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

Secrets of Jain Business Success Revealed

By Dr Atul Shah, Course Leader in Accounting and Financial Management at Suffolk Business School.

One of the world’s most successful business and finance cultures, the Jains, revealed their ethics and culture in a new research study completed by Dr. Atul Keshavji Shah and Dr. Aidan Rankin, based on thirty years of community work, engagement and dialogue. Titled ‘Jainism and Ethical Finance – A Timeless Business Model’, this 176 page book published by Routledge was launched globally at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich at a special event on Tuesday 25th April 2017. Speakers at the launch included Dr. Bharat Shah, the CEO of Sigma Pharmaceuticals, whose business history is featured in the book, and Jain Nuns Samani Pratibhapragya and Samani Unnatapragya from Jain Vishwa Bharti.

Book display

The book elaborates on the Jain theory of business, showing that the focus is on good and sincere efforts and service, with conduct which is not selfish or greedy and founded on building good long-term relationships with customers and suppliers. In his speech, Dr. Atul Shah, who has a PhD from the London School of Economics and is a Senior Lecturer at Suffolk Business School, explained how modern accounting and finance education is divorced from faith and culture, and as  a result is the cause of untold damage and inequality in the world. Given the huge urgency of sustainable business, the world needs to learn from ancient wisdom traditions who have a multi-generational track record of success. The Jain Nuns explained how Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Mahapragya constantly emphasised ‘anuvrat’ the need for clear vows and discipline in business conduct. Dr. Hedley Swain, Director of the Arts Council, chaired the event and explained how critical it was that Britain learnt from diverse cultures, and allowed them to speak in their own voice. Dr Bharat Shah explained how Sigma’s business growth was organic, and respect for customers and suppliers is critical to their culture. Key strategic decisions were taken after a dialogue with the inner soul, which is different from rational calculation and logical analysis.

The book has already received outstanding testimonials from academics from all over the world including Professor Prem Sikka, Professor Dan Ostas, Professor Janette Rutterford and Professor Al Bhimani of the London School of Economics. Mr Dhiraj Shah, General Secretary of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh explained that this book makes a profound contribution to the western crises in business ethics, opening a new dawn of research drawing from the vast ocean of knowledge that is India. Prof David Collins, Head of Suffolk Business School explained, ‘Dr Shah’s account of finance and ethics is both, unique and interesting because it builds upon an appreciation of the knowledge and experience of the Jain community. The book, therefore, offers a fascinating account of the Jains and builds upon this in-depth appreciation to demonstrate the ways in which this practical philosophy secures an holistic appreciation of the ecology of business and finance’.

The book is available as hardback or an e-book from Routledge or Amazon.

Teaching Business Ethics Through Sportsmanship

Dr Tom Vine presented at the Ensors sponsored Quay To Growth Business Breakfast at the University of Suffolk on Thursday 2 March. He discussed some new research taking place in the Suffolk Business School, on teaching Business Ethics using the principles of sportsmanship:

Business Ethics is traditionally taught through philosophy, and is often driven by the same key, Western philosophers: Kant, Aristotle, Marx, Nietzsche, to name a few. The biased is on abstract philosopher, and irrespective of the level of study (undergraduate or postgraduate), teaching falls back on a classical philosophical framework.

But here we have a problem – business students have not enrolled on a philosophy degree, and they can struggle with the material. Students may recognise that there is value to the reading and engagement with the module, but they are often looking for practical nuggets that will help them in their future careers – how can they be a better business person?

Here at the Suffolk Business School, we decided to start exploring alternatives to this traditional method of teaching, and have realised that we can supplement this with a different perspective – the idea of sportsmanship. Solomon (2004) even argues that good sportsmanship and fair play are essential obligations to business ethics, although he makes this statement free from further research or investigation. We decided to delve deeper, to take advantage of the connections between sportsmanship and businessmanship in a pedagogical sense.

relay-race-competition-stadium-sport

We know that there is a language of sportsmanship in business – considering the ‘ballcourt figure’, or to ‘get the ball rolling’. We ‘keep our eye on the ball’, or we have to ‘take it on the chin’. Clients ‘move the goalposts’, and competitors ‘play hardball’. Where has this linguistic connection between sports and business come from?

As in sports, there are competitors in business; there are rules by which we must play and conduct business; there are parallels in respect to betrayal. There is an sense of ‘fair play’ and behaviour that is driven by a moral reasoning.

So why do we think this approach works? Well, we know that sport has wide appeal – there is an already well established cultural understanding of what it means to be a good sportsman, even if a student does not follow a particular sport or team avidly. This allows our students to engage immediately, with something they can relate to on a fundamental level. Sportsmanship is learned at an early age – unlike philosophy. It is also inherently personal – learning of sportsmanship is experiential, much like how it is to be a good business person. These things make learning business ethics through sportsmanship intellectually accessible to students, who perhaps did not realise they would be embarking on philosophy as part of their business degree.

This is part of an ongoing research project by Dr Tom Vine and Dr Will Thomas. If you are interested in this research, please contact talkbusiness@uos.ac.uk