In recent years, our vocabulary seems to be much richer, such as the emergence of some “professional terms” in the Internet industry: deep tandem, potential energy accumulation, high-frequency reach, extraction and transmission, underlying logic, etc.. Along with these terms, there are some “new” concepts and theories. Not only the Internet industry, with today’s media, the constant creation of “new” terms impact and influence all areas of management practice, so that managers in anxiety or actively or passively shift their attention to the huge cognitive trend, chasing those so-called “universally recognized”, “latest The so-called “generally accepted” and “latest” management ideas and methods. The originally rational management field has become a kind of showground, from the way people communicate to the actual work behavior is fashioned.
What is management fashion?
The word fashion has two explanations in the Xinhua dictionary: the fashion of the time; the momentary habit. In other words, fashion usually has two connotations: first, it exists at a particular time; second, it forms a fad or habit. From the etymology of English, the word Fashion originated from France and originally meant to describe the magnificent and extravagant clothing of the French aristocracy. The modern meaning of the word Fashion came into being in the late Middle Ages. With the rise of capitalism and European liberalism, the bourgeoisie and peasants followed the trend behind the aristocracy as soon as the new clothing styles of the aristocracy emerged. The aristocracy quickly developed new clothing in order not to clash with the “lowly” bourgeoisie and peasants. Then, the bourgeoisie and peasants followed again. Such a social state fully reflects the three characteristics of Fashion: “sought-after, irrational, and changing periodically”, as well as the key roles of creators, disseminators, and followers in fashion.
So, how does such an irrational and ever-changing term relate to management? Rational management theory is supposed to be insulated from fads, and Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and others have described the popularity of certain management techniques as “childlike excitement, mass herd behavior, and frenzy,” arguing that management scholars should distance themselves from such things, “so as not to fall into the trap of peddling fakes. “lest they fall into the evil role of peddling false theories for profit”. However, the 1980s and 1990s saw the rise and fall of a series of management concepts represented by knowledge management and business process reengineering, which again literally tied management to fashion. Some popular management concepts and techniques also showed cyclical changes, and there were various roles of creators, disseminators, and followers, and the trends presented in the marketplace of management ideas were not unlike the clothing fashions in Paris, France.
The existence of management as a fashion has been recognized by the academic community, and in 1996, Abrahamson published an article entitled “Management fashion” in The Academy of Management Review, summarizing previous scattered studies and arguing that Management fashion is a transient collective belief, propagated by the makers of management fads, that a certain management technique will lead to management progress. From Abrahamson’s definition, it is easy to see three characteristics of management fashion.
Management fads are ephemeral. As a phenomenon that exists, management fads are sought after for a limited period of time, i.e., management fads have a life cycle. Research on the life cycle of management fashion has focused on two aspects: first, the shape of the life cycle. Although the life cycle of management fashion varies from one management fashion to another, it broadly includes several stages, such as incipient, popular, and declining. The development stages of management fashion will roughly form an “inverted U-shaped” curve or “bell-shaped” curve over time, as we will see later in the analysis; secondly, the factors affecting the change of management fashion. A management fashion will eventually be replaced by a new wave. There are many factors that affect the change of management fashion, for example, technology development makes management fashion spread more rapidly and widely, especially in today’s world, a concept can become popular quickly, but also be replaced by another hot spot, so that it is quickly forgotten. While this is the rule, it is worth noting that management fads are changing at an increasingly rapid pace.
Management fads are spread by those who make them. The makers of management fads usually come from three areas: academia (research institutions), consulting firms, and companies that pioneered and use a management fad. They constitute the main “supply side” of the management fashion market, providing a variety of “fashionable terms” to the “demand side” – companies and managers. -companies and business managers. Generally, the supply side needs to provide products according to the demand side’s requirements, but in the case of management fashion, we often see the supply side telling the demand side what their needs should look like. With today’s communication methods, management fashion makers are influencing managers to consume management fashion irrationally by creating artificial anxiety.
