on visible hands and grinding gears

I was sad to hear about the death of Alfred Chandler, the professor whose works were instrumental in giving me an understanding of what suits did.

He was described as a business historian, and to an extent it was the title alone that led to my researching his works. I found his writings fascinating, more as a counterpoint to Drucker than anything else. I loved what Drucker wrote, so it made sense for me to spend time understanding other viewpoints. We can so easily become dogmatic, even heretical in our views.

Chandler stood for structure, for process, for “professional management”, for many aspects of organisation I am not particularly
fond of. I have written before about Chandler’s Law, something that anyone involved in strategic change should read and understand.

He will be remembered more for his Pulitzer winning book “the visible hand” than anything else, since it was the first serious management book to push back against the Adam Smith Invisible Hand doctrine in a formal and structured way.

While I disagreed with many things he wrote about, I was very taken by the detailed, objective and dispassionate way he dealt with the subjects at hand, a true and talented “business historian”. Probably the first of his kind.

It was strange to read Sean’s post bemoaning the pushback against market forces (I think the context was weather and Australia) soon after hearing about Chandler’s death.

What Alfred Chandler did was to help me understand the motives of professional management cadres, even if I didn’t agree with them. Thank you Alfred.

2 thoughts on “on visible hands and grinding gears”

  1. One of the important lessons I learned from Chandler was that the structures of modern organizations which we take for granted were invented, and not all that long ago in the scheme of things. If they were invented by people, for reasons at the time, with the goals and constraints of their time, then they can be changed.

  2. I think it is important to read Chandler in the context of Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory. Organizational structures are, indeed, invented; and the context of invention involves not only objective factors like goal satisfaction but more social factors, such as the exercise of authority and the recognition of normative behavior. However, once in place, those structures then INDUCE other social factors, such as new forms of normative behavior in work practices. As those social factors become more influential, they, in turn, induce new organizational structures that better accommodate and/or facilitate them, making the whole relationship between structure and process a virtuous cycle. Chandler and Giddens lived in significantly different worlds along any number of dimensions, but in OUR world we need to appreciate the lessons that both of them offered!

Let me know what you think

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