Is business school innovation just about technology? 

John Byrne has published a provocative article on LinkedIn titled The most innovative business school ideas of 2015.

It’s an interesting survey of 10 U.S. business school initiatives that are deemed to be innovations. All of them involve the use of technology. The notions of innovation and technology are thus conflated. It appears that there can be no innovation without technology.

John makes some interesting claims. Firstly he suggests that:

“Most often, business school professors trot out well-worn examples from world class innovators ranging from Apple and Facebook to Uber and Tesla.”

Whilst I’m sure such famous brand examples are used frequently I know that many of my colleagues use just as interesting and less well known examples from their commercial experience and research. 

For example in my world of gambling one of the most disruptive innovations was the ‘nudge’ feature on slot machines, an idea patented by Cranfield Ltd (not related to the UK business school btw) 

Secondly the article appears to be grounded in the assumption that business school innovation is all about the way in which course content is delivered.

“Among all the innovation to hit the business school marketplace this year, we think there are at least ten that truly stand out–and deserve credit for being highly creative attempts to improve business education.”

I would ask if the delivery of business education through technological applications such as Mooc’s or revised on-line courses are educational improvements per se.

Sure the ‘delivery’ might be novel but are the educational (pedagogic/androgogic) approaches necessarily much different. 

The article does hint that content /educational innovations matter, but John makes another claim that I’m not sure accurately represents how management research happens. He says:

“For years, academics in narrow disciplines largely constructed theories of business education in the abstract, hoping that their outcomes would eventually line up with market needs.”

Really? John I recommend you read Evert Gummesson’s book Qualitative Research in Management Research. The first implied assumption in your statement is that management researchers exclusively use deductive theory building as the starting point for their research. In other words they sit in ivory towers inventing theories about business practice and then testing them out to see if they are false (Popper)

The second is that researchers restrict themselves to narrow silos. 

Taking the first assumption. Along with many management researchers a significant amount of theory is derived inductively. It starts with real world practice and produces deep and insightful explanations of that practice. Theories are explanations not simply abstract prescriptions that are waiting for the real world to play catch up. They ‘are’ the real world.

Taking the second assumption. In my case when I examined key account managers and value creation I didn’t restrict my research to ‘narrow’ managerial theory either, I made use of social constructionism (Schutz, Berger and Luckmann, Burr) Identity  theory (Elliott, Lawler, Goffman) Relevence Theory (Grice, Sperber and Wilson) and Imagination Theory (Brann, Warnock, Beaney). Whilst I agree these might not be common managerial areas of study  and they are definitely not ‘narrow’ in themselves nor was drawing from a diverse range of theory an exercise in ‘narrowing’.

The biggest omission in the article overall seems to be the way in which innovative business school thinking is scarcely touched on. 

No comment is made about challenges to the taken for granted dominant US business school paradigm of management that underpins the examples of technological innovation given in the survey.

Where is the challenge to positivistic research methodology? Where is the challenge to linear rational management analysis and decision making? Where is the challenge to the de-humanising of management practice through focus on technique and process?

I would argue that business school innovation truly starts by disrupting the educational paradigm on which many courses and curricula are based and that includes the feted MBA itself. 

So rather than just seeing business schools as merely training organisations (and the hand maidens of industry) which seems to be inferred when John gives the example of a school developing;

” a pathway or of cohesive courses that help students develop a specific set of skills(my emphasis).

I would argue that the only way business schools can be seen as innovators is by challenging the very subject of business itself. 

I suggest that innovative business school thinking comes through provoking practioners to critically reflect on business as a social phenomenon, to challenge its principles and its ways of acting, to devise new ways of seeing. 

True business school innovation is thus not the application of technology. It is the use of the very faculty of mind that has been disparaged for decades as childish and unreliable and rejected as unscientific by the dominant objectively driven outlook of the US business school paradigm. The human imagination is the source and application of business school innovation.

Is it time to throw away your marketing ideas?

Trash-to-TreasureRecently I wrote about how ideas come and go in the field of marketing.

It’s as if marketing practice has become a parody of itself through the relentless consumption of the latest management ideas and the disposal of ‘worn once’ theories.

