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Business philosophies and popular management theories

Business philosophies or popular management theories refers to a range of accounting, marketing, public relations, operations, training, labor relations, executive time management, investment, and corporate governance approaches claimed (by their proponents, and sometimes only by their proponents and selected clients) to improve business performance in some measurable or otherwise provable way.

These management theories often have their own vocabulary. They are sometimes built around the business philosophy of a single guru. They rarely have the sophistication or internal consistency to qualify as a school of philosophy in the conventional sense - some resemble a cult religion. What they tend to have in common is high consulting fees to consult with the "business gurus" who have created the "philosophy". Only rarely is the capacity to teach others transmitted to any trusted students - one of the key requirements of any legitimate school of philosophy or theology.

Most of these theories tend to be popular for a time (about 5 to 10 years). Then they disappear from the popular consciousness. Occasionally one has lasting value and gets incorporated into textbooks and into academic management thought.

Some examples

It is a highly subjective exercise deciding what theories to include in this list. Some of these theories will likely have lasting merit. Only time will tell.

One would be the Experience economy thesis. Others include the Peter Principle and The Dilbert Principle. Some would include marketing warfare strategies and the Strategy of the Dolphin.

Tom Peter's "Excellence" theories could meet the criteria for being included in the list.

Proponents of the theory of constraints (e.g. its originator, Eliyahu M. Goldratt) claim it is an effective organization performance improvement approach, incorporating the practice of scientific critical thinking.

Reengineering might turn out to be a short term popular business philosophy.

Widely regarded approaches like agile process might be included, but they tend to be more focused strictly on software engineering, and do not claim to be applicable to solve broader problems in all types of business.

Natural Capitalism, as another example, tends to confine its claims to improving natural resource and energy use to create a more efficient service economy. These make very sober and limited claims and do not apply to all businesses. They are to that degree probably also more credible.

Another example might be Arthur Andersen, a management consulting and accounting firm, which touted its methodology as a cure for most of what corporate or government clients identified as wrong with them. This methodology was taught to thousands of young Andersen recruits over decades, and expanded to fill several thick books. People outside Andersen rarely understood it. Just prior to the Y2K "crisis" (or "fraud" depending on your point of view) the firm split, and its management consulting arm became Accenture. In 2001 the accounting arm went down in the Enron accounting scandals, giving rise to loud cries for accounting reform. Accounting, by definition, is supposed to be the most tangible and reliable set of practices in business.

Accordingly, some doubt the viability or real value of Accenture's methods as well. Since the Andersen school of business philosophy was probably the most developed such school, the question of whether there is any legitimate work in such generally-applicable methodologies has arisen. The term mythodology came into use briefly to describe such overly-broad methods.

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