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Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership

Richard Farson    Foreword by Michael Crichton

Retail Price: $13.00
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Format: Paperback, 172pp.
ISBN: 9780684830445
Publisher: Touchstone Books
Pub. Date: March 1997 Reprint edition

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Description and Reviews
From The Publisher:

An original, contrarian philosophy that challenges today's leaders to look past the quick fix and deal thoughtfully with the real complexities of managing people.

In organizations, as in life, human behavior is often irrational -- and problems do not easily lend themselves to the simplistic answers and gimmickry offered in the myriad business "self-help" books and management training programs available today. In Management of the Absurd, Richard Farson zeros in on the paradoxes of communication, the politics of management, and the dilemmas of change, exploring relationships within organizations and offering a unique perspective on the challenges managers face.

Facile formulas, catchy slogans, ten-step programs, and quick fixes too often dominate today's management training programs. But in organizations as in all of life, human behavior is seldom predictable, and business dilemmas do not easily lend themselves to gimmicks or simplistic answers. In Management of the Absurd, psychologist, educator, and former CEO Richard Farson presents a series of management paradoxes designed to challenge conventional wisdom and encourage managers to reexamine their assumptions about effective leadership.

Here, at last, is a dramatically new understanding of organizations and human relations. In his explorations of more than 30 paradoxical situations, Farson demonstrates the value of a radically different perspective on leadership and offers managers powerful new ways to cope with the many perplexing problems of organizational life. Managers at every level will recognize the very real dilemmas and complexities that Farson describes, and will be challenged by these provocative new views of the art of managing people.

Here are some of Farson's startling insights:
  • The better things are, the worse they feel.
  • Once you find a management technique that works, give it up.
  • Big changes are easier to make than small ones.
  • The more we communicate, the less we communicate.
  • Nothing is as invisible as the obvious.
  • Effective managers are not in control.
  • Organizations that need help most will benefit least from that help.

  • Many readers will share Michael Crichton's response to this book, as he observes in the foreword, "He irritated me. He provoked me. He made me nod, he made me smile, and he made me shake my head....[He] reports more than experience; he gives us wisdom." Guided by Management of the Absurd, managers of the 21st century will be able to accept the inherent complexity of management situations and work through these dilemmas, not with manipulative and simplistic techniques but with understanding, compassion, and effectiveness.


    Management of the Absurd is a delightfully irreverent book that addresses the real truths of management at an interpersonal level. After reading it, I felt as if I had just emerged from a cold shower -- a bit shocked, refreshed, and feeling a bit better about myself.
    —David T. Mclaughlin Chairman, The Aspen Institute Former President, Dartmouth College

    This may be the best book on leadership I've ever read.
    —Tom Peters

    readers index
    Reader's Index 
    Send us your favorite quotes or passages from this book.

    • "I believe many programs in management training today are moving us in the wrong direction because they fail to appreciate the complexity and paradoxical nature of human organizations. Thinking loses out to how-to-do-it formulas and techniques, if not to slogans and homilies, as the principle management guides." Pg. 12

    About the Author

    Richard Farson is a psychologist, former CEO, and educator. He was the cofounder and president of the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, the founding dean of the school of environmental design at the California Institute of the Arts, president of Esalen Institute, and is currently president of the International Design Conference in Aspen. He has collaborated with lifelong associate and famed psychologist Carl Rogers on several research projects including the Academy Award-winning documentary film Journey into Self. He received his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Chicago, and was a Ford Foundation Fellow at Harvard Business School. He lives in La Jolla, California.

    Table of Contents

    Foreword by Michael Crichton
    Introduction: Embracing Paradox and Absurdity

    A Different Way of thinking

    1. The Opposite of a Profound Truth Is Also True
    2. Nothing Is as Invisible as the Obvious

    The "Technology" of Human Relation

    3. The More Important a Relationship, the Less Skill Matters
    4. Once You Find a Management Technique That Works, Give It Up
    5. Effective Managers Are Not in Control
    6. Most Problems That People Have Are Not Problems
    7. Technology Creates the Opposite of Its Intended Purpose
    8. We Think We Invent Technology, but Technology Also Invents Us

    The Paradoxes of Communication

    9. The More We Communicate, the Less We Communicate
    10. In Communication, Form Is More Important Than Content
    11. Listening Is More Difficult Than Talking
    12. Praising People Does Not Motivate Them

    The Politics of Management

    13. Every Act Is a Political Act
    14. The Best Resource for the Solution of Any Problem Is the Person or Group That Presents the Problem

    Organizational Predicaments

    15. Organizations That Need Help Most Will Benefit from It Least
    16. Individuals Are Almost Indestructible, but Organizations Are Very Fragile
    17. The Better Things Are, the Worse They Feel

    Dilemmas of Change

    18. We Think We Want Creativity or Change, but We Really Don't
    19. We Want for Ourselves Not What We Are Missing, but More of What We Already Have
    20. Big Changes Are Easier to Make Than Small Ones
    21. We Learn Not from Our Failures but from Our Successes -- and the Failures of Others
    22. Everything We Try Works, and Nothing Works
    23. Planning Is an Ineffective Way to Bring About Change
    24. Organizations Change Most by Surviving Calamities
    25. People We Think Need Changing Are Pretty Good the Way They Are

    The Aesthetics of Leadership

    26. Every Great Strength Is a Great Weakness
    27. Morale Is Unrelated to Productivity
    28. There Are No Leaders, There Is Only Leadership
    29. The More Experienced the Managers, the More They Trust Simple Intuition
    30. Leaders Cannot Be Trained, but They Can Be Educated
    31. In Management, to Be a Professional One Must Be an Amateur

    PART EIGHT Avoiding the Future
    32. Lost Causes Are the Only Ones Worth Fighting For
    33. My Advice Is Don't Take My Advice

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