Management fads are seen to lead to management progress. A management fad is apparently sought after because it is perceived to improve management effectiveness or business performance. Even though many so-called management fads are not significantly innovative in substance, the new product in old wine still stimulates demand. Frankly, when a management approach changes its expression, it can be useful for promoting management practices, for example, by stimulating people’s commitment to their work or by giving management a new reason to reduce resistance to change. In this sense, the introduction of a management fashion is bound to have some impact on the company. The cyclical nature of management fads often makes people focus more on the short-term effects and ignore the long-term impact on the organization, which is like giving a stimulant to the company to make significant progress in the short term, while no one cares about the long-term health of the company.
It is because management fads may bring management progress in the short term, or new growth points, this stimulus becomes a “signal”, the emergence of new terms or concepts will bring a carnival. Those who are the first to practice management experience the pleasure and fulfillment in their hearts, as if in a trance, they have already achieved what management fads portray. As more and more people start talking and practicing this management fad, the pioneers of the fashion experience are already trying to find the next fad, and interestingly enough, management fads are being proposed and spread all the time.
Who is creating management fashion?
From the point of view of the subjects of management fashion dissemination, academia (research institutions), consulting companies and companies are the main creators of management fashion. The differences in the identities of the creators make the dissemination of management fashions different, which we will further analyze through three examples.
Blue Ocean Strategy: from the academic world
The term “Blue Ocean Strategy” was introduced and defined by W. Chan Kim and Mauborgne of INSEAD in their book “Blue Ocean Strategy”, published in February 2005. Blue Ocean Strategy quickly became a buzzword in business discussions about strategy. The book became a huge hit with the business community worldwide and was listed in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and Amazon.com, among other publishers. In May of the same year, the book was immediately translated into Chinese and published in China by the Commercial Press. By the end of 2017, the book had sold nearly 4 million copies worldwide and was translated into more than 40 languages. After that, the two scholars published a steady stream of various books and articles, and at the same time, they developed related teaching materials, such as various cases and teaching notes, which further promoted the spread of the term in the academic community. The academic background of the authors has certainly enhanced the universality of management fashion.
Consulting firms have played a role in the spread of this management fad theory, and some of them have even incorporated blue ocean strategy into their own service system, such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, etc. The Chinese business community is also rushing to this concept, and Professor Qian Jin’s lecture sessions used to be hard to get a ticket. Domestic enterprises such as TCL, Lenovo, Hisense, Granz, etc. have raised the banner of “Blue Ocean”, some announced the launch of the Blue Ocean strategy, and some even said they had found their own Blue Ocean. Such as TCL has tried to take the so-called high-end route, launched the world’s first diamond cell phone. Like other management fads, the frenzy of blue ocean strategy in the theoretical and practical circles is not lasting. According to the Chinese literature on the subject of “blue ocean strategy” published on China Knowledge Network from 2004 to 2014, the research on blue ocean strategy rose rapidly in the three years after the publication of “Blue Ocean Strategy” and began to decline after 2008 (see Figure 1). The period from “sudden explosion” to “gradual cooling” is only about three years, which fully reflects the cyclical characteristics of management fads.
Process Reengineering: From a Consulting Firm
In 1993, “Reengineering the Enterprise: A Manifesto for a Business Revolution” was published, co-authored by James Champy and Michael Hammer, of which James Champy was the president of CSC Consulting Group and Michael Hammer was an academic at MIT at that time. Thus, “reengineering” was a management fad jointly proposed by the consulting firm and the academia. After the publication of the book, organizational process reengineering had a huge impact on the corporate world. In early 1994, a survey conducted by CSC Consulting on more than 6,000 large companies in North America and Europe showed that 69% of North American companies and 75% of European companies had already started to “reengineer”. “reengineering,” and most of the remaining companies were beginning to consider this course of action. A typical application of reengineering theory for organizational change is IBM. 1993, once Guo Shina took office, he strongly supported the implementation of “reengineering project” in IBM to help the company transform successfully.
