Guest editorial

Journal of Management History (Archive)

ISSN: 1355-252X

Article publication date: 1 June 2000

Citation

Godfrey, P.C. (2000), "Guest editorial", Journal of Management History (Archive), Vol. 6 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/jmh_arc.2000.15806daa.001

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


Guest editorial

Introduction

In early 1996, Jack Rabin approached me about editing this special issue of the Journal of Management History on Mary Parker Follett. My only previous exposure to Follett was in Bill Scott's management history doctoral seminar at the University of Washington. My interest in management history began with my reading of Chester Barnard's (1938) Functions of the Executive as a doctoral student, and while a Barnard devotee, my interest in other figures in management history was somewhat limited. Hal Gregersen, a colleague of mine at BYU, is a Follett enthusiast, and had often attempted to proselytize me about the value of Follett's work. I accepted Dr Rabin's offer more to learn about Follett than to write about Follett and edit this journal. I am grateful that I accepted the offer, studying the ideas of Mary Parker Follett has greatly enriched my teaching, my scholarship, my consulting, and even my marriage.

The articles in this special issue reflect a bias of mine toward the role of history in the field of management. I usually have my first-year graduate students read Barnard's work, for two reasons. First, studying current management and organization theory and research is a wonderful endeavor; however, many of the questions that are current today trace their origins back to questions (and answers) asked by Barnard, Follett, Taylor, and others. Second, what makes classic scholarship classic is that it is timeless – my students and I debate Barnard's ideology on its own merits, and students support or refute his claims based on current organizational thinking or issues. For me, history becomes useful in teaching and research as it informs and vitalizes our current scholarship.

Thus, this volume hopes to revitalize Mary Parker Follett. I invited each contributing author to examine (or re-examine) Follett's work within their own scholarship and research agenda. Four unique, and valuable, contributions comprise the final volume, each of which revitalizes Follett by showing how her work undergirds and informs their own scholarly endeavors. I hope that for you, the reader, Follett comes alive, and you are motivated to visit (or re-visit) her work for insights into your own current management conundrums.

Before proceeding to the essays, let me take a moment and mention how Follett has enriched my own scholarship. As I began to read The New State (Follett, 1918), I began to see the breadth and depth of Follett's mind and thinking. In the early parts of the work she provides a defense of Hegel, and weaves his central notion of the dialectic into her own vision of "interpenetration". As the work progesses, she sketches out important elements of a philosophy for the new state; including a metaphysic (e.g. man is the center of the universe, and man is an interactive product of social forces), a politic (e.g. government as a nested series of neighborhood relationships), and an ethic (e.g. the full realization of human and social development). I was impressed by Follett's comfort level in using the Christian Bible as a reference text for her ideas. For example, she writes that "our task is to make straight the paths for the coming of the Lord – the true individual" (Follett, 1918, p. 291). In spite of her Christian leanings, however, there is nothing other-worldly about Follett – her overriding philosophy is this-worldly, and very practical in its focus. The true individual is best actualized not through religious devotion to another world, but by living fully and participating in the cares and concerns of this world. What I enjoy most about Follett is not merely that she pulls from so many different sources in her writing, but that she does so quite well, and the pieces form a "whole cloth" and not merely mosaic of different ideas.

As I finished The New State and moved on to Creative Experience (Follett, 1924), I began to see a new side of Mary Parker Follett: a scholar tenaciously committed to grounding and advancing her central idea in clear detail, and a scholar who deeply believed in the "justness" of what she wrote about. The early sections impressed me by her lucid, and insightful discussion of the relativity of facts, and the criticality of context and knowledge in interpreting those facts. It is clear to me that Follett knew the hazards of "spin doctors" long before they came in vogue. Building on her ideas in The New State, she believed that the best defense against such manipulators was a strong offense, a citizenry knowledgeable of not only the facts, but also the context in which those facts arise.

Follett's concern with the scientific method, as opposed to mainstream ideas about scientific management, resonates with my own views on the role of science. Follett grounds her own theory of "integrative decision making" in the work of then-current psychologists and medical scientists. She most clearly believes in the integrity of the scientific process, however. If individuals will take the time to gather facts, and to understand the context in which events occur, their ability to make informed choices and good decisions improves markedly. Even the process of integration (what Steven Covey (1989) would later popularize as creating "synergy") relies on this scientific process. Not only must participants be scientific in their data gathering, they must act like scientists during the analysis and decision phases. That is, actors should be objective and be interested in the best possible solution, not in obtaining their own pet outcome.

