Like anyone who has been in the industry for a while I’ve got my fair share of reference books at home. Those weighty must-read tomes that cycle through every few months, the game changers, the paradigm-redefining, industry catalytic volumes that will turn everything upside down.

For laughs (I desperately need to get out more) I wrote a quick list of the subjects recently.

Lean Startups. Off-shoring. Out-sourcing. Lean Supply Chain. Blue Ocean. Cluetrain. Near-sourcing. Balanced Scorecard. One-2-One. Long Tail. Six Sigma. Net Promoter. ERP. Innovation from Dilemmas to Challenges to Solving. And then the inevitable slew of branding bibles from Porter, Aaker to Klein and Lindstrom. And then a few sneaky one’s about Y2K. Remember when that particular business conundrum was going to throw us all back to living in caves and hunting with spears?

This isn’t testimony to my reading acumen, my ADD or my gullibility when faced with a “New in Business” table at Chapters. It struck me that this is more reflective of a desire in all managers to find that elusive silver bullet that will magically transform their business.

Two recent articles reinforced this “desire” to me.

Pepsi’s much publicized hiring of design thinking guru Mauro Porcini. Pepsi needs Porcini (there’s a song in there somewhere) because, in the words of his boss, “design and design thinking is a significant vector of innovation and therefore growth”. Please understand I’m a huge fan of design thinking but this from a company that in 24 months stumbled from troubling brand redesign to huge social media gambit “Project Refresh” and is still getting hammered by a market that wants more results.

The other appeared in HBR on the subject of Innovation. Bill Taylor makes a very articulate point about the excess turmoil created by the phrase Innovation. He’s right. Design Thinking and Innovation are the latest chapter in management consultancy wizardry and the latest “must execute” imperative. Add “Big Data” and you’ve got the triumvirate.

So are all these faddish obsessions pointless? Is there no merit in even trying them? Of course not, but some commonsense should prevail.

Can your organization absorb and react to change? These initiatives are messy, even bloody. Can your organization really absorb that? Have you a history, like Porcini’s alum 3M, where change is almost codified in the behaviour of individuals and departments? Nokia prided itself on an ability to radically change. Judging from recent history, that is an ethos from the past not the present.

Are you really committed to this initiative? That doesn’t just mean financial but across the board. Are you prepared for the inevitable falters, mis-steps and errors? Will you stick to the project knowing that it’s unlikely to bear real fruit for at least a year or two? AG Lafley is widely credited for transforming P&G into a design thinking organization…but that transformation took almost a decade of continuous commitment to occur. Are you prepared to wait that long to succeed?

Is your change agent really empowered or just window dressing? We’ve all read the big PR releases when big names join big companies to enact big change. Months, even weeks, later they leave quietly out of a side door. Keith Pardy at Nokia, then RIM. Carol Bartz at Yahoo. Remember Lafley’s predecessor at P&G Durk Jager? Much vaunted then quickly replaced.

Is the change right for your kind of business? Many of these change initiatives are sold as universally applicable. Every enterprise in every sector should do it. That’s bollocks. Six Sigma was superlative for some, poorly suited to others. ERP and Outsourcing – great for some, not so peachy for others. Bill Taylor’s HBR article suggests Innovation (at least upper case “I” innovation) is the same. It is fantastic but not the domain for everyone.

The point Hilton?

Like the metaphorical title of this blog says, silver bullets are great when you’re hunting werewolves but pretty frigging useless against vampires. Know the business beast you’re tackling. Then you know if you’d be better off carving some wooden stakes rather than investing millions in an arsenal of silver bullets.

This blog was spurred by a great LI group discussion. I just wanted to thank those participants for their input and opinions.

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