In his keynote speech at the Tipping Points conference, on 2-3 July 2012, Professor Eric Abrahamson of the Columbia Business School discussed what he refers to as ‘the dubious market for shady business techniques’. The talk was largely a critique of the process by which different ideas that purport to ‘revolutionise’ business practice have replaced one another over the years. His research into this area essentially examines how ideas to revolutionise business practice in the US rise to become popular and then decline in popularity after a while.
Professor Abrahamson talks about process and variants theories, and he argues that there are usually a number of factors that, in combination, ensure that a particular business technique takes off. These include a collapse of the previous fashion, a widespread organizational performance gap and a surge in the discourse (usually within the press, but possibly also in other areas e.g. academia) highlighting this gap. He argues that each of these factors on its own would not be sufficient to bring about a change in management fashion. Therefore a conjunction of all the factors is needed in order to bring about the change in the management fashion.
On a more critical level, Professor Abrahamson raises some very important questions regarding fashion substitution and the market for business techniques: are they really appropriate solutions or are they merely mindless fads? Are they an attempt to manufacture a tipping point in order to harness its profitability? Are series of tipping points which appear transitional and meaningless in fact reflections of serious underlying trends/major social shifts? Professor Abrahamson’s research into this area has and will continue to flag up interesting analyses to help in our attempts to answer these big questions.
Of particular significance to me is one of Professor Abrahamson’s conclusions, which suggests that the ultimate objectives (for all business techniques) are always the same and its the methods for achieving them that change and fluctuate over time.