This analogy could be stretched further if you then think of university business schools as the sweat shops where marketing ideas are churned out for the insatiable demands of journals and readers.

The image on the Luevo website shown here seemed to capture the sentiment I had in mind perfectly. Imagine yourself as a marketing executive rummaging around your wardrobe of latest marketing ideas desperately trying to find something to wear at the next strategy meeting, product innovation gathering or the next campaign planning session.

An article by Rebecca Coleman in Marketing Week really brought this home to me when she wrote about us entering the post mindfulness era. No doubt many of you will have read about and even experienced a mindfulness course. All the rage over the last couple of years as a way of improving you work/life balance and your personal effectiveness. Now it seems mindfulness is just a disposable fashion item.

The issue of managerial fads and fashion is not new. Most MBA courses will get their students to write an essay exploring it. What intrigues me is why practitioners hunger for new idea after new idea when many of the deepest and most helpful marketing insights have been uncovered years ago?

Neuro-marketing is another. The lure of mystical insights into the workings of the customer’s mind is beguiling. But are we really finding out anything new and helpful about customer thinking and behaviour?

Do marketing people really need to know the inner working of the brain when we already know that novelty and surprise  turn customers on? Surely practitioners only need to operate at the level of analysis of the general phenomenon rather than delve deep cognitive and neurological functioning of the most complex organism in the universe? Are we marketeers or doctors of medicine? Knowing serotonin levels might be very interesting but does it impact on the bottom line?

What if we turned the issue on it’s head? I would argue that the central ideas we have in marketing are enduring (customer centricity, competitor awareness, value creation). What changes are the cohorts of new entrants into the profession each year eager to learn. Is this why there is a demand for ideas? Not new ideas but new people wanting to learn? For them everything will be ‘new’ and ‘new’ is better.  It’s as if the classic wisdom of the profession somehow gets lost in the pursuit of the fashionable idea. Ideas from the 1960s reappear with a slight style twist of today.

Just like fashionable clothes too the experienced business person will say ‘but we did that years ago’ (focusing on the similarity of ideas) whereas the early career marketer will say ‘this is the latest thing’ (focusing on the difference of ideas to satisfy their craving for novelty).

So if we look at the example of Sentiment Analysis which is all the rage in tracking social media to find out how is saying positive and negative things about your brand on Twitter and Facebook. Where is the difference between that and the enduring concern with understanding what your customers say about your products and services that has been around for decades?

Simply look at:

Keith R.J. (1960) The Marketing Revolution. Journal of Marketing.

Miles L.D. (1961) Techniques of Value Analysis and Engineering. New York: McGraw- Hill Book Company.

Both emphasise the need to listen to the customer.

Then look at:

Griffen A. Hauser J.R. (1993) The Voice Of The Customer. Marketing Science (12) -1 which is the seminal work on this topic.

Maybe it’s time to take a step a back, slow down and go back to the classics?

My suggestion would be why not ‘wear’ an original idea rather than some superficial modern day copy?

McKitterick J.B (1957) What is the Marketing Concept? In Frontiers of Marketing Thought and Science. Frank M Bass.ed. Chicago. Amercian Marketing Association. Pp71-87
Bagozzi R.P. (1974) Marketing as Exchange. Journal of Marketing(38)
Kotler P. Levy, S.J. (1969) Broadening the concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing Vol 33,(1) pp 10-15
Kotler P. (1972) A Generic Concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing, 36, (April), 46-54
Levitt T. (1960) Marketing Myopia. Harvard Business Review.
Levitt T. (1980) Marketing Success through the differentiation of anything. Harvard Business Review.
Levitt T. (1981) Marketing Intangible Products and Product Intangibles. Harvard Business Review.
Levy S. (1959) Symbols for Sale . Harvard Business Review
Borden N.H., 1964. The concept of the marketing mix. Journal of Advertising Research 4 (2), 2–7.
McCarthy J. (1964), Basic Marketing. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin.
Aaker J. Dimensions of Brand Personality Journal of Marketing Research, 1 August 1997, Vol.34(3), pp.347-356
Holbrook M.B. (1999) Consumer value: a framework for analysis and research. Routledge, London
Ravald A. and Gronroos C. (1996) The Value Concept and Relationship Marketing, European Journal of Marketing, 30, No, 2, pp. 19-30.
Woodruff R.B. (1997) Customer value: The next source for competitive advantage: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 139-153
Bower M., Garda R. A. (1985) The role of marketing in management. The McKinsey Quarterly, 3, 34−46.









