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Sunday, June 25, 2020

Business Fundamentalism Revisited



To maintain a realistic viewpoint, the relationship between evidence and belief should always be a balanced one. Too much doubt leads to cynicism and the unwillingness to believe anything, even when the evidence for it is strong. Too much dogmatic belief, despite weak or non-existent evidence, leads to fundamentalism: the unwavering attachment to a single point of view regardless of all evidence to the contrary.

In organizations, business fundamentalism often enforces its own version of political correctness. No one must question established ways of thinking or making decisions, even if the evidence against them is overwhelming. If they do, severe, if informal, sanctions may be brought against them. Those who do not subscribe to the approaches the rest deem to be “practical,” “tried and true,” “time tested,” and “down to earth,” are excluded from consideration for promotion and may be let go when opportunity presents itself. Whenever this happens, business fundamentalism destroys creativity, blocks needed change and keeps everyone’s thinking stuck on rigid paths. It doesn’t matter whether the acknowledged basis of fundamentalism is experience or some management theory of past or present. What matters is that it denies the possibility of other ideas or outlooks and ignores all contrary evidence. It places faith in the place where open inquiry should be and makes it clear that new ideas are not welcome.

Much of today’s management practice is fundamentalist, denying even the possibility that rigidly economic, spreadsheet logic could be inadequate to current and future needs. That’s one reason for all the rush and hurry. Keeping people constantly busy is a great way to stop them having time to think or ask awkward questions. Another powerful tool in the fundamentalist arsenal is the tough-sounding sound bite. Attempts to question management orthodoxy are labeled “soft,” “unrealistic” or “theoretical.” By grabbing the supposed high ground of experience and practicality, the fundamentalist conservatives of the organizational world have infected even business schools, who now churn out cloned MBAs with heads already filled with pre-set answers in place of people taught to question fully before giving their belief to any theory or statement, however widely accepted.

We should all slow down, ignore the dogmas of the fundamentalists, and subject every piece of management lore and theory to close examination. The truth has nothing to fear from such a process. Only the weak assumptions people cling to for comfort will be swept away. The problem with business fundamentalism is not so much that it is wrong, but that it is rigid and static. After all, if you already know all the answers, why bother to consider any more questions?

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2 Comments:

Morgan Goeller said...

Carmine --

Amen and hallelujah ! Hosanna in the highest!

In all seriousness, one of the biggest problems that organizations have are based on differences of philosophy. I find most often that conflict arises when coherentism clashes with foundationalism in the workplace. To make it worse, most people don't realize they are taking one side or the other, or that they are even in a philisophical debate. I would postuate that this debate is the essence of truthiness ;-)

BTW, I mused on the subject of "truthiness" on my own blog about Information Technology, Management and Quality.

9:34 AM  
Mike L. said...

Since you have "faith" and "hope" perhaps "love" (charity) also belongs in the top left corner. So we can match "fundamentalism + love", "gullibility + hope", "pig-headedness + faith".

4:45 PM  

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