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You’re in the Army now! Historical lessons for contemporary management theorists

Philip A. Ritson (School of History and Politics, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)
Lee D. Parker (School of Accounting, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 13 June 2016

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to examine the employment of the military metaphor by the management thinker and writer Lyndall Urwick who in the twentieth century developed and articulated his ideas over a 60-year period, arguably the longest continuous period of any management writer of his day.

Design/methodology/approach

This study draws on published research into Urwick as well as upon the breadth of his published writings over a 60-year period. It offers a contextualised explanatory analysis of his military theory ideas and explores their lack of traction by reference to British military, economic and social history.

Findings

The study reveals the wartime context that surrounded the emergence of his ideas and motivated Urwick’s faith in the military approach to management. This stood in contrast to the countervailing forces of the post-war decline in British industry and a populist mythology of British Army mismanagement and failure in the Great War.

Originality/value

In this case of a management idea’s failure to gain traction, the importance of the congruence between management theory and societal beliefs emerges as crucial to the likely uptake of new management thinking.

Keywords

Citation

Ritson, P.A. and Parker, L.D. (2016), "You’re in the Army now! Historical lessons for contemporary management theorists", Journal of Management History, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 320-340. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMH-02-2016-0011

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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