Who are typical LinkedIn users?

Stats from Pew Research suggest that LinkedIn is one of the few social media platforms where the over 50s outnumber 18-25’s.

It’s also somewhere where degree qualified early to mid career people hang out. 

This got me wondering. It got me wondering about the topics and tone of the posts I see in my LinkedIn timeline. 

What I noticed was that they fell into two broad camps. The first were all about ‘how to do business better’; better leadership, better processes, better tools. The second were all about personal values and the meaning and purpose of life, typically in format of ‘life hacks’, spirituality and philosophy.

Given the demographic of LinkedIn users it suddenly all became clear. The dominant user groups are at particular life stages and points of transition. 

Of course many of you will be familiar with the notion of ‘mid-life’ crisis. Less people know that this idea comes from the work of Daniel Levinson who examined the stages of life we pass through and how we cope with the change. 

So the we end up with two broad themes of LinkedIn post.

  • How to have a better career
  • How to lead a better life

The former contain problem solving tips and the latter contain philosophical reflections. 

The former I would guess are avidly read by early and mid career readers and the latter the post 55 year olds reflecting on achievements and what comes next.

So what does this mean for my blog posts? Typically I don’t post things like 7 ways to improve customer retention and neither do I go the life hack route of ‘we’re all at one with the universe’.

So what sort of posts do I write? And more interestingly why would anyone bother to read them? What is the pattern that connects (cf Gregory Bateson) my posts?

I suppose I would classify them as hopefully thought provoking and also digging at the assumptions that sit behind the content. The stuff that the writers don’t actually declare but I find really interesting.

Now that’s interesting. I seem to be applying the judgemental heuristic. That rule of thumb that is used by people who think what they find interesting is interesting to other people too. 

Looks like my reader stats may never be in the millions! 

Marketing capability starts and stops with people and ideas

One of my favourite tv programmes as a kid was Fireball xl5. It featured a funny animal called Zoonie the Lazoon and the smart robot called Robert. 

An enduring theme in science fiction writing is the role of really smart robots and how they relate to human beings and being human. Data in Star Trek and the robot in I-robot all wonder about being human. That emotive, illogical and unpredictable being that brought them into existence. 

So much of contemporary marketing it seems to me seeks to de-humanise business. Forget the rhetoric of customer centricity and relational value, just scratch the ‘warmth factor’ surface and you see that organisations think and treat customers as a resource to mine and exploit. 

In parallel marketing professionals laud the application of objective analysis and decision making and have fallen madly in love with the power and reach that social technologies have provided. 

There is talk in marketing circles that digital skills are what marketing is. The more like Robert the Robot you are the better chance of landing a marketing job.

Because I disagree with this point of view I found this recent article in Forbes magazine very interesting. 

Titled that ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket. It tells the story of how people who have studied subjects such as drama and philosophy have made a huge impact in high tech businesses like Slack the team Comms app that is growing like mad at the minute. 

The case in point is the slack bot – a technical help assistant that pops up when you use Slack. It’s humanity was instilled in it by Anna Pickard. 

“Such creativity can’t be programmed. Instead, much of it is minted by one of Slack’s 180 employees, Anna Pickard, the 38-year-old editorial director. She earned a theater degree from Britain’s Manchester Metropolitan University”

The point for me is that talk of marketing capability always starts with someone and happens between people. It can’t be programmed and it’s not an isolated skill or trait. It is inherently social. 

So if your business is having problems forget strategy and product reviews, forget reliance on digital technologies and review the capability to generate the nature and relevance of these things to the business in the first place.

Creating customer value through social interaction

Doing business is a social activity. That’s why I’ve always been troubled by tips for business success that fall into one of two camps.

The first camp gives us advice on how to do things better such as analytical tools or ways to do things more logically. 

