Review of Managing in Turbulent Times

The book, Managing in Turbulent Times, is subdivided into chapters Managing for Fundamentals, Managing For Tomorrow, Managing The Sea Change, Managing Turbulent Environments. The entire approach of the book is that of a birds’ eye view rather than a microscopic view of the Business Environment. By that, I mean the book looks extensively at the macro environmental factors, typically ones that are national or global or at least industry-wide. It does not dig deep into the why, how of managing a business during turbulent times; rather, it helps us understand what a turbulent time is, and what we can expect. Given that this book is dated, this also tells us it is feasible to spot macro trends long before they actually start, which is a decided plus in the modern fast-changing environment.

The book starts off on a massive plus, giving deep insights on how to manage in turbulent times, before going off on a tangent – a tangent on which it stays for the rest of the book. It does a bang-up job of defining turbulence in the business sense, and correctly & prophetically identifies the coming decades of the 80, 90s and 00s as ones of turbulence. It identifies the need for some specific and close management of the factors of production, and their proper usage. But the biggest plus comes in highlighting how top management are living in their own silos, and that they need to connect with the ground realities.

“We are entering a period of turbulence, a period of rapid innovation, a period of fast and radical structural shifts… planning, as commonly practiced, assumes a high degree of continuity… the most probable assumption in a period of turbulence is the unique event which cannot be planned for but which can be foreseen… this requires strategies for tomorrow, strategies that anticipate where the greatest changes will take place and what they are likely to be…”

There are many takeaways throughout the book; for example, the emphasis on knowing exactly where your capital is employed; or the simple question of cost of staying in business. Another example is this far-reaching observation: 4 key resources have to be managed consistently…. Capital, crucial physical assets, time and knowledge. As early as the 1980s, Peter F Drucker had identified and internalized the importance of knowledge in the new world.

The next chapter is frankly pedantic in comparison – Managing for Tomorrow. That said, it is also a must read, and is deeply thought provoking. Most importantly, it is in this segment of the book that the prophetic nature of the observations of the author first begins to become apparent. Also, the part of managing for tomorrow, which outlines a  scorecard for managers – one which looks at Performance in Appropriating Capital, Performance in People Decisions, Performance in Innovation and Strategies versus Performance is one of the strongest value adds in the book.

The next 2 chapters digress from the theme of the book; instead of going deeper into the specifics of each identified parameter in the first two chapters, it goes off on a lengthy tangent of analyzing global markets and trends – demographic, political, technological and so on. Here, the focus is solely on the West – which isn’t bad; this is a book written in the West.

That said, there are many, many learning points to be had in this segment; unfortunately, most of the observations are now dated, as this book is one penned in 1980. What does hit home is the deep study of the author of the then realities, and his prophetic observations. Quite a few of these hit home exactly; while not all did; some were frankly far-reaching and outlandish, but if anyone is right 7 out of 10 times in future observation accuracy, then we can concede the deep knowledge of that person.

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