Driven by business interests, consulting firms will spread their management fads, but try to avoid talking about the flaws of these concepts. According to some data, 50% to 70% of the companies engaged in “reengineering” did not achieve the expected results, or failed. For example, many of the efficiency initiatives in the “reengineering” project quickly became excuses for firing employees, making “reengineering” a negative term in the mouths of many employees. According to the Chinese literature on the topic of “business process reengineering” published on the China Knowledge Network from 1999 to 2015, the concept has shown a significant decline after several years of popularity (see Figure 2). However, the management fad proposed by consulting firms seems to have a longer life cycle, which may be related to the business system and continuous promotion of the consulting firms, after all, the management fad can effectively create value for the consulting firms.
Amoeba: from the corporate world
Amoeba management is a management concept and approach created by Mr. Kazuo Inamori during the management of Kyocera Corporation, which first introduced the core concept of “accounting system per unit of time” in 1963-1965, and then gradually formed a complete amoeba management system. With the backing of great success in management practice, a series of books written by Kazuo Inamori such as “Amoeba Management” have gained market recognition, and the amoeba management model has become an object of study for many companies. According to Kazuo Inamori’s official website, more than 700 companies worldwide have used the amoeba business model so far.
The amoeba management model is a typical management fad proposed by the business community. The theory was first born out of Kazuo Inamori’s own management practice, and then gradually developed into a systematic theory. As a result, this type of management fad has always faced difficulties in adapting to other companies when it is disseminated. Because of the uniqueness of the original company, it is not easy to transfer the success of the theory in the original company to other companies, which limits the wider spread of the amoeba management model. According to the Chinese literature on the topic of “amoeba management” published on China Knowledge Network from 2010 to 2020 (see Figure 3), the discussion of the amoeba management model is growing moderately. The management style born in one company, despite its great success, has been accepted by other companies with caution.
We know that the above statistics are only from the academic literature and may be biased, after all, it is only a reflection of the management fashion, nevertheless, it at least outlines the development of the management fashion from an objective point of view. Through the above three examples, it is not difficult to see the interests of different subjects in the management fashion market, the management fashion created and promoted by academia, consulting firms, and enterprises, and there are certain differences in the practical performance of the whole communication process. As the academic community that creates knowledge, to some extent, it is also the main mission of the academic community to propose some new ideas or provide insight into practice. For consulting firms, management fads represent business and interests. Management fads proposed by companies usually also have their own strategic intentions, for example, to use their own company’s ideas to influence affiliated companies, to build more effective business clusters, etc. Of course, there are also entrepreneurs with a sense of mission to influence more companies by sharing their own experiences.
How does management fashion spread?
There is no fashion without strong communication. It is because of the increasingly powerful communication methods and tools that a viewpoint can be spread quickly and can influence more demand parties. It is no exaggeration to say that whoever has mastered the channels of communication has mastered management fashion. Despite the different backgrounds of the creators of management fads, there are three more common approaches to the dissemination of management fads.
Today, management fashion is still mainly spread through best-selling books, and here we consider financial journals and academic journals as a type of communication medium of best-selling books, for example, the explosion of the management fashion of Blue Ocean Strategy started from the best-selling book Blue Ocean Strategy. This kind of dissemination is more in line with the supply and demand relationship of management fads, i.e., the creators of books and articles gain fame and benefit by providing management fad ideas, corporate managers need new ideas to adjust their corporate management style, and intermediaries and consulting firms can also participate in the dissemination of management fads through digestion and absorption. Abrahamson points out that some consulting firms use the credibility of journals or books to promote the management fads they have created by controlling or acquiring business journals and publishing companies.
The knowledge structure of financial bestsellers is usually complete and informative, and the bestselling authors usually have a long practical preparation to structure their years of precipitation into a structured output. Blue Ocean Strategy is a summary of two authors’ research on 150 strategic actions spanning more than 100 years and involving more than 30 industries. Such a book is logically complete and informative, with theory and examples supporting each other, so it is not easily misinterpreted by the demand side of management fads.
The main problem with this type of dissemination is the slow iteration of books. If a particular edition of a best-selling book is too influential, it is difficult to be accepted by all demand side even if the author wishes to update the content in it subsequently. For example, in 2016, 10 years after the publication of Blue Ocean Strategy, the original book author W. Money-King presented some new ideas about blue ocean strategy based on 10 years of business practices. However, these ideas are hardly as widely disseminated as they were 10 years ago, and they may even be in the state of “the good guys don’t talk about the good guys”. That is to say, if a certain idea is marked as “fashionable” in the past, there is always a feeling of hype for the fashionable patch. In addition, for those companies who have been pursuing a certain fashion with fervor, they may feel disgusted if the previous pursuit is not reflected in the reality of management practice.
