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Reexamining some management lessons from military history

  • David AhlstromEmail author
  • David Lamond
  • Zhujun Ding
Article

Abstract

Military history has provided a number of useful metaphors for management, such as positioning, blue ocean strategy, defensible perimeters, and fighting the last war, among others. In spite of this rich tradition and the detailed writings on the military, management research has actually made a rather truncated use of military history. This includes the selective use of military metaphors, and a limited number of individual and comparative case studies on diplomatic and military scenarios. It is argued that much more can be learned from military history, though certain well-known metaphors and lessons drawn from major events do not convey what military history actually teaches about those events. To learn from military history, historical events must be studied carefully so proper lessons can be derived from them. This paper examines two major episodes in 20th century military history from World War I and the subsequent interwar period, and how themes derived from these events and used in the management field are not consistent with what the historical record teaches about them. We suggest that a fuller and more careful rendering of historical events and their lessons would be potentially beneficial to management research, and suggest ways in which they can be researched.

Keywords

History Organizational learning World War I Interwar period Military 

Notes

Acknowledgment

The authors thank Professor Mike Peng, Editor-in-Chief of the Asia Pacific Journal of Management, for his many thoughts and suggestions on this paper. His insights on the connection between management and the armed services as well as his knowledge of history provided much inspiration for this work.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ManagementThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  2. 2.Nottingham Business SchoolNottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK

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