Appropriate Management

Low-Tech, High Impact Innovation

Adopting the perspective of “appropriate technology” is an excellent way to promote and increase innovation. Your solutions don’t have to be high tech, they just have to provide wide benefits – and taking this sometimes counterintuitive approach can be enlightening.

Great post. My father, Dr. William Hunter, did a great deal of work with appropriate technology (he was a chemical engineering, industrial engineering and statistics professor) and in management improvement.

Often the failure to adopt appropriate technology solutions results from a combination of 3 things:

  • Failing to understand the conditions where the solution will be applied. Failing to “go and see” in lean manufacturing terms.
  • Short term thinking, the failure to see the challenges in maintenance, is how short term thinking manifests itself with the inappropriate technology solutions often applied by those siting in Washington DC or Paris. The failure to consider maintenance is also very related to the first point. Appropriate technology solutions are often very simple, less sensitive (less moving parts to break, able to deal with dust, rain…) and more easily repairable (with tools, expertise and spare parts available at the location of use).
  • A desire to use the cool new gadget and ideas.

Thinking about why appropriate technology is so effective, but underutilized can help anyone improve the solutions they adopt. Thankfully the adoption of appropriate technology solutions has been increasing over the last few decades.

I would especially encourage people to stop looking for the newest management book and actually read and adopt and then re-read and… the excellent management books from the last 50 years. Stop chasing some new shiny thing and adopt solutions that are effective – even if they seem boring.

I think people believe they can’t get ahead by adopting old, essentially free, ideas. Since few bother to do so though, you can just adopt the best ideas from decades ago and be ahead of those around you. It is surprising it is so simple. But take advantage of this, don’t fail to do so just because most everyone else is failing to. This pattern of failing to adopt know good practices is not limited to managers, it is common among people in general.

The intense focus on new, versus excellent, ideas is a colossal mistake. Most of the ideas of Deming, Douglas McGreggor, Taiichi Ohno, Ackoff, Scholtes, Christensen… are still not used by you or your competitors. Just read their stuff and adopt their ideas. You will be far ahead of most everyone else.

There is plenty of decent new stuff (Roger Hoerl, Mary Poppendieck, Gary Hamel, James Womack and newer books by the likes of Ackoff…). Most of the good new work, is not the popular books that most people are reading, though.

Reading and adopting well the ideas of those writing decades ago will serve you far better than reading the top new business books. Some of Clayton Christensen’s work is actually significantly new, but in general you miss very little if you ignored all the trendy stuff and stick with the classics. The appropriate management of people is largely the same today as it was 50 years ago.

Related: appropriate technology post from the Curious Cat Engineering BlogManagement Advice FailuresNew, Different, BetterManagement Improvement History

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4 Responses to Appropriate Management

  1. shaun sayers says:

    Couldn't agree more with your view on new management books. However when you have a good long wait between connecting flights, they all look, so … well … appealing. A bit like airport food I suppose, at the time strangely so appealing …

  2. Ian Pratt says:

    Great article and so true, the best management book I have ever read was 15 years old, the surprising thing is that the newest management book I read had basically the same ideas, just written differently.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts

    NB: I tend to read books on sales and customer service when stuck in the airport

  3. Becky says:

    One of the best management books I have read is, "Noble Enterprise," by Darwin Gillett- very informative and inspirational book!

  4. Pingback: Creating Technology Solutions that are Appropriate Given the System Context « The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

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