A Cynical View of Moshidora

So coincidentally, I found that my American-style of thinking does suggest why I can’t take a story about Drucker’s style of management, written for a 21st century audience, seriously. It even doesn’t imply anything about cynicism for Americans (Are we more cynical? I have no idea).

Forbes columnist and econ writer (among other things) Steve Denning wrote the other day (hey thanks JP) about some book that I didn’t read, but I went away with his highlight on some of the challenges facing the American economy in the new century. Among them, chiefly, is one about management. You can read his blog post here. And you should, because I’m going to quote it right here:

Over the last couple of decades, there has been an epochal shift in the balance of power from seller to buyer. For the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, oligopolies were in charge of the marketplace. These companies were successful by pushing products at customers, and manufacturing demand through advertising. But this situation changed.

Today customers have instant access to reliable information and have options: they can choose firms who delight them and avoid companies whose principal objective is taking money from our wallets and putting in their own. The result is a fundamental shift in power in the marketplace from the seller to the buyer: not only do customers not appreciate being treated as “demand” to be manufactured: now they can do something about it. If they are not delighted, they can and do go elsewhere.

The second is a fundamental shift in the workplace where the nature of work has shifted from semi-skilled to knowledge work. Meeting the business imperative of delighting customers can only be accomplished if the knowledge workers contribute their full talents and energy to contribute continuous innovation. Treating employees as “human resources” to be manipulated undermines the workforce commitment that is needed.

As a result, the 20th Century management system—the goose that laid America’s golden egg—stopped delivering. The monumental study by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge shows that the rate of return on assets of US companies is one quarter of what it was in 1965; the life expectancy of firms in the Fortune 500 has fallen from around 75 years half a century ago to just 15 years today and is falling fast. Only one in five employees is fully engaged in his or her work. And a study by the Kauffman Foundation showed that firms older than five years produced almost no net new jobs in the period 1980 to 2005 (whereas firms younger than 5 years created around 40 million jobs in that period.)

And right after that, Denning starts a section with this title.

The world changed but management didn’t[.]

Drucker’s landmark book was published 1973. It was the pinnacle of 20th century economic power indeed.

If you recall, some basic and fundamental key concepts are used in Moshidora as chapter heading. The two I want to highlight are “customer” and “innovation.” And maybe the whole thing about result-oriented view of measuring success.  Those terms and concepts still mean the same thing in Moshidora as it does in Denning’s blog post. I believe those fundamental concepts introduced in Moshidora are the most valuable things it offered in the way of teaching management. But the way how Minami transformed Kodobuko’s baseball team is a classic sort of thing that today’s marketplace leaders of America (ie, people whose companies with RESULTS) do not do.

When I saw it, I was like, hurrrrrrr. Maybe we should just go back to DRRR and understand how someone like Mikado transforms and apply his human resources. Because that is the way of the future. Or the present. And the way of Moshidora is like “oh Japan, you’re so post-war.” I guess I am more a victim of exposure to random management ideas and not so much a sound schooling of the classics ideas of management. But what good is the classics if what’s happening to Japan’s economy is any demonstration of the results of that line of thought? Besides, if I was teaching kids on how to manage a baseball team, I wouldn’t try to teach them managements concepts, I would teach them the value of cyclic innovation and the benefits of empowering autonomous, small groups. The rest will come naturally.

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8 responses to “A Cynical View of Moshidora

  • ojisan

    I’ll recommend to you John Ralston Saul’s book “Voltaire’s Bastards”, which outlines (among other things) how the Harvard School of Business Management model has come to dominate our economy, law practice, military organization, the arts – name it – much to the detriment of most. His thesis would point out that baseball has long since been taken over by management practices, with a few advantages and many more disadvantages.

    I tried to like Moshidora, being a huge fan of Ookiku Furikabutte, Taisho Yakyuu Musume and Touch, but I just couldn’t –

  • omo

    Voltaire’s Bastards is probably too cynical for me. Or more likely, I am too cynical of it. Why turn to a philosopher when I can just talk to the same Harvard graduates who critique their predecessors and exploits their mistakes?

  • vendredi

    Have to agree; baseball and Drucker just doesn’t seem like a good fit. I was initially curious to see if Moshidora could reconcile the two, but it’s pretty clearly evident that the author is pretty much intent on mashing a square peg into a round hole.

    I think there certainly is something to be said about management and corporate culture, but I think Steve Denning’s choice of companies for comparison is telling: General Electric builds industrial hardware, Cisco builds electronic hardware, and Walmart is a big-box wholesaler of consumer goods. Conversely, Amazon, Apple, and Salesforce are all companies that are linked in to the Internet. He seems to be ignoring the very nature of the markets that each work in.

