Bad to Awful?

16 May 2009 at 9:46 am 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

Via John Hagel, here’s a Business Week preview of Jim Collins’s new book, How the Mighty Fall, and How Some Companies Never Give In, a profile of once-successful firms that go under. Will the new book avoid the core methodological fallacy that doomed Collins’s earlier work? Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear so:

At our research lab [sic], we’d already been discussing the possibility of a project on corporate decline, in part because some of the great companies we’d profiled in the books Good to Great and Built to Last had subsequently lost their positions of prominence. On one level this fact didn’t cause much angst; just because a company falls doesn’t invalidate what we can learn by studying that company when it was at its historical best.

True, but without some mechanism for distinguishing treatment and control, such an investigation can never be anything more than a collection of interesting vignettes. Collins and his team seem unable to grasp the fundamental scientific principle of cause and effect. Just because a particular behavior corresponds to a particular outcome (be it success or failure), there is no way to know if that behavior contributed to the outcome, without studying individuals or organizations that exhibited the same behavior but experienced a different outcome.

I eagerly await Phil Rosenzweig’s next book: The Horns-and-Pitchfork Effect.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Management Theory, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Myths and Realities.

Headline of the Day The Geography of Sin

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Art Carden  |  17 May 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I think it’s time we make good on our plans to become management gurus. I propose a three-part series: “The Awesomeness Paradigm,” “The Appearance of Awesomeness: When Awesomeness Fails,” and “Anti-Awesomeness.” The first book will explore profitable companies (Google, Starbucks, Walmart). The second will explore flashes in the pan that spiked after their IPOs and that have come back to Earth (Krispy Kreme, a lot of tech companies). The third will explore companies that made terrible products and that no longer exist. Our “Awesomeness Advice” will be “focus on maximizing profits,” and we’ll make a handful of suggestions that are specific enough to sound compelling but vague enough to not actually mean anything. Interested? Or am I just being cynical about management fads?

  • 2. Lasse  |  18 May 2009 at 5:03 am

    Awsome plan, I’m in.

  • […] Bad to Awful? by Peter Klein on Organizations and Markets […]

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