Go Forth & Multiply

Management, 1997-present, has been a lot like that movie Gremlins. We started out with a bunch of cute, cuddly new ideas, and before we knew it, the whole town had been overrun with trends. What's next?

In 1977, there was no such thing as a management trend-not, at least, as we know them today. Back then, almost nobody had heard of Tom Peters' search for excellence or total quality management, much less learning organizations, business process reengineering and the rest of the more recent additions to the management lexicon. The few trends that were around-hoary ideas like management by objective-had for the most part been in place for decades.

How times change. A list of current management tools maintained by Boston-based consulting firm Bain & Co. Inc. contains 66 entries, from visioning and corporate venturing to competitive gaming and data mining. Many more have come and gone unmarked by the Bain counters, including adventure learning, co-opetition, Tao-based management and attempts to translate concepts from theoretical quantum physics to the operation of a business.

Management trends are indeed getting more numerous and fleeting, according to Paula Phillips Carson, a management professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. "There are many more fads on the scene," says Carson, who has studied trends back to the 1950s.

"At the same time, we are finding that the life cycle is getting dramatically shorter," she adds. The average life cycle from introduction to decline for management fashions from the '50s to the '70s was 15 years, Carson found. In the 1980s, the cycle was about seven and a half years. "Fashions introduced in the 1990s," she says, "have an average life cycle of two and half years."

Technology: First it leveled the playing field. Where's it headed now?
Money: Capital was scarce 25 years ago. Here's its state today.
Management:Trends are multiplying fast. What will stand the test of time?
Marketing: Technology and personalization will rule this arena.
Franchising: Get ready . . . the golden age of franchising is upon us.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Go Forth & Multiply.

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