The Fad Motif in Management Scholarship

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

This has been a rather special week. I have, you see, been able to place a tick against an item on my rather lengthy and ever expanding ‘to do list’. I completed a draft chapter that I had been invited to author and within the agreed deadline (although only just!). It might be worth expanding upon this…

Some time ago I was invited by Oxford University Press to prepare a chapter on Management Gurus for an edited volume concerned with Management Practice. I was pleased and rather flattered to receive this offer (in truth, I would probably have asked my colleague Dr Huczynski, of the University of Glasgow, to write this chapter since he produced perhaps the first sustained academic commentary in this arena back in the early 1990s), and so I agreed to produce a chapter on Management’s Gurus. Look closely. The addition of the ‘apostrophe s’ is for me a crucial addition to the title. It is in fact my rather unsubtle way of placing a social distance between my analysis and the position of those who might be inclined to accept what their gurus tell them to think and do, without, in my opinion, sufficient critical reflection.

When I mention a research interest in the gurus of management I am regularly met by two questions:

  1. Who are the gurus?
  2. Do the gurus really produce empty fads?

The answer to these questions is far from straightforward. Well you wouldn’t really expect a clear answer from a Professor, would you?

It is rather difficult to produce a definitive listing of management’s gurus. Priorities change and ideas tend to fall out of fashion. There is probably ‘a famous five’ (including Peter Drucker and Tom Peters) but beyond this elite there is generally no agreement as to who we might place in that category of commentators which has been awarded (sometimes seriously and sometimes more ironically) the title of ‘guru’. In truth the debate about management’s gurus is not so much a discussion about whether or not this category exists; it is instead a sustained competition about who has the best gurus. Indeed it is worth observing that those academics who have attacked management’s gurus have called upon the services of their sociological gurus when launching this broadside!

As to what the gurus do? Well there is no doubt that these commentators produce and trade in fashionable ideas. That fact however should not be taken as confirmation that what the gurus say and do is simply empty and faddish. Nor does it suggest that those who would implement guru theory are engaged in a form of activity that is mindless and imitative. In truth it takes a lot of effort and imagination to implement TQM, ABC or BPR (you can look these up J). Some years ago I produced a paper that develops this line of analysis. You might find this entertaining:

Collins, D. (2001) “The fad motif in management scholarship“, Employee Relations 23(1), pp. 26-37

Suffolk Young Enterprise finals

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

In my last blog which was, I acknowledge, quite some time ago I was looking forward to a family break. I have now returned – however reluctantly – from my trip to France. Indeed since this welcome break I have been to France, Belgium, Holland and North Norfolk!

I had intended to prepare a blog posting last week but a very crowded diary prevented this. Last Thursday, you see, I acted as the Chair of a University validation panel and in the evening I was privileged to attend the Suffolk Young Enterprise Awards, which was hosted by the University of Suffolk.

This event is the culmination of a process which sees groups of students prepare business plans designed to bring a product to the marketplace. At last week’s event the students reported on what they had done and on what they had learned and, perhaps most importantly, what they had earned through this process since this is no abstract exercise. In this regard it is perhaps worth conceding that I bought two ‘spinners’ for my kids from the team representing East Bergholt.

Aside from indulging myself in a bit of retail therapy I also took the opportunity to remind the students of the benefits of a degree education that will make them ‘career –ready’. In addition I took a moment to remind their teachers of the need to ensure their own continuing development. Teachers you see need to be ‘ahead of the game’ because they must prepare their students for a market that is always six years away! Given the complexities associated with leading a school I was pleased to be able to inform the teachers (and parents) who were present that we offer a range of postgraduate, MBA and MSc, programmes that have been designed to prepare participants for future senior management and executive positions.

The highlight of the evening was of course the prize-giving. I was invited to award a number of prizes on behalf of the judging committee and was pleased to accept. If I’m I really don’t enjoy having my photograph taken and would normally look for some way to wriggle out of this obligation. But I was pleased to set aside my normal reticence on this occasion for I was genuinely impressed by what the students had achieved. Indeed I found myself humbled by the quality of the presentations that they delivered last Thursday evening. In fact I am pretty well convinced that I could not do at 20 what the students last week had achieved in their middle teens!

Given these performance I do hope that I was successful in my attempts to persuade the students and their parents that they should continue their studies at the University of Suffolk.

Save the date! MBA 25th Anniversary Celebrations

Suffolk Business School alumni are invited to save the date for the 25th Anniversary of the MBA programme – staff and alumni will be coming together to celebrate this momentous occasion in the evening of Friday 9 May.

Watch this space!

In the meantime, read some MBA #SBSAnalysis posts: