On gurus: reputation management and digestibility

Tom Davenport has created a list of the top 20 management gurus for the Wall Street Journal.

Psychologists, journalists and celebrity chief executives crowd the top of a ranking of influential business thinkers compiled for The Wall Street Journal. The results, based on Google hits, media mentions and academic citations, ranked author and consultant Gary Hamel No. 1. [New Breed of Business Gurus Rises – WSJ.com]

The list itself can be found at the end of another WSJ article. It repeats an exercise carried out in 2003.
As interesting as the articles themselves is Davenport’s commentary on them in his Harvard Business Publishing blog. I thought two things were especially interesting.
The first is the growing importance of reputation management in our Internet age. Davenport writes about why Jim Collins is not higher on the list (and judging by airport book stands one would expect him to be!).

Why isn’t he higher if his ideas are so good? Unfortunately, the list is not a ranking of the quality of the ideas. A high-ranking management guru has to be a good promoter as well as a good researcher and sound thinker. Collins—like Michael Porter, who was at the top of the 2003 list but fell a bit (to #14) in the new list—doesn’t do a lot of conference speeches, doesn’t have much of a web presence, and doesn’t write much in the popular press. If you want your ideas to be really influential, you’ve got to be out hawking them all the time. [The New Gurus – Harvard Business Online’s Tom Davenport]

The second is the emphasis on ease of reception in an environment which is increasingly resource-rich but attention-scarce:

Interestingly, none of these latter three people are traditional management experts. Friedman and Gladwell are primarily journalists, and Gardner is an educational psychologist. Why have these interlopers prospered to such a degree? I chalk it up to two factors: the increased desire to master people issues in business—we’ve finally realized they’re always the most difficult to address—and the ever-decreasing attention span of businesspeople. Many of them want few academic details and an entertaining story, which these journalists know how to provide. I don’t always agree with the quality of Gladwell’s evidence, but I am certainly impressed by his writing ability. Some of Friedman’s ideas seem quite obvious to me, but he knows how to put together a sentence. That didn’t matter much in the old days of management gurudom, but it seems much more important now. [The New Gurus – Harvard Business Online’s Tom Davenport]

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One thought on “On gurus: reputation management and digestibility”

  1. Chris Argyris wrote a critical articles possibly about 4 years ago about management gurus and fads – can-t find it from home (retired), but I dug up a monograph directly related – by Brad Jackson – Management Gurus and Management Fashions.
    Also, Pffefer and Sutton from Stanford criticized the management literature and education for emphasizing case studies of success over case studies of failure as a learning tool – in their book on Evidence based management

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