The suppliers of management fads disseminate their own management ideas through more mass media, such as radio, television programs, the Internet, and paid knowledge. This type of communication usually generates higher discussion of management fads among the general public, which helps management ideas reach more demanders.
At one time, TV financial programs were the main communication platform for management fashion. Today, new mass communication mediated by new Internet media has become an important way to spread management fashion. Public numbers, microblogs, jitterbug and apps with management knowledge tags are all new mass communication channels. For example, Vanden Reading Club, Get, etc., they use network graphics, audio and video as carriers to realize the secondary distribution of book knowledge in the way of condensed and concise lectures, etc., which lowers the threshold for management fashion demanders to learn new management knowledge systematically and brings convenience to the rapid and wide spread of management fashion. At the same time, the carriers of the new mass media are on the network platform, and the speed of knowledge iteration has also been greatly enhanced compared with the traditional media, and once a new version or content is available, it can be quickly put on the shelves. In addition, with the convenience of free discussion on the new mass media platform, management fashions can be raised in the heat of everyone’s evaluation and discussion, which is more conducive to rapid dissemination.
However, the transcribers (editors) of the new mass media may make the original content tasteless due to the secondary processing of the knowledge due to the difference in understanding ability or personal subjective position. In addition, the new media allows a large number of knowledge suppliers to appear at low cost, among which the good and the bad not only drown the valuable suppliers, but also make it difficult for the demand side to judge.
In addition to indirectly spreading management ideas through the media, the suppliers of management fashions also conduct face-to-face activities to promote their ideas, and through the atmosphere created by offline activities, management fashions are peddled. A typical example is the various “New Year’s speeches” in recent years. Although these speeches do not focus on a particular management topic, the new vocabulary and golden phrases associated with them, such as “trapped in the digital system” and “eco-empowerment paradigm”, have generated widespread discussion. The pressurized atmosphere of marketing events often leads to audience subordination, which is back to the most primitive state of fashion communication. Offline subordination has a greater impact on people than online subordination.
Managing fashion marketing campaigns also has some limitations. First, the content of the campaign is also limited due to time constraints. Speeches require a controlled pace and it is difficult to cover everything. As a result, this kind of management fashion marketing campaign is more of an inspiring summary of ideas and topics rather than a systematic analysis. In addition, not all the discussions brought by management fashion marketing campaigns are positive, and some New Year’s Eve speeches have also triggered some controversies, such as being criticized by netizens as “old wine in new bottles” and “empty content and only sensationalism”. If the huge public opinion caused by the marketing campaign is difficult to control, the fermentation of these negative opinions will hinder the spread of management fashion.
How to deal with management fashion?
The pursuit of novelty is an instinct. People like “different” ideas, and what is solid and stable does not attract interest. That’s why, in the face of an uncertain business environment, there is never a shortage of fads in the marketplace of management ideas. So, how should management practitioners approach the wide array of management fads?
Keep a cautiously open mind
It’s obviously not right to take a no-frills approach to management fads. Regardless of the considerations of the proponents of management fashions, there are some innovative concepts and methods based on the experience and lessons learned by a large number of enterprises or advanced enterprises, which will have some significance in the end. For example, Huawei’s concept of “people-oriented” has been increasingly accepted by senior managers and human resource managers, because this summary from practice is obviously more in line with the reality of the enterprise than “people-oriented”.
Of course, the practice of blindly following management fashions is also problematic. For those who lead the management concept, it is not necessary to do “the courage to eat crabs. Management is not that urgent, for the new management concepts and methods can be completely calm, calmly observe its application status, and then according to their own situation to adjust. For example, the strategy adopted by the Japanese company Panasonic is the follower strategy. He will not be the first, he will firmly be the second. Whether a new management idea works or not, and whether it is effective, does not necessarily have to be shown by being the first to use it. Instead, calmly observe the effectiveness of others’ use and think carefully about what state it would be in if this approach were to be used in your own company.
