Admiral Rickover on the Perils of Managment

From John D Cook, here is an interesting essay by Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, Doing a Job. There is a lot here that probably sounds familiar, which is kind of sad when you think about how little the world of work has changed in sixty years.

In the course of my work, I have interviewed more than 14,000 recently graduated college students for jobs in my organization and in nuclear ships. In recent years a surprising number of applicants, even graduates of engineering schools and the Naval Academy, have become enamored with the study of management – some even majoring in this subject.

Almost without exception they are fluent in the jargon of systems analysis, financial manipulation, and quantitative management. They graduate convinced they have learned management techniques that will enable them to administer any job. Yet most seem to have an unrealistic perception of what is actually involved, with little appreciation of the importance of technical knowledge, experience, and hard work.

Many who teach management in our universities do their students and society a disservice. By focusing on the techniques of “modern management,” they promote the idea that by mastering a few simple principles of how to handle people and situations one can become a universal manager: capable of running any job without having to know much about the work to be managed.

Our factories and companies are increasingly being bought, sold, and operated by professional administrators, lawyers, and financial experts who have little understanding of their products, the technology involved, or the needs of customers. As these professional “managers” reach top corporate positions, others emulate them and avoid technical education in favor of management studies. In my opinion, our universities should emphasize the importance of a solid grounding in substantive learning and downgrade so-called management science.

Admiral Rickover is known as the father of the nuclear navy, and his emphasis on technical know how continues to this day in the submarine service.