The second camp gives us insights into the workings of the mind wherebye the deeper you delve the more you understand what makes people tick. The latest fad in this area is the passion for neuro-science. 

The problem with both these approaches for me is that what happens between people is overlooked or simply wished away as ‘a problem of communication’.

Just recently I’ve dipped back into Gregory Bateson’s book Mind and Nature in which he sets out the way in which we learn about the world about us. 

This quote on the importance of the interpersonal caught my attention.

“Relationship is not internal to the single person. It is nonsense to talk about “dependency” or “aggressiveness” or “pride,” and so on. All such words have their roots in what happens between persons, not in some something-or-other inside a person.”

Bateson observes that we get a ‘bonus’ of understanding when we have more than one perspective. The biological example is binocular vision. Two eyes don’t just simply double up on sight they add the bonus of giving depth to vision.

Therefore if you want to understand how sales interactions work there is a bonus in understanding the interaction between two entities rather than just focussing on the traits of the buyer or the seller or aspects of the process. 

Bateson’s insight also implies that a better understanding of value creation will come from the combined insights of process, personal and interpersonal such that a ‘meta-understanding’ is gained.

This moves beyond mere problem solving to understanding how things happen in successful supplier-customer interactions.

It is with this in mind that my recent research noticed three things occuring in the interpersonal sphere that are not addressed elsewhere.

These are:

The capability to read social contexts 

The capability to grasp relevence 

The capability to construct possible realities through imagination

Each of these plays a crucial part in creating customer value. Each occurs in the interpersonal domain. None are things or exclusively individual traits.

These ideas also resonate with the notion of value in use from Service Dominant Logic such that value is always an interaction rather than an exchange.

Is this the last post for marketing?

I don’t know if you noticed anything in the pattern of posts that fill the inter web on marketing issues?

There seems to be a common rhythm to all of them. The first is news of something new that must be taken on board. Then comes the ‘naming frenzy’ (Omni-channel, shoppable to name two) and then comes the ‘it’s all over now’ phase.

My observation coincides with a dip back into Gregory Bateson’s book Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity & the Human Sciences)

Mind and Nature
In this fascinating and sometimes challenging book he sets out his ideas of the ‘pattern that connects’ and information as ‘the difference that makes a difference’.

Now any marketing communications person will tell you that you need to stand out by cutting through the noise. This is what Bateson is driving at. We only notice something if it contrasts with the norm and we take it to be relevent.

So ‘new’ marketing ideas are always framed as ‘disruptive’ or ‘apocalyptic ‘. Other wise why would any of us pay attention?

Then of course marketing peeps attend meetings, do presentations and this new thing becomes the ‘new normal’. It stops being different!

This creates a problem. People stop taking an interest in marketing stuff and the consequences could be job and career threatening. So what’s a marketeer to do?

Demonstrate ‘thought leadership’ that’s what! Be the first recognise  to trap of the new normal and introduce an even newer idea.

Digital marketing? That’s sooooo yesterday.

What we have now is a fixation with posts. Post capitalismPost advertising, and God forbid Post human brands.

What does all of this infer about the marketing thought leaders who so graciously tell us ‘we are all doomed’. Will we enter a ‘post doom era’ in marketing?

I reckon it’s all about professional identity. Marketing is about spotting change and there is a race by the hyper networked marketeer to spot the latest difference that will make a difference. And then of course as true marketing people – brand it with a catchy name that everyone can share.

Did I just say ‘hyper networked’ omg I’ve done it, I’ve spotted a new normal. A world of frenetic social media connection with no other purpose than to connect.

I can’t wait for the ‘post hyper networked era’ now so I can lie on beach with cocktail and ignore everyone in my social networks.

…and there’s more, yet another example of a shiny new idea described as the age of corporate differentiation which Forrester in turn call The age of the customer (funny, I thought marketing had already done that one?) and CMO magazine call the age of transparency.

Now the smart thing about describing things in ‘eras’ or ages is that you only have to wait a while before ‘you’ve been there and done that’ and the ‘age’ gets past by. A sort of post age of you like…which ironically sort of describes the current age of social media. Which in turn means it’s over before its begun…now my head is really fried!

