Can Big Data Fix Management Fads?

Ever wonder what’s in all those books on the business shelf in your local big box bookstore? Management fads. Some management guru comes up with a novel hypothesis about how to run companies better, goes out and finds some case studies to support their hypothesis, and voila! A fad is born.

And then you have the management gurus who poke holes in other gurus’ management fads. I find this lambasting of various fads deeply ironic, since what they’re really doing is promoting their own management fad. In other words, “my management fad is better than your management fad.” Join the club ? it seems that every book in the business book section is doing the same thing one way or the other. Battle of the management fads.

Not to say each fad doesn’t have its strengths, or isn’t evidence-based in some way. But as with all the other management fads, “evidence-based” means “I found a few case studies that back up my hypotheses.” It’s the same case-based reasoning that MBA schools use to churn out never-ending streams of people who end up managing companies more or less the same way everybody else does, for better or worse.

Of course, this case-based evidence argument is the core weakness in traditional management science. The entire field of management science seems to be based on confirmation bias, rather than real data.

Today, however, we have Big Data: we’re finally figuring out how to collect store, analyze, and manage far larger and more diverse data sets across the enterprise. If we play our cards right, we should be able to move beyond confirmation bias-based fads to true evidence-based management best practices.

But of course, we can’t let Big Data be just another management fad. Instead, Big Data promise to disrupt the whole notion of management fads, and with it, management science in general.

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