I’ve been working in businesses for about 35 years and during that time thousands of “business strategy” books have been published and become massive best sellers. In that time there has always been a book or trend that has fired people up. Every couple of years a new magic bullet appears to make your company the best there ever was—and consulting groups that are more than happy to help you adopt this wonderful new mojo.

In the 1980s it was In Search of Excellence, which claimed to figure out what made some companies the best. The problem was that they simply took a bunch of high performing companies and found what they thought were common features.

It turns out that the only common feature they had was that they were successful at the same time—in fact, they started looking at 62 companies then cut it down to 43 to fit their theory. But that didn’t stop every large company from trying to be as innovative as Atari—oops.

But people have short attention spans and they needed a new magic bullet. Over the years we’ve moved through corporate cultures, management by walking around, TQM, 7 Habits, Re-engineering and Six Sigma. We swam through the Blue Ocean and today are being disruptive.

We’ve all been on these rides and they take us to the same place—the next corporate meeting with a new group of consultants who are there to sell us the next new thing.

These fads are based on three concepts: Understand what is going on inside and outside your company; don’t compete head to head with others; and do what you are told to do. In a nutshell:

  • Theory Z, TQM, Quality Circles, Management by Walking Around, Corporate Cultures and many others: Listen to your employees—they might know what they are talking about and have some good ideas. It’s amazing what you can learn by listening to people who work in the area!
  • Reengineering, Blue Ocean, Out of the Box Thinking, Disruption: Doing things that not everyone else is doing and competing in markets where there is less competition. He who sets the rules wins the game—so find a game you can win!
  • 7 Habits and Who Moved My Cheese are all about following orders. CEOs love these books because they make their lives easier!

So to save time, understand that each of these new “discoveries” is simple recycling of these same three ideas, and realize that they often cancel each other out. It’s hard to be outside of the box if the CEO is a control freak and you can’t be disruptive if you have those seven habits—that’s not allowed. That said, there is always something to learn from these fads—just don’t think they are magic.

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