Strategy+Business reports on a debate on this issue at the Academy of Management [the big annual get-together of management academics]. The debate apparently addressed questions such as Is there a life-cycle to a good idea? and How do you tell a good one from a bad one? One slightly odd feature of the debate – it made a big deal of the role of ‘heretics’ who become great leaders, but most of the heretics seem to be writers rather than real-world executives. Phil Rosenzweig though offered a good note of caution – not all heresies are good ideas, and not all good ideas came from heresies. I wonder if we could replace ‘not all …’ in this warning with ‘not many …’ ? Anyone out there tried such ‘heretical’ ideas and like to tell us about how well they worked?
In principle, if we are a professional field, sound approaches should be repeatable and cumulative – i.e. two professionals tackling the same issue would use the same tools and come up with similar answers, and those tools would be additional to – not replacements for – what worked previously. Seems that ‘strategy’ does pretty badly on both criteria, with fads coming and going like the lengths of skirts.
We could just about excuse a bit of this, on the basis that competition might neutralise the advantage to be gained from an approach that seemed to work a few years before. But there’s a problem with this argument – most strategy tools do not get adopted in any case [zillions of sales of a book don’t mean people actually do what it says of course!]. So it rather looks like strategy tools aren’t used because they are not seen as useful, so the ‘fad’ effect probably reflects just the trialling of a few brave executives over a short period before the next book hits the stands.