The Management Lessons of Las Vegas

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Where do you find inspiration? From great management thinkers like Peter Drucker? Political or military leaders? Great artists or musicians? Or, maybe, a gaudy wedding chapel on the strip in Las Vegas?

That last one probably doesn’t rank high on your list. But maybe it should.

In 1972, our neighbors at MIT Press published Learning from Las Vegas, by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steve Izenour. It was a can of gasoline thrown on modernism in architecture, arguing that what “common” people like is more important than the elevated tastes and predilections of architects. It made not only an economic argument for the lowbrow, but an aesthetic one as well. What is considered ordinary or ugly by elites, they lay out, may be more useful and lasting than the designs their contemporaries considered heroic and original.

The book nudged architecture into post-modernism. It is still influential and relevant. Last year MIT Press published a new volume of essays on the book and its impact.

But you’re a manager, not an architect. What does this have to do with managing?

Here at MIT Sloan Management Review, we’re firm believers that the future of management is, in part, built on discovering new ideas and seeing how they fit into the work we do on a daily basis. What is most exciting about Learning from Las Vegas and why it’s so inspirational even to us non-architects is that it’s an example of a bunch of smart, committed people looking at the mainstream of their field and shouting, “No! You’re looking at this the wrong way!”

Especially in uncertain economic times, when even the acknowledged experts don’t know what’s coming next, it’s important to think twice about what everyone else takes for granted. That’s a profound management lesson.

Look around.


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Comments (4)
Darryl Shive
Great blog!  Have bookmarked and will visit again soon for more information.
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Great point - Christopher Alexander's superb 'Pattern Language' series of books, especially 'The Timeless Way of Building' was foundational in helping me build and deepen my own understanding of successful organizational growth, despite being (essentially) about town planning.

Thanks for the insight.

Les McKeown, CEO 
Predictable Success
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