Bruno Dyck, Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba
Management, Prophets and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
Modern management and business practices are becoming increasingly widespread. While there are positive aspects to this change, there is also growing concern that this spread is associated with problems in areas like ecological sustainability and social justice. For example, research suggests that we are living beyond the ecological carrying capacity of the planet. There is also a growing disparity between the rich and the poor across nations, within nations, and within organizations. Part of the solution to these problems involves changing the way we manage organizations. A starting point is to develop a qualitatively different approach to management theory.
As is true for any theory, organization and management theory is underpinned by a certain moral-point-of-view. In his influential book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber (1958) argued—and it is now generally accepted—that conventional organization and management theory was initially underpinned by a specific Judeo-Christian ethic that emphasized materialism and individualism. Weber showed how this particular materialist-individualist ethic—long since secularized—supported a certain “ideal-type” of organization that is characterized by an emphasis on centralization, specialization, standardization and formalization. On the one hand, Weber noted that management theory and practice based on a materialist-individualist moral-point-of-view served to maximize efficiency, productivity, wealth creation and self-interest. On the other hand, he also noted that the materialist-individualist moral-point-of-view left society imprisoned in an “iron cage” that under-valued social justice and ecological sustainability.
An increasing number of management scholars and practitioners are recognizing the dysfunctional outcomes of management theory and practice that is based on self-fulfilling prophecies informed by a materialist-individualist moral-point-of-view. One result has been an increasing number of calls for the development of new management theory that places less emphasis on materialism and individualism, and more emphasis on other forms of well-being (social, ecological, health, aesthetic, spiritual, intellectual, and so on).
Weber’s challenge—one that is echoed by leading contemporary management scholars—is to develop a new approach to management and organization grounded in the teachings of new prophets. Although himself an agnostic, Weber argued that escape from the iron cage, and the development of a less materialist-individualist “ideal-type” of management, is most likely to occur with the advent of new religious prophets and a rebirth of old ideals. Some scholars even suggest (ironically) this might be the very same prophet who has been interpreted as underpinning the conventional materialist-individualist moral-point-of-view—the “Man of Galilee and his radical social doctrine” (Perrow, 1985: 282; Dyck & Schroeder, 2005).
This proposal provides an elaboration and extension of Weber’s landmark study of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, but with a timely twist. Weber showed how the biblical teachings of Jesus were interpreted by Christian preachers during the Industrial Revolution to underpin a materialist-individualist moral-point-of-view. This project will lay a foundation for the development of non-conventional management theory and practice by using a less materialistic-individualistic moral-point-of-view to interpret teachings ascribed to Jesus.
Potential contribution to advancement of knowledge. The primary contribution of this study is to provide a well-articulated moral-point-of-view to underpin non-conventional management theory and practice. It will be of interest to management scholars and practitioners seeking to develop non-conventional management theory and practice, to students of Weber and the sociology of religion, and especially to the literature in the “Management, Spirituality and Religion” group recently formed in the Academy of Management (the leading scholarly association of management).