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Management of the Absurd Paperback – March 13, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Psychologist, management consultant, former CEO and college dean, and currently head of the International Design Conference in Aspen, Farson has put together a challenging, irritating, galvanizing manual designed to help managers cope with the paradoxes, organizational logjams and interpersonal dynamics of corporate, business and institutional life. In 33 short, conversational chapters, he delivers a series of Zen-like injunctions to jolt readers out of well-worn grooves of thought and action. Some of these prescriptions have a counterintuitive appeal ("Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for." "Once you find a management technique that works, give it up"). Others exude Confucian wisdom ("Every great strength is a great weakness"), and still others sound potentially dangerous if misapplied ("Praising people does not motivate them"). This pithy guide is an armchair workshop in participative management.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Like Alice on the far side of the Looking Glass, the reader of psychologist and educator Farson's book is at first confused and disconcerted. With chapters like "Once You Find a Management Technique That Works, Give It Up" and "Organizations That Need Help Most Will Benefit from It the Least," it reverses logic, reason, and the basic building blocks of common sense. Yet Farson's topsy-turvy world of management tenets strangely rings true at times. Farson presents paradoxes to make us pause in our relative certainty and consider the complete opposite. The paradox of rising expectations, for example, demonstrates that the more things improve, the more people demand improvement. We think we want creativity, but, argues Farson, what we really want is controlled creativity. These are but a few of the truths Farson conjures from the flip side of the coin. For public library management collections.?Randy L. Abbott, Univ. of Evansville Libs., Ind. Hammond, Joshua & James Morrison.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (March 13, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684830442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684830445
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #350,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Timothy H. Mansfield on December 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
We generally believe that human behavior in a corporate setting is rational, a game with deterministic rules. The implication is that if we can just study the rules well enough, especially by learning them from the right guru, any reasonably talented person will know how to win. An enormous management training industry in books, tapes, seminars, consultants, etc. exists to teach various versions of the rules.
"Management of the Absurd" aims to show how such logical, conventionally-wise approaches to management are just too simplistic, in that they do not take into account the paradoxes inherent in human nature. In much the same way that the financial decisions of real people, taken individually, are much more complicated and unpredictable than the simple-minded 'homo economicus' which basic economics requires for its explanations, the workplace behavior of real people is much more complex than typical management theories are able to capture.
Parent-child and boss-employee relationships are hardly analogous, but a parallel can be usefully drawn between management training and parenting manuals. No one expects to become a good parent just by reading a book. Similarly, the many aspects of working together successfully in an organizational context are too subtle to effectively systematize. So this book's intent is to describe, not prescribe.
I did not give the book a fifth star because some of the illustrative examples were uninspired: the tired old "lower the truck by letting air out of the tires" anecdote as an example of seeing things from a different angle, the popularity of both fast food and gourmet cookbooks as an example of coexistence of opposites, and a few others. Also some of the observations seemed trite, e.g.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book so much I made it required reading in the leadership course that I teach. (Although it is not the ONLY book that I require...linearity has its' place.) Interesting that some of the other reviewers treat the book harshly, if I may paraphrase, because Farson does not provide any "formulas" for leadership. The entire central thesis of the book is that leadership is not about "formulas," it is about finding balance between extremes. It is about paradox. An excellent book to stimulate reflection and introspection; a foolish one if you are bound too heavily by linear thought.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 1998
Format: Paperback
How or why I picked this book from the shelf, I don't know. Perhaps the word "Absurd" was so provocative that I was drawn to the book.
At any rate, this is certainly a must-read for anyone in business who struggles to be a leader - which Farson defines using Bennis' definition - one who does the right thing rather than one who does a thing right.
Too much time is spent in business doing the wrong thing right. We try to change organizations by changing the individuals most in need of change. Wrong, says Farson. Focus change on those who need to change least, because they are capable of changing most. Farson comments on technology, individuals, organizations, relationships, and much more. If you feel you cover lots of ground only to end up back where you where, I advise you to create a new perspective on your efforts by reading this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 22, 1998
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Farson's "Management of the Absurd" addresses business from a perspective rarely represented -- that of a wise man who understands business because he understands people.
Best example: Instead of viewing managing as akin to a sculptor molding clay into the desired form, Farson suggests that the very best a manager can hope for is to fall into a pile of clay and make an impression...
In other words, Who you are is more important than what you do.
Great advice for managers who substitute management techniques for integrity and character.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By kiwijinxter on September 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I'm an avid reader of business books. Some of the greatest books out there like "Now Discover Your Strengths", "First, Break All The Rules", "Built To Last" and "Good to Great" make me sit up, listen, take notes, and learn how to apply them in my career.

I rank "Management of the Absurd" right up there with the great books above. This book is so easy to read that I found that if I took notes, I wouldn't catch all the business wisdom imparted by Farson. It's unique in the sense that I "got it" even without taking notes. Don't be fooled - after you "get it" you'll REALLY have to think about your assumptions about managing people, your business, your career, etc. It's literally a business wisdom book! I felt wiser after reading it. This makes the book truly unusual.

Thought provoking, easily digestable short chapters, covering topics such as "The more important a relationship, the less skill matters", "Technology creates the opposite of its intended purpose", "The more we communicate, the less we communicate", and so on, ending with "My advice is don't take my advice"!

Simply put, it's one of the wittiest, most thought provoking, most realistic and yet most relaxing books I've ever read in my entire life. I can't recommend it enough for those of you who want a break from the often prescriptive nature of business books. "Management of the Absurd" makes you think without even trying.
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