Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Book Review


Leafing through my beloved books on my bookshelves is one of my favorite pastimes. 

I love the company, the smell and the feel of books, as I leisurely browse and glance through the varied books I have collected over the years. And then, maybe I will select one of my beloved books for perusal.

This morning I picked up a delightful management classic called Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. 

I acquired my copy on 06 May 1999 in the Pune Book Fair. 

(I have this peculiar habit of writing down the date and place whenever a buy a book). 

It is a laconic book which explores the paradoxes of management in an extremely witty manner.

Let’s browse through this wonderful book together.

The Book:




ISBN 0-684-80080-2

In his foreword Michael Crichton writes: “In this book Richard Farson reports more than experience; he gives us … wisdom”.

The 172 page book has eight parts and thirty three chapters, and as the author says in the introduction, these chapters need not necessarily be read in sequence, but in whatever order appeals to the reader. 

So, Dear Reader, let’s do just that.

“Morale is unrelated to Productivity” the author says chapter in 27, turning conventional HR wisdom on its head. 

He deprecates management practices of pampering and mollycoddling employees, giving gifts, holding parties, recognizing birthdays, gestures of goodwill and other HR gimmicks designed to court employee favor as a calculated morale-raising strategy. 

Self-actualized people, who were among the greatest achievers in our society, were not necessarily comfortable or happy; they could be ruthless, boring, stuffy, irritating, and humorless and organizations are absolutely dependent on such people. 

You don’t agree, or do you...?

Sounds like a web of contradictions, isn't it...?

That’s why you must read this book, which turns topsy turvy the conventional wisdom you may have learnt during your MBA at B-School. 

This book certainly gives you something to think about.

Effective Managers are not in Control  says the author, as he emphasizing the concept that a leader must have occasional vulnerability.  

Absurdly, our most important human affairs – marriage, child rearing, education, leadership – do best when there is occasional loss of control and an increase in personal vulnerability, the author opines, drawing a parallel between leadership and romance. 

If you know how to have a romance, it isn’t a romance, but a seduction

Not knowing how to do it makes it a romance.

It is the same for leadership, an intangible quality, where management techniques don’t work. That's why leadership can't be taught. 

Genuineness in relationships is the only way to lead professionals.

Training leads to the development of skills and techniques, and suggests the possibility of control. 

Education leads to information and knowledge, which suggests the possibility of understanding, even wisdom. 

Wisdom involves humility, compassion and respect – essential to effective leadership...

What is the difference between Training and Education?

Let me tell you in a nutshell:

Training makes people more alike


Education tends to make people different from each other

So the first benefit of education is that the manager becomes unique and independent

“Don't try to train leaders. Educate them...!” the author exhorts.

Planning is an ineffective way to bring about change. 

Too often planning is an empty ritual designed to make management feel there is something going on in that area.

There are paradoxes and paradoxes, absurdities and absurdities...in this delightful book...!

Sample this: Individuals are strong, but organizations are not...! 

Till I read this book I was given to understand that it was the other way around, and the organisation is paramount and individuals indispensable. 

After observation and contemplation I now realize that it is individuals that make an organization - yes, individuals are strong, organizations are not.

The better things are, the worse they feel, says the theory of rising expectations.

That is why we perform better in adversity.

The Theory of Rising Expectations works in personal life too.

That is why good marriages are more likely to fail than bad ones.

And second marriages are better than first marriages, but shorter...!

In communication, form is more important than content, praising people does not motivate them, and the more we communicate, the less we "communicate".

The ‘meat’ of the book is the chapter on – The “Technology” of Human Relations. 

Exploring the impact of Technology on Human Relations, the author discusses how technology invents us, develops a life of its own and with every application of technology a counter-force develops that is the exact opposite of what we intended. 

The danger is that we become so in love with technological applications that we forget its detrimental effects. 

He illustrates his point with examples of how computer technology increases design capability but stifles creativity

We must focus on Relationship Enrichment rather than acquisition of techniques of management skills, he suggests, since the more important a relationship, the lesser the management skills matter.

The book is replete with startling insights.

The author states his message in his introduction:

“I believe many programs in management training today are moving us in the wrong direction because they fail to appreciate the complexity and paradoxical nature of human organizations. Thinking loses out to how-to-do-it formulas and techniques, if not to slogans and homilies, as the principal management guides.”

This is a refreshing, original and thought provoking book, something different from the run-of-the-mill stuff. 

This book presents a unique perspective of management theories, sometimes turning conventional management wisdom on its head.

It is a management classic, a rare gem in the plethora of management literature. 

Do read this insightful book. You’ll be glad you did.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this book review. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013 all rights reserved

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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