B S Raghavan

Fighting Western intellectual bias

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on March 08, 2018 Published on May 12, 2013


The field of management studies has its own hagiology and demonology. Management coinages keep shuttling between the two. What is enthroned today bites the dust tomorrow and vice-versa, reminiscent of the Witches’ chant in the opening scene of Macbeth: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”!

Most of the management concoctions, fair or foul, emanate from wordsmiths, masquerading as management specialists, in Western countries, principally in the UK and the US. Not one of them has had any hands-on experience in managing even a small shop. But, true to their narcissistic disposition, they assume that one-size-fits-all and what is good for the West is good for the whole world.

With the awesome facilities they command to print, publish and disseminate whatever they choose, they even succeed in creating the illusion that their word is law. They also have acquired the capacity to send to the doghouse those who contest their propositions, as China is now doing in respect of their prescriptions on democracy, human rights, economic and social parameters and the like.

Whoever does not unquestioningly parrot their shibboleths is simply dropped from the seminar circuit or denied access to funds. This they do, not by a transparent procedure, but by beating some sort of an African bush drum, badmouthing behind their backs those standing up to them.

ENDLESS TREATISES

Scholars elsewhere are thus forced to propagate Western theories, often against their will. Indian scholars, for instance, are shy of even mentioning great thinkers, managers and leaders such as Emperor Ashoka, Chanakya, Chandragupta Vikramaditya and his Navaratna, Raja Todar Mal and Chatrapathi Shivaji. Western writings in endless treatises have extensively covered Aristotle, Plato and Machiavelli, blanking out the precepts of kingship, statecraft and diplomacy expounded by the Indian epics, Artha Shastra and the like.

Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and even John Kennedy are extolled for their perorations, but not one word from Jawaharlal Nehru’s highly thrilling speech on India’s Tryst with Destiny or his moving tribute to Gandhi following his assassination.

All of this has severely inhibited scholars in Asian and African continents from exercising their undoubted power of fresh thinking and coming up with their own original contributions to management theories and practices. Even if they occasionally dare to do so, Western wordsmiths see to it that they do not fly and that they die an unnatural death by suffocation.

Of all the new mintages, the only one that I have seen in the existing corpus of management literature, in the formulation of which an Indian(-American) has had a hand, is C. K. Prahlad’s ‘core competency’. Whether the collaboration of Gary Hamel with Prahlad had had anything to do with its enjoying some currency in Western management parlance is anybody’s guess.

Western management gurus are yet to recognise the powerful impact of culture on management and workplace practices. To give a seemingly trifling example, I always found in my experience as head of organisations that in India time targets have a much better chance of being adhered to if, instead of being laid down as per Western calendar, they are associated with festivals or great personalities of India’s history.

IMPRESSIVE LEGACY

Similarly, there are subtle but significant variations in the connotation and content of leadership, motivation, innovation, duty, command, control, authority and the like in Oriental cultures.

Take a simple example: Micromanagement. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as managing with excessive control or attention to details. Western management pundits are dogmatic in asserting (to quote a juicy bit from a website) that “Micro-managers are bad news for business and bad news for employees. They disempower staff, stifle opportunity and innovation, and give rise to poor performance”.

But do they? At least in this part of the world, continued guidance and ready access to managers for solving problems are important adjuncts to morale and motivation. One cannot just hand over a task to subordinates and walk off.

Indians and Chinese are inheritors of millennia of impressive legacy in managing vast and complex organisations of continental dimension. They should break out of their shell and build up their own repertoire and reservoir of typologies and strategies in management from which Western scholars may learn. In fact, they should do so with confidence and pride, and any hesitation on their part will only perpetuate the feeling among the Western gurus that only their postulates are worthy of consideration and the rest is trash.

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Published on May 12, 2013
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