Many regard business fads as creations of their advocates, and adopters who waste resources on fads as innocent, if foolish, victims. While this view does contain some truth, it isn't entirely correct. Both adopters and advocates play roles in creating and sustaining fads.
Most business fads are indeed constructed by advocates. The instructions to advocates for creating and sustaining fads were written long ago by Edward Bernays, who summarized them in his 1928 book, Propaganda. In describing the role of a publicist, he writes:
He studies the groups which must be reached, and the leaders through whom he may approach these groups. Social groups, economic groups, geographical groups, age groups, doctrinal groups, language groups, cultural groups, all these represent the divisions through which, on behalf of his client, he may talk to the public.
In short, creating or sustaining business fads entails artful manipulation of the opinion-making organs of the subculture targeted for the fad.
For business fads, this means publishing books, journal articles, magazine articles, newsletters, Web sites, and tweets, while speaking at conferences and trade associations, appearing on business broadcasts, being interviewed by journalists, securing endorsements of opinion leaders, and, of course, advertising.
But advocacy would have little effect if people weren't susceptible to these means of influence. That susceptibility arises from multiple sources, many of which can be understood as components of what James G. March calls the logic of appropriateness. The term denotes the set of rules that apply to a specific kind of person in a specific kind of situation. This logic prescribes appropriate actions, including, perhaps, adopting a fad. Here are three components of the logic.
- Normative standards
- Normative standards are formal or informal expectations that decision-makers must meet. Their supervisors expect them to behave in ways similar to the behavior of others in analogous positions.
- If your subordinates have wasted resources on fads, perhaps you've been communicating expectations that might have contributed to their adoption decisions.
- The fear of doing nothing
- When a fad is ascendant, failure to adopt it, To insulate oneself from the pressure
to adopt fads, doing nothing
has to be acceptableor to at least be conversant in its concepts, can be interpreted as being ignorant, indolent or worse.
- To insulate oneself from the pressure to adopt fads, doing nothing has to be acceptable.
- The need for justification
- When decision makers need to justify their actions, there is no easier or more convenient "justification" than everyone-is-doing-it. It isn't actually a justification of anything, but supervisors often take it as such.
- To control fad adoption, start by noticing that everyone-is-doing-it justifies nothing.
Saving an organization from wasteful fads might require defying the logic of appropriateness. It might at the same time be both perilously unconventional and the right thing to do. Do you have the courage to do the right thing? First in this series Top Next Issue
Is your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!
Edward Bernays, author of Propaganda, is regarded as the founder of the field of public relations.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- How We Avoid Making Decisions
- When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways
to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's
a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
- Let Me Finish, Please
- We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to
interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly
common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
- FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
- Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the
world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open
a universe of new choices.
- The Reification Error and Performance Management
- Just as real concrete objects have attributes, so do abstract concepts, or constructs. But attempting
to measure the attributes of constructs as if they were the attributes of real objects is an example
of the reification error. In performance management, committing this error leads to unexpected and unwanted
- Bottlenecks: I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly
find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.