In this chapter Eric Abrahamson discusses the nature of fads so that those interested in application of complexity theory to management can better assess whether it has become one.
I confess up front that I don’t know a great deal about complexity theory, but I have studied management fads and fashions for the last ten or fifteen years. So, I don’t understand complexity theory well enough to comment on whether or not it is a fad, but I can discuss some different conceptions of what is a fad. Indeed the question, Is complexity theory a fad?, turns on another question, What exactly is a fad?
I can think of two definitions of a fad that are not productive. One is that it is something transitory, something that comes and goes, and so we would judge complexity theory by its duration. If we come back five years from now, will there still be sessions on complexity theory? If there aren’t, then it was a fad. If there are, it wasn’t. I don’t think that is a productive or effective way of thinking because ultimately everything is transitory; ultimately the Earth crashes into the Sun and all intellectual theories become unpopular—and so everything is a fad.
Sometimes the term fad is used to say that something is bad. Typically in the research on fads, it is interesting that something is called a fad at