How to start a management fad, earn big money and become world famous!

Posted on April 9, 2012 by


I’ve been reading about management fads [ref]The Life Cycle of Academic Management Fads, Robert Birnbaum, The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 1-16[/ref] and believe it or not they have definite life cycles and characteristics. In this post I present a fun outline of how to engineer an effective management fad, unleash it and then reap the benefits:



The first stage you need to create the management fad in response to a crisis, usually due to some bigger macro level issue, for example a recession. Then quickly begin to generate a line of questioning which asks why organisations are not equipped and/or skilled enough in their current form to deal with this widely reported problem. The only solution is to adopt your new paradigm, and fast! This need must be fuelled by supporters, who in themselves depend on uptake of the fad to make a living, for example consultants. Be sure to use lots of unverifiable success stories (see my post on selling quality).

Narrative Evolution

In the next stage you want stories about your management fad to start to circulate; ensure that they become ever more elaborate and successful as time goes on. Of course, you need to encourage this at every opportunity: professional meetings, journal articles, etc, to reinforce how great the fad is and to get new converts. Remember to focus on only the benefits and not the total costs involved. If any press article or website starts to comment negatively about your fad ensure that you discredit these stories via commenting, blogging, social media, etc. Clearly the people who write these articles are resistant to change and out of touch with the latest thinking: they need to be ignored or educated, especially as the new fad has now got so many success stories being written about it by enlightened professionals. If all goes well perhaps a newspaper or major website will pick-up on the fad. If so remember to keep the principles of the fad simple, as the more complex the fad is the less people will understand what it’s about: lack of understanding means less adoption. Also, make sure that early adopters are commended and celebrated at every turn.

Time Lag

Success stories are still circulating during this period about your fad but the gap is starting to close until the success stories are independently verified. Academics and other people who don’t have a vested interest in the promotion of the fad will begin to circulate data which quantifiably contradicts the accounts of successful adoption. This is the peak period of the fad; the pace of implementation begins to slow as most companies who want to adopt the fad have already done so.

Narrative Devolution

The original narrative of success is now replaced by a narrative of scepticism. Reports of failures and disappointments begin to circulate widely backed up by academic proof that the original successes were overstated or not sustainable. Organisational performance wasn’t improved as much as thought, the wide level of adoption was in fact much smaller, and users are disillusioned and dissatisfied. The fad is then widely reported as dead.

Resolution of Dissonance

As the original champion of the management fad you’ll now have to explain yourself whilst trying to maintain your professional integrity. Use any or all of the following excuses:

  • Lack of leadership
  • Narrow-mindedness of supporters: they only adopted an offshoot of the original fad [ref]One tip in this stage is to blame offshoots of the original idea. This is where some of the original fad remains but extra elements are added to it. That way you can still try to maintain faith in the original fad while blaming these “inferior” versions for the failure.[/ref]and not the true fad
  • Incorrect implementation
  • Lack of resources

Ideally, try to blame forces outside of your control or even acknowledge certain specific correctable weaknesses. That way you stand a chance of re-activating the fad at a later date, a version 2.0: bigger and better and of course definitely not a fad this time round. At this point go back to the Creation stage and start again.

In closing, this paper [ref] Management Fads: Emergence, Evolution, and Implications for Managers, Jane Whitney Gibson and Dana V. Tesone, The Academy of Management Executive (1993-2005), Vol. 15, No. 4, Themes: Business Strategies and Employee Development (Nov., 2001), pp. 122-133[/ref]offers a checklist for adopting fads (or not):

  1. Has the fad been around long enough to have a proven track record?
  2. Does the goal of the fad complement the needs of the organisation?
  3. Does the implementation of the fad mesh with the organisational culture?
  4. Will adopting the fad help the organisation remain competitive?
  5. Does the organisation have the resource needed to implement the fad?
  6. Dit he expected benefits of the fad outweight the direct and indirect costs?
  7. Can the fad be implemented in small sections of the organisation o test the new concepts with minimum risk?
  8. Has the organisations track record with previous fad adoptions been positive?
  9. Can you wait for the long-term benefits from the fad adoption?
  10. Do you have a choice?

Recognise any familiar points? What fads have you tried to adopt or avoid? Leave a comment below:

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