  • omo

    Your thing about comparing things w/ internet has a point, but I think Amazon and Walmart are not as different as you think they are: both are fundamentally retail (not exactly wholesaler). Apple is also a good example of which the internet doesn’t nearly matter as much, considering the bulk of their success in the ’00s are from things like iPods, and ITMS is still a small part of their revenue even today. Even if the internet disappears I’m sure Apple will still be around, like GE and Walmart. Cisco probably won’t tho ;)

    I think the more basic problem is that we can presume the internet is not some magical thing that somehow companies dealing with them will do better than companies that don’t. The point Denning makes is one of age, and you’re not going to find any company from the 80s that are going to involve the internet in its business method. A much better critique is to point to the .com bust and say “hey how about all those companies that perished then?” Another one would be monsters like IBM or Intel.

  • Joojoobees

    I rather enjoyed Moshidora. I liked what they tried to do with management concepts, and I think they told a decent story (in only ten episodes!).

    I particularly disagree with your criticism of Drucker. I am not a big fan of his (I only read the book the show uses, and only did so during recently while watching the anime), but the “alternative viewpoint you offer (Denning) fails to achieve the level of criticism. I will characterize the quote you provide with two points:
    1) The age of consolidated businesses having the upper hand in the marketplace is over (paragraphs 1 and 2).
    2) The character of work has changed from semi-skilled labor to “knowledge workers”.

    In contrast, please read these quotes from Drucker’s Management (the 1975 book Minami uses in Moshidora):
    1) “fifty years ago the typical attitude of the American businessman to-
    ward marketing was “the sales department will sel1 whatever the plant produces.” Today
    it is increasingly, “It is our job to produce what the market needs.” However deficient in
    execution, the attitude has by itself changed our economy as much as any of the technical
    innovations of this century.” [Management, p. 48]

    “This traditional European social prejudice against market, customer, and selling was,
    by the way, an important reason for the popularity of cartels in Europe. No one needs to
    worry about markets and sales—at least not in the short run—if an industry divides up the
    business through a tidy, tight cartel.” [Management, p. 48]

    “It is the customer who determines what a business is. It is the customer alone whose,
    willingness to pay for a good or for a service converts economic resources into wealth,
    things into goods. What the business thinks it produces is not of first importance—
    especially not to the future of the business and to its success. … What the customer thinks he is buying,
    what he considers value, is decisive—it determines what a business is, what it produces,
    and whether it will prosper. And what the customer buys and considers value is never a
    product. It is always utility, that is, what a product or service does for him.” [Management P. 47]

    2) “A primary task of management in the developed countries in the decades ahead will be to
    make knowledge productive. The manual worker is yesterday—and all we can fight on
    that front is a rearguard action. The basic, capital resource, the fundamental investment,
    but also the cost center of a developed economy, is the knowledge worker who puts to
    work what he has learned in systematic education, that is, concepts, ideas, and theories,
    rather than the man who puts to work manual skill or muscle.” [Management, P. 28]

    I quoted Drucker at length, because I believe it shows that Denning’s “alternative” to Drucker is merely rephrasing Drucker. The essential changes that Denning describes, in terms of passing from “cartels” (Drucker’s term, Denning uses “oligarchies”) that could sell whatever they wanted, to organizations manned by “knowledge workers” that must be responsive to the new power of the consumer is really just Drucker’s Management.

    That being said, the series does not live or die by Drucker’s ideas (at least not to me). I enjoyed Moshidora for the unusual viewpoint on the story of a high school baseball team, and the personal drama that was produced in the second half, for the voice acting of the two female leads, and for some interesting visual ideas that were presented.

  • omo

    Good rebuttal, and while I think your reading of Drucker is valid, I don’t think that is the right interpretation. Here’s what I think:

    By knowledge worker, he essentially means skilled worker. Now Denning uses “semi-skilled” here to illustrate what passes for Drucker “knowledge worker” is a lower bar than what is necessary in today’s top performing companies. Coming from the 60s and 70s school of thought, I would think people who are equipped with vocational skills would be what Drucker is referring to, rather than purely manual laborers, who are largely trained on the job rather than having to obtain a higher level of knowledge before going in and is able to achieve something beyond what the job equips him to do.

    I actually don’t disagree much otherwise. Like i said in the post, I think Moshidora illustrates the fundamentals well: the nature of the customer and its relationship to the corporation, the nature of skilled workers, the incentives and structure of the corporation, and most importantly the value of innovation, are pretty spot on classical economics concepts. But the application of these principles leave much to be desired.

  • FoundOnWeb

    Originally, I approached Moshidora the way everyone else seems to: that it was about applying one school of business management to baseball. After a while, I realized a better way to think about it was using a baseball team as a way of illustrating the essentials of management. So, they are not saying “the baseball team should support the other clubs as part of the social network”, they are saying “companies should support the social network, and here’s how it looks from the standpoint of a baseball team.”

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