At a deeper level, I gleaned from the pages of Creative Experience a sense of Follett's commitment to these ideas. Whether writing about conflicts among individuals as to opening a window, or writing about the problems of business management later in her collected papers, it is clear to me that Follett's commitment to her ideas went deeper than a purely intellectual one. I found it extremely refreshing to read a work where the author's commitment to the ideas was clear and compelling. Follett reflects the progressive era in which she lived and wrote, and an era where deep belief generated ideas, and reformers were passionate about the changes they advocated. In this sense, reading Follett, and editing this journal, became a labor of love and personal interest, as well as an intellectual professional activity.

Although I read many of her shorter works, contained in Fox and Urwick (1973), I was less impressed with these than with the longer books. Although these essays have much to recommend them, particularly for business managers and management scholars, their format does not allow the full flowering of Follett's creativity and intellectual prowess. One gains a different view of Follett through the books, a scholar deeply committed to her ideas, and richly informed of their antecedents and consequences.

Follett's morality leaves a deep impression on me, and informs my own scholarship in organization theory, strategy, and management. Two points need mention here. First, Follett does not cut morality at the joint of the individual vs. collective debate (see Ryan, this volume, for a fuller discussion). Because of her metaphysic she cannot do so. Because of her grounding in Hegel she doesn't need to. Follett, like Hegel, accepts a dialectical foundation for existence. Although man is the center of the universe, the prime shaker and mover, without the collectivity of the neighborhood, man is nothing. Man and his social environment stand in the relation of circular response – each molding the other while being molded by the other.

Follett notes the moral implications of this metaphysic at the end of The New State. She argues that resolving disputes through warfare, oppression, or conflict represent the easy moral "outs" for societies – they don't have to deal with the dialectic because they systematically eliminate one component of the dialectic. Integrative decision making, the process of creative experience, or what we call synergy, represents a much harder task. This framework not only preserves each component in the dialectic, but celebrates each as well. For Follett, just as for Hegel, the complete development of the individual (and hence the society) comes only through the constant interaction and the grappling for synthesis within the dialectic.

Follett seems to believe that social processes, more than social outcomes, are the moral centers of a society. One gets a sense of this in Creative Experience. As I noted above, her belief in the process of science makes her confident of its outcomes. In The New State she makes the point more forcefully, however:

If neighborhood organization is one among many methods of getting things done, then it is not of great value; if, however, it is going to bring about a different mental life, if it will give us an open mind, a flexible mind, a cooperative mind, then it is the greatest movement of our time. For our object is not to get certain things, or to have certain things; our object is to evolve the kind of life, the way of thinking, within which these specific things will naturally have place (Follett, 1918, p. 208).

This is a concept I am trying to integrate into my own teaching, my research agenda, and my personal life. Having seen for myself the power and insight contained in Follett's writings, I hope Follett will be revitalized, and that her contributions to management theory might inspire a new generation of scholars and researchers.

Producing a journal of this nature is no easy task, and some formal thanks are in order. First, to the authors. These individuals took a vague charge, to write about how Follett informed their own work, and crafted thoughtful and insightful essays. Many thanks to them for making clear my comments, and for forgetting those which needed to be forgotten. Second, to the reviewers. The review panel provided timely and helpful feedback to each author, and to me, throughout the review process. The reviewers for this special issue were: Neil Brady (Brigham Young University), Laurie DiPadova (University of Utah), Nell Hartley (Robert Morris College), Jeff Harrison (Central Florida University), Eileen Kelly (Ithaca College), Joan Tonn (University of Massachusetts-Boston), and Dan Wren (University of Oklahoma).

Paul C. GodfreyBrigham Young University,Provo, Utah

References

Barnard, C.I. (1938), The Functions of the Executive, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Covey, S.R. (1989), The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Fireside Books, New York, NY.

Follett, M.P. (1918), The New State, Longmans, Green & Co, New York, NY.

Follett, M.P. (1924), Creative Experience, Longmans, Green & Co, New York, NY.

Fox, E.M. and Urwick, L. (Eds) (1973), Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett, Pitman, London.