While keeping an open mind, it is also necessary to be extremely careful to understand the conditions for the application of management fads. There are always some qualifications to an experience or theory. Obviously, a successful large company is able to use a theory because it already has some conditions that those SMEs do not have at all. In fact, management fads based on the success of large companies are often more difficult to learn from.
Understanding the originators of management fads
How can you tell if a new management idea is a fad or a trend? The easiest way is to see who came up with it. That is, if you are deciding to adopt a suggestion, you may want to analyze the originator of the suggestion and then think further about the possible motivations for the suggestion. The management fashion proposed by the academia has a stronger theoretical color, and there may be a certain distance in digestion and concrete implementation, which requires strong understanding and implementation ability of management practitioners; the management fashion proposed by the consulting company is easier to operate and implement, but there is an obvious benefit orientation in it. The management fashion proposed by the consulting company is easier to operate and implement, but it has obvious benefit orientation. The attitude of the consulting company tends to avoid the defects and shortcomings in the management fashion. Management fashions proposed by some well-known companies may be the key to the success of the company, but there are limitations to such management fashions when applied in other companies.
By understanding the origin of management fashions, managers can be more aware of the dazzling management fashion market and distinguish between “real knowledge” and “old wine in new bottles”. At the same time, managers can also anticipate the problems that may arise after the implementation of some management fads according to the characteristics of the creators of the management fads, so as to reduce the risk of the company when they are actually put into practice. For example, if a management idea is proposed by scholars, then the enterprise should think more about how to better “seek truth from facts” when adopting it.
Insist on business orientation: creating value is the touchstone of management fashion
Bite down on the green hills and do not relax, any of the things north and south wind. In the face of changing management fashions, the most fundamental thing is that companies need to clarify their business objectives. The management methods, tools and theories that keep emerging are ultimately to serve the business objectives. “Can it help achieve the business goals”, “Can it help overcome the current problems”, “Will it affect the implementation of the business policy?” These are probably the questions to be considered in the face of a new management fashion. In fact, for companies whose strategy is already clear, it is difficult to influence the management fashion itself. It is as if a person with a strong heart is a fashion in itself and does not need external fashions to show off.
It is important to note that management fashions often emerge at a certain point or in a certain area of management. It is an objective fact that management is a system. Management improvement based on a single point, without the corresponding cooperation of other systems, or practitioners can not stick to it (funny enough, adherence to fashion itself and the pursuit of fashion is contradictory), it will certainly produce unpredictable damage to the organization. There are many real-life examples of management fads that have been used to implement management changes with great fanfare, often resulting in nothing more than a chicken scratch a few years later.
No matter what the purpose is, the company accepts the management fashion and starts to promote a certain idea in the company, but in the end, it is the management practice that finally confirms it. In the same way that practice is the only test of truth, the ability to bring growth and value to a company is also the most important test of a management fad. Although no one can guarantee the continued effectiveness of a management idea, companies may wish to set a time frame and psychological expectations, so that they can also approach management fads in a more positive and dialectical manner.
There is often a confusion between fads and trends. If a trend is a more stable long-term trend, then a fad is just a particular transient manifestation of the development process. Fearing that they are being left behind by the trend of the times, people tend to pursue fashions like crazy. Looking at the history of ideas, it is easy to know that the reason why an idea can become fashionable is not because the idea or theory is so correct or advanced, but only to meet the needs of a particular situation, just as the “reengineering theory” can be popular, to a large extent to meet the needs of the field of practice for layoffs. Today, many companies and managers are influenced by management fashions that completely disregard the actual situation of the company itself, which is not only irrational, but even dangerous. At present, many people are obsessed with learning management methods from Huawei, Xiaomi, Internet majors, etc. without considering their own actual situation, and such learning activities are not beneficial for their own management practices. The fashion shown in Paris Fashion Week can be the talk of the town after dinner, if you have to take that kind of clothing or even ideas into your own circle of life, it seems to be not quite right for the time. This is especially true for management ideas and practices.