Management Challenges for the 21st Century


In February 2008, the National Academy of Engineering proposed 14 grand engineering challenges that represent the biggest opportunity for human improvement in the next 100 years.

Well, if the engineers can do it, why can’t we in management and leadership determine the greatest opportunities for human advancement through the profession of management?

In May of 2008, a group of business leaders and academics met in Half Moon Bay, CA to do just that — identify the biggest challenges facing the profession of management .  (See Harvard Business Review February 2009 “Moon Shots for Management.”)

While the list of management challenges doesn’t quite stir the imagination like the engineering list (Reverse Engineer the Brain, Provide Energy from Fusion), they nonetheless will have a profound effect on mankind assuming we can conquer them.

The full list runs to 25 and I encourage you to read them all; however the top 10 were singled out as especially important:

  1. Ensure that the work of management serves a higher purpose.
  2. Fully embed the ideas of community and citizenship in management systems.
  3. Reconstruct management’s philosophical foundations.
  4. Eliminate the pathologies of formal hierarchy.
  5. Reduce fear and increase trust.
  6. Reinvent the means of control.
  7. Redefine the work of leadership.
  8. Expand and exploit diversity.
  9. Reinvent strategy making as an emergent process.
  10. De-structure and disaggregate the organization.

To me, #1 really jumps out.  We have all been given this tremendous opportunity to live on earth in community with others.  It is so important that we apply the gift of leadership to achieve noble goals and contribute to causes beyond our self.

The great management achievements of this past century (think Fredrick Taylor, Henry Ford, Toyota and Peter Drucker) have been about improving efficiency.  The next big achievement in management will be about fostering new ways of innovation and collaboration in order to solve big problems, like the 14 grand engineering challenges.

In this way, I think the two lists compliment each other.  We will need advances in management if we are to truly conquer the advances in engineering.

In fact, one of the engineering challenges crosses over completely and can just as easily find a home on the management list:  “Advance Personalized Learning.”

1 comment

  • Thats an interesting insight – the challenges facing engineering will require dramtically different ways of thinking.. and managing. As Einstein said, “we will not be able to solve the problems of the future if we remain at the level of thinking we were at when we created them”. You could say “…if we remain at the level of managing we were at when we created them!”

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