In December 2000 the management guru Tom Peters visited Norway for the first time, to conduct a seminar about his latest book (Peters, 2000). The seminar was presented in the business press with the rhetoric of rock concerts: ‘Tom Peters performs live in Norway for the first time’, ‘release of his latest book’. The only difference from a rock concert would be the price. Not even old Rolling Stones fans would be willing to pay £1,000 for a concert ticket.
It was curiosity about the extreme popularity of such management gurus and ideas that initiated a book project upon which this article is based (Rolfsen, 2000). In a research project on business development in Norwegian industry, fads and fashions had been a recurrent theme. We wanted to investigate the most popular concepts used by the participating companies.
The title of this chapter, ‘The tyranny of trends’, is a metaphor for the normal view on this field: the managers as slavish followers of new fashions. Until recently, the field has not been given serious consideration among organizational researchers. Fads and fashions in management have been arrogantly rejected as mere pulp literature. Since the mid 1990s, however, the theme has been investigated with increased interest.
I will start the chapter with a brief summary of the literature on organizational concepts, and present the ‘tyranny approach’ upon which much of the literature is based. Second, I will focus on the communication issues and success criteria, trying to explain the extreme popularity of these textbooks. Third, I will present an alternative perspective where the different actors in the organization play an active part in the implementation process, based on one of our case studies.
There are many different labels on the phenomenon I will investigate in this chapter. Although the theme has received considerable academic attention during the last ten years, not many authors have tried to come up with a definition. Abrahamson (1996:257) is an exception, defining a management fashion