HBS discussion on gurus

I have long been fascinated by management fads - not the fads themselves as much as the way otherwise intelligent people gobble them up as superior wisdom. Not that management gurus are quacks, but their gift lies more in recognizing successful ideas and explaining them convincingly than in revolutionizing the way business is done at a fundamental level. Often the fads are expressions of a relatively straightforward business principle that someone has managed to standardize and in the best case implement in a surprising and successful way.

So, I was intrigued to see the HBS discussion board on management gurus. The post that best sums up the phenomenon for me is one that describes the gurus as propagators of successful management innovation. If consultants play an important role in accelerating adoption of new technologies, it seems logical that they would do the same (or more) for process innovations.

Outstanding companies create the concepts that are then formalized and spread by gurus. Outstanding companies exist in all cultures and continents. But gurus, as you pointed out, are mainly U.S.-based. [...]

U.S. economic strength is partly explained by the coexistence of both outstanding companies and a social mechanism which help the rest of the pack to close the gap (gurus/ consultants). In short, following gurus is less a way to create a competitive advantage than a way to avoid creating a competitive disadvantage in one specific area.

Of course, a company is never outstanding in all regards (otherwise the company has made no strategic choice) and can always use guru advice in one area or outsource the activity. Finally, one might consider that "closing the gap" is as strategic an activity as "innovating ahead of the pack" because a system is as strong as its weakest element.

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