Mintzberg has a formidable reputation as an educator and writer on management. Unlike Drucker who is a pillar of the managerial establishment, Mintzberg is an iconoclast, turning a very sceptical pen on many of the most cherished tenets of management belief.
He chooses his targets carefully. His attacks are devastating in their accuracy and detail, but he always spends more time constructing the new than destroying the old. His solutions are notable for their common sense and the fact that they are grounded in experience of the real world, rather than in fashionable theory. Because his targets are ones that are dear to the establishment heart (what could be closer than the value of strategic planning and of the MBA as a qualification for high business office?) his books tend to be blockbusters, bringing together a formidable amount of evidence for his case from many sources. However, the central ideas are relatively simple and are expressed in colloquial and engaging terms, with more than a touch of humour.
His last major target was strategic planning, in his 1994 The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. This time his target is the practice of management itself and the, in his view, malign influence of management education in the form of the dominant MBA degree on managerial practice, business organizations and wider society.
Management education and the role of the MBA have been in Mintzberg's sights for a long time. For example, his 1989 Mintzberg on Management contains a major section, which could be seen as a precursor to the present book, while his career has been deeply concerned with the education of managers in the widest sense, rather than simply with teaching the MBA.
The book has two main audiences, those in educational institutions concerned with management education and those in business concerned with the selection and development of manager. There is also a third potential audience of those who are interested in their own development as managers. Each will find the book very useful, but the second and third audiences are likely to want to skip much of the detail.
In terms of the impact of the book, my only question is whether Mintzberg has not left the publication a bit late. While it is clear that the evils that he describes are widely present, there is also increasing evidence that the alternative approaches to management education that he advocates are being put into place more widely. This is true at least in many large corporations, even if it is less evident in the major business schools. However, even if the book might have had more impact if it had been published a few years ago, the careful analysis, detailed prescriptions - and even the somewhat dramatic presentation of these findings - ensure that the book will attract the notice that it deserves. It is to be hoped that it also stimulates further action.
The book is in two parts. Part One explores the requirements for effective practical management (including general management) and discusses the current focus of business education. An essential preliminary is to distinguish management education (provided by educational institutions) from management development (which is derived from a whole range of processes in which practical experience in specific contexts plays a crucial role). Throughout the book, there is careful definition and differentiation of terms to ensure that business is not confused with management or education with development.
Part Two is concerned with developing managers in practice, and compares various approaches to this end, their advantages and weaknesses. From this it seeks to identify a way - or rather the principles underlying a series of compatible ways - forward.
The key to his argument is found in a chart which distinguishes three 'zones' of management development and education:
* the educating zone, the key domain of Business Schools;
* the training zone, in which consultants and institutes figure prominently; and
* the practising zone, largely filled by corporations and the in-house academies.
The issue is how to combine these three perspectives on development most effectively and productively. After two initial chapters which discusses the principles, including 8 propositions for management education, there are five chapters which are in effect an extended case study of the program with which the author is closely concerned, the International Masters in Practicing Management. The book ends with a chapter on developing true schools of management - a title designed to distinguish these from the familiar 'business schools'.