Dedicated followers of fashion – Business Fads

I spend part of my life as a business and management specialist so you would think I’d be all for evangelism in business and the use of the latest approaches to business and management?  The truth is that I find slavish adoption of the latest fashion to be one of the most scary things in business improvement.  Why?  Businesses rarely accept ‘plug and play’ management, where you plug in strategies and practices, rather like you would transfer computer files using a flash drive.  If you are not asking questions or examining the assumptions underpinning the latest management fashions, you could be heading for trouble.

In the last 50 or so years we have seen business fads come and go at the same rate as the rise and fall of women’s skirts, but, some would say, with less fascination.  Just examine the number of changes that have occurred in hemlines and business fads over the years, courtesy of the management thinker Pascale and Sarah Jessica Parker of ‘Sex in the City’:

The Rise and Fall of Fads and Fashions

The need to think carefully before adopting a particular business practice is exemplified through this satirical video.  It shows the perils of a slavish adoption of the management technique ‘Lean 5S’ in an ill-fitting context.  Take a look:

The video works because it is an exaggeration of some things I’ve actually seen happen in business.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted saving a few.  Exactly as per the video my brother, who works for an engineering company, was shouted at by a Japanese man who threw things around the room, because he mentioned that some people worked harder in the morning than the afternoon.  Don’t get me wrong.  Lean 5S approaches have some value in business situations where a physical product is made and standardisation matters.   All too often however the approaches have been mis-applied to service contexts where there is low ability to standardise the work.  So, what separates a business fad from a future trend?   I’d mention three main criteria that it needs to meet:

FIT – A business practice must fit the business context and culture to take root successfully.   Of course this can be a future context and culture if the practice is about changing the way business works.  Nonetheless it must make some level of sense to engage people.

FOLLOW THROUGH – Sometimes fads fail in business, not because they are a poor fit, but because they are treated like a fad by leaders, forgotten within a few months of launch.   Great business practices are followed though over time and not replaced / augmented by another fad before they have had a chance to deliver their intended benefits.

BALANCE – Fanaticism frequently fails.  A sense of balance should be used to identify how best to use the practice and where it will not fit.  The smart leader encourages others to think about what will work best where in their enterprise.

We’ll finish with one of the finest songs about the fragility of fashion from David Bowie:

What mindless or ill-fitting business practices can you think of?  Write a comment here.  As a starter for 10, check out the post on HM Customs and Excise, who are now wanting to charge for their own computer errors! 🙂

For some great business stimulation and advice without all the incomprehensible buzzwords and fads, try my book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:


14 responses to “Dedicated followers of fashion – Business Fads

  1. Another great post. I think if you are starting a brand new company, department, or even team it is not such a problem to take the latest (not just fashionable) methods and go 100% to use those.

    However for an established company, department and particularly team it is better to look at the biggest problem(s) you are having and choose the method that best solves those problems.

    But I would still not go bashing around with the new found hammer but take the most valuable elements and match them with the people that most need the them.

    Generally your foot soldiers know what they should be doing and if you let them they will do a good job so make it a process of allowing them to prosper rather than control them with ever more complicated processes.

    I like the saying “All models are wrong, but some are useful”.


  2. Yip…how they come and go!!

    Simon, you did make me smile when I read this in your post, “I like the saying ‘All models are wrong, but some are useful’.”….here’s my take ((-:

    * TQM – “Total Quasi Malaise”

    Six Sigma – DMAIC

    * D – “Dilute”
    * M – “Management’s”
    * A – “Ability to”
    * I – “Inspire”
    * C – “Collaboration”

    McKinsey’s 7’s:

    1. Supertramp
    2. Sex Pistols
    3. Smiths
    4. Sham 69
    5. Specials
    6. Slade
    7. Sisters of Mercy….


  3. Peter,

    I appreciate you eye sight is fading at your tender age ;-), however SOM are mentioned…I concur re Santana, and to a jazz flavouring, shall I propose Satchmo?

    …and then there was Quality Circles, CANI, Kaizen and let’s not forget the rat race once a year to prepare for ISO audit!!


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