Avoiding the Next Big Thing

Discussion
May 15, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Publishers print them as fast as writers can write them. “Them” is the latest and greatest technique for answering every question or dilemma faced by modern managers.


While many of these guru guides have value, they apparently do not deliver the Holy Grail of management that many are looking for.


An article in The Wall Street Journal points out that the Six Sigma philosophy, for example, was essentially a refinement on W. Edward Deming’s total-quality theory. While Six Sigma did much to improve efficiency in numerous manufacturing facilities, it was much less successful in fostering innovation.


Jeffrey Pfeffer, co-author of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense and business professor at Stanford, said that executives are not going to find all the answers they are looking for in the pages of the book. They need to be independent thinkers and “systematically examine evidence about what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong” in their business.


Prof. Pfeffer said that keeping to the basics is the best way for executives to manage their business.


“If you take care of employees, they do good work and take care of customers, and then you’re successful,” he said. 


Moderator’s Comment: Does your experience tell you that managers get too caught up in the latest management advice?
What are the best and/or worst management ideas you have ever heard?

George Anderson – Moderator

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10 Comments on "Avoiding the Next Big Thing"


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Mitch Kristofferson
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Mitch Kristofferson
14 years 9 months ago

I had the pleasure of taking a class from Jeffrey Pfeffer during business school and he was one of the most on-point, engaging teachers and thinkers at the school. “HR,” “OB,” and so on are often overlooked by young managers wanting to get ahead, but later on you find that those areas can provide more lasting, widely applicable lessons learned than any other area of study.

I agree with previous comments, however, about business publishing. Unfortunately, like so many other consumer products segments, more air is pumped into the product these days than ever before. This practice started about the time that business books started generating significant returns. There are still pearls published all the time, however, and finding them isn’t that hard. If I can spend $15 and get one new, good idea, or, be reminded of a good idea in a compelling way, it’s worth it.

Jeremy Sacker
Guest
Jeremy Sacker
14 years 9 months ago

I agree with everyone’s comments thus far. Best Buy has done this exact thing with their Customer Centricity program. (I was there for its birth and rise to power.) At face value, it is a great idea, but when applied blindly and without regard to control, it can cost dearly. Business books are great at providing ideas; keeping you fresh, but the reality is that we are all different as are our companies. Think back to your high school science classes: hypothesize, test, verify AND then implement. This is what great LEADERS (not managers) do…

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 9 months ago
We believe that our analysis of every single management course, book, philosophy, adage, guru, and fad that we have observed (and we have observed literally thousands) shows that they are all based on the same assumptions: 1. In the end, what controls an organization is its management. If they set up the right sticks and carrots, managers can get workers and an entire organization to do what they want. 2. It is possible for managers to know all they need to know about their organizations to run them effectively. 3. The information that will solve an organization’s problems (or turn a manager into a great manager) can be written in a book or an article or handout, given in a PowerPoint or a speech, or taught in a classroom. Our data shows that these assumptions are incorrect. Unfortunately, quite incorrect. This assertion has proven to be disturbing to many executives and business advisors, and understandably so: it casts doubt on some fundamental ways we operate and try to make improvement. If effective management were simple… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Perhaps the most important thing that schools and any form of education can teach us is how to think and how to learn. Which means that reading a management book or a cookery book or a childcare book, as has been said, has potential value if it strikes a chord and makes you think about which of the ideas can be adapted and how. I’m sure that many of the authors are very well intentioned and believe that their experiences can be of use to others. But using those experiences well boils down to recognising their underlying value, not in following them step by step regardless of circumstances.

The best management principles I have tried to use are KISS (keep it short and simple) and the old Tell Them routine i.e. tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
14 years 9 months ago
As a consultant to the Food and Consumer Products Industry for over 25 years, I have seen many times, but never promoted, the single solution to every company’s problems. The list is endless — from Porter’s market share without profitability, Six Sigma, balanced scorecard, stockholder value, value chain, benchmarking, etc. The reason is simple. Management is a very complex process. Great products plus poor execution equals failure. Poor products plus great customer service equal survival. No single approach, process or anything else will solve all a company’s problems. From the consulting side, it is a sales and marketing issue. Write a book and embellish the success claims. Work with a client and take credit. Rarely have I seen one solution, by itself, be highly successfully. Other changes, events and issues generally contribute to the success. Some senior managers are early adopters. They try just about anything resulting in the company always being in change mode. Others are lost and looking for anything to solve problems. Tracking the success rate of these single solutions should scare… Read more »
Dan Raftery
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

I’ll add my voice to the chorus decrying the exploitation of managers looking for the quick fix, magic bullet or secret formula. However, I have seen diligent and thoughtful people take a publication, learn from it and develop their own flavor of its essence. As mentioned earlier, this is work – the effects on a business are much farther down the road entered by reading the book.

Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Prof. Pfeffer has it right – we take something that is really quite simple and constantly re-package and re-label it. And if you can attach a foreign language to it – like Kaizen or Six Sigma – it will sell even better. Every manager is obligated to have the current best seller on the credenza but there is absolutely no obligation to read it. It is well known that by far the majority of these books are never read.

You need three things to actually make a change: The WHY; The WILL; and The WAY. These books typically give you a “Way.” What’s missing in corporate America are the “Why” and the “Will” and I’m not sure any book can really give you those. But without them all you’re doing is building a library.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Many management books, if written honestly, could be presented on 1 side of a page, or as an article, or as a short booklet. Too bad the market for short form writing doesn’t pay. Millions of reading hours could be saved.

Twice I’ve worked with companies that hired world famous authors and then promptly ignored their work. Everyone’s heard of serial killers and serial monogamy. What is the phrase for companies that are serial consultant/management fad followers?

David Zahn
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Whether we are talking about dieting, raising children, or management – the tendency is to look for the quick fix, the magic panacea, or secret to success. In reality, while there is much to learn from observing others or reading books – all of the things listed are hard work that requires consistency and constancy to achieve. None of them can be achieved without effort placed upon them every day.

As for the worst management advice received – “manage by fear” would have to be it. Intimidation without the corresponding caring to mitigate it is tantamount to creating a situation where employees want you to fail, help you to fail, and prevent you from succeeding.

The best advice – “before you do something, ask yourself, who does it benefit and how? If it does not further the needs of the business – is it really worth doing?”

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 9 months ago

Reasonable people generally sift through a variety of informational sources, evaluate, and adopt based on their personal filtering system. Relevance, appropriateness, fit with preconceived notions, lack of fit with current thinking…there’s an endless set of criteria different people use effectively to filter and adopt.

Blind adoption of any theory, practice or method is fraught with opportunity for harm. Management theory or philosophy, in an applied sense, is a tool or tool kit. Period. Intelligent managers — and most are — reach into the tool box of their mind for the tool they think will best fit the opportunity, problem or situation confronting them.

Inappropriate application of management theory is common. But then again, so is inappropriate or inefficient use of ERP systems, CRM software, analytical algorithms and a plethora of other tools in use in the business. The key to any of these tools is to understand “why” first, then “how” and before acting, ask “should I?”

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