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The Puritan Gift - A Review (11 May 2007)

The future reform of western management will in no small part be dependent upon how carefully business leaders and academics study this remarkable book by the co-authors and brothers Hopper – a unique teaming of  engineering and financial minds that understand (and so ably communicate) the socio-technical forces that have shaped our commercialised society. The combined insights and experience of a life-long professional engineer and a still practicing investment banker combine in this book to cast a powerful analytical spotlight on the history of western management practice over the past 350 years. While the locus of the book is on American management cultures the fundamental messages revealed are shown to be applicable to any culture intent on real wealth creation as opposed to financial engineering.

As the title suggests, this story – for this is no dry text destined for those soulless time serving senior managers and executives intent on seeking the latest snake oil with which to lubricate their legitimised theft of shareholder funds – traces the origins of contemporary management back to the strict disciplines of the Puritan Migrants of the 1630s and their flight to America in the mid-1600s. The authors list the four abiding aspects of  Puritanism which infected the managerial culture established by the descendents of those early settlers as being: 1) the purpose of life was to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth; 2) an aptitude for mechanical skills; 3) a moral outlook that subordinates the interest of the individual to the group and, 4) an ability to gather, galvanise and marshal financial, material and human resources to a single purpose at whatever scale.  More briefly put : Rectitude, Pragmatism, Teamwork and Leadership. An Appendix summarises the quinessentials of the book in a most useful listing of the authors’ 25 principles underlying good practice from the Golden Age of Management (1920-1970).
 
The book is divided into five parts – Origins (1630-1820), Rise (1820-1920), Triumph (1920-1970), Collapse (1970-1995) and Revival (1995-2006). Throughout, the Puritan gift is described by the authors as being the underpinning of that rare ability to successfully create and manage organisations that serve a useful purpose in any sector of human activity.  Throughout the authors warn that as America increasingly distances itself from these core values, which underlay its traditional commercial and economic success, it puts its own future prosperity and security at risk.
 
This truly remarkable book provides an original exploration of the dramatic and far-reaching consequences of the Puritans’ gift to America – the ethos which produced the early success of America and what came to be known as the American dream. While the reader may feel that Frederick Taylor's efforts receive ill treatment and that Stafford Beer's contribution should not have been totally ignored, she will be encouraged to see how the authors highlight the "cult  of the (so called) expert" and the bluff and bluster of the MBA movement. 
 
This reviewer, a practicing engineer, has read many management books over the past thirty years but never before one which has been so informative, so illuminating and so enjoyable.  Trite as it may sound this is essential reading for anyone aspiring to the new style of management that will be essential for productive success in the decades ahead as the eastern economies increasingly dominate world trade. 


For further detaile see The Puritan Gift website.