What sociologists can teach managers

Some talk of the Rumble in the Jungle.

Others recall the Thriller in Manilla.

But last week I was lucky enough to witness Dialectic in the Park.

Let me explain. London Business School was hosting a half-day seminar entitled “Humanising Work”, held under the auspices of the Lehman Brothers centre for women in business.

Two great names from the world of sociology, (Lord) Anthony Giddens and Richard Sennett, both gave fascinating talks. Giddens discussed the addictive nature of work, while Professor Sennett, who is based at the London School of Economics, spoke about managers’ loss of control over the organisations they are supposed to be managing.

I referred to Lord Giddens’ talk in my column on Tuesday, and will be discussing Prof Sennett’s thoughts next Tuesday. Speaking purely for myself, it was a very efficient afternoon out.

But why am I bothering to tell you this, apart from the obvious attraction, to me, of naked self-promotion?

Just this: we instinctively look to so-called management gurus and business school academics for ideas and enlightenment. But some of the biggest ideas that might help us understand contemporary business life could come from other, perhaps unexpected sources.

You might not have thought that a sociologist could help you run your company better. But, at least as far as these two distinguished gentlemen are concerned, you would be wrong.

Tom Peters – a genuine, honest-to-goodness management guru – says that when he is at an airport he makes a point of picking up magazines he wouldn’t normally have read, to make sure he is regularly being confronted with new material. Worth a try.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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