How to Spot a


How to Spot a Phony

So what is a manager to do? There are a lot of people out there selling a lot of ideas, and some of those ideas are good. The challenge is to tell the good from the bad. For starters, I propose three guidelines that managers can use to help them decide.

First, be wary of people who say they have invented something new, and who swear you can't get it from anyone else. There are few, if any, new ideas about management practices. On top of that, most old ideas are good (or their flaws known) and most new ideas are bad (or at least their flaws are not known). As my Stanford colleague Jeffrey Pfeffer likes to say, "Instead of being interested in what is new, we ought to be interested in what is true."

Second, if you hear claims that some management genius has a breakthrough idea—and there is no sign that his or her ideas are based on others' work—assume the person is being dishonest or ignorant. Follow people like Stephen Covey, who says he hasn't invented the ideas he talks about; he is just reminding people of things that matter, but which they sometimes forget.

Third, if someone tries to sell you a new program or practice, ask that person what might go wrong during implementation, and how your business or people might suffer even if you implement correctly. If they can't or won't answer your questions, find someone else to help you—or better yet, urge them to visit your competitors.

Robert I. Sutton is a management science and engineering professor at Stanford University and author of Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing and Sustaining Innovation. Sutton also co-leads Stanford's Center for Work, Technology and Organization. His next column will appear in February.

This article was originally published on 12-01-2002
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