No wonder because the Harvard Business Review is saying we are in the Age of digital telepathy – (so what age are we in?) – this quote explains this spooky era:

Augmented knowledge. We don’t recognize it as such, but we are living in an age of digital telepathy, where we can send information directly to each other’s brains via the internet. Scientists at the University of Southern California have been working on a cognitive neural prosthesis.”

On December 21st 2015 I picked up yet another from Marketing Week – we are now approaching the era of Post Mindfulness – this article follows the typical pathway described above. First we were told mindfulness was coming, then we were told mindfulness is critical for competitive advantage and now we are told mindfulness is yesterday’s news.

It seems like marketing people are becoming unthinking consumers of disposable ideas.

Donald Trump, demogogues and propaganda inoculation theory 

Donald Trump is not unique in US politics. Back in the 1930’s and the time of Franklin D Roosevelt there were several populist politicians who tried to roust up public opinion on the economic and political issues of the time.

So called Demogogues perhaps the most notorious was Father Charles Coughlin whose anti Jewish rhetoric was used to drum up support for the Nazis.

Like them Trump grossly over simplifies the issues and attempts to polarise opinion. Most thoughtful people would cast Mr Trump as a dangerous meddling buffoon.

Or is he?!

What if he is actually working for the US government as part of a sophisticated propaganda communications exercise?

In 1961 social psychologist William McGuire came up with a notion of persuasion he called  Inoculation Theory. The basic idea is that you get people to come round to your way of thinking by giving them a mild dose of the argument you want to defeat.

What happens is people start thinking through the counter arguments and take up a very strong position against the propositions being put forward.

So imagine…Trump is putting forward some extreme ideas but the US government want him to do that because it starts the inoculation process. The public react with counter arguments and then end up taking the tolerant open minded position the government wanted in the first place!

Et voila instead of being told to appreciate diversity you reach that conclusion for yourself. Job done and Mr Trump does his bit for the cause.

Don’t believe me? The UK’s Daily Telegraph headlines this morning with British Backlash Against Trump after previously describing him as Worse than Voldemort.

What do you think?

And it appears that I’m not the only one who smells a rat (no hairstyle pun intended). Some people think that Donald Trump is actually a Democrat Agent intent on destroying the Republicans from within.

Choosing A Good Marketing Masters Dissertation Topic


One of the biggest challenges masters students face is choosing their own research topic.

Typically the final stage of the masters degree journey, the dissertation represents the point at which students truly take charge of their own learning.

Choosing a masters dissertation topic seems deceptively straightforward and yet the reality often plays out very differently.

Part of the problem is deciding the general topic of interest. In my area of business and management and in particular marketing this always poses a problem.

That’s why from this post is the first in a new category of posts I’ll be posting on my blog called Marketing Dissertation Ideas. 

Posts that get categorised as marketing dissertation ideas will hopefully spark some interest for further research. 

Today I came across the  Brandalism campaign that is being run to coincide with the Paris Climate change summit. Basically they have hijacked the VW brand to run a series of anti-consumerism adverts. 

So how could this become a marketing dissertation ? The first question to answer is ‘does this topic interest me’? 

Next you want to consider what general areas of marketing it relates to. In this case Brand management, ethical marketing and consumerism and do some general reading around those themes.

The next trick is to try and define ‘what do I want to find out’. This is technically called your primary research question. This is not as easy at it seems so thinking through exactly what you want to research is time consuming and intellectually demanding.

Students who expect the tutor to do this for them are in for a shock. The ability to set your own question is a mark of an independent learner. 

So let’s say you are intrigued by brandalism you will need to have a general grasp of the field of branding and a detailed understanding of the principles and particulars of brandalism. 

You can then consider things such as:

What effect does brandalism have on consumer behaviour?

How do brand owners respond to brandalism

How does brandalism influence customer attitudes to original brand 

And so on. It’s brainstorming until to reach a point where you say ‘that’s exactly what I’m interested in and want to research’

So more posts to follow that will give you ideas for your marketing dissertation. Let me know what you think.

Brandalism in Marketing Week

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