will solve all problems) never seem to die. They keep resurfacing, with politicians and media types assuming that these ideas actually work. We know after 30 years of experience that they don’t.

But it’s not just in economics that bad ideas won’t die. I talked today with an education administration prof, who reminded me the same phenomenon happens in administration. There are business schools, some of high repute, like Harvard, that have decided, once again, that a good manager can manage anything, even a school. Now I thought we learned, back in the 80s, that this notion didn’t work. Huge conglomerates were formed and dissolved (think ITT, among others) on the reasoning that management didn’t need to understand the specifics of each business. They could manage anything. Think also of the damage to the auto companies that came about when financial managers (Roger Moore comes to mind) ran the show. They knew nothing about manufacturing or product development. But they know finance. And nearly destroyed the companies.

So now we get the b-schools taking on education. It’s a zombie idea. We know it doesn’t work. The management people have to understand the business they manage. When they don’t, things break. Seriously.

Let bad ideas die.

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