Management gurus as fashion celebrities

Published on January 31, 2016   21 min

Other Talks in the Series: Management Consultancy

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My name's Tim Clark, I am professor of Organizational Behavior, Durham University, Business School in the United Kingdom. And today I'm going to talk about a group of people who are both thinkers, writers, and speakers called "Management Gurus."
Management gurus are part of a broader management fashion-setting arena that includes management consultants, business school academics, management gurus, as well as editors and publishers of different magazines and journals. The main focus of my talk is going to be answering the question: Why is it that management gurus are particularly successful when competing against management consultants, business schools, as well as some publishing groups?
I'm going to emphasize firstly what a management guru is and define what we mean by management guru, and then elaborate through my lecture on each of these points. So management gurus first and foremost are purveyors and legitimizers of fashionable management ideas. Essentially, their management ideas have a short shelf life. Secondly, they are the authors of best-selling books. Many management books written by management gurus have been at the top of the best-selling lists both in Europe as well as North America. And finally, they are extremely effective and successful public speakers, speaking all over the world.
So if we take the first point, which is that they're purveyors of management fashion first, I have here a picture of a fashion cycle. This is a generic fashion cycle, it doesn't relate to a specific fashion. But what it shows in essence is that management gurus' ideas wax and wane 'cause they evolve through a series of discrete stages. Different researchers have looked at these stages and essentially there are five typical stages that are identified. The first one is that an idea has to be invented, it has to originate somewhere, it has to be created. And typically, this is what a management guru is associated with, is developing an idea in the first place. Having developed an idea, it has to be disseminated to the management audience and indeed the broader audience. And so an idea is gradually brought to the attention of the audience through both, the best-selling books but also through the speaking activities of the gurus. These activities gradually build acceptance, which is the third stage as an idea becomes implemented in organizations. However, research suggests that these ideas don't always live up to their initial expectations. And so increasingly, disenchantment emerges, negative evaluations emerge, and frustrations with the idea or with the implementation emerge. And so the fourth stage is disenchantment. As disenchantment grows, the fifth stage emerges which is decline, and you can see in this chart that all the ideas decline at some point as people gradually abandon the idea.