Business is not Darwinian

Freek Vermeulen urges b-school students to think independently, if they are to avoid the mistakes made by others.

BusinessBecause has spoken to Professor Freek Vermeulen about his blog, ‘FREEKY BUSINESS’, which claims that it ‘probes what really goes on in the world of business, once you get beneath the airbrushed façade’. Blogging seems the natural vehicle when seeking to expose bad management practices, and to give academic research a larger audience.

Tell us about yourself and your blog

I am an Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School. My blog is concerned partly with academic journals and articles, and partly with communicating to the future managers I teach in the classroom. Of course, it’s also an outlet for my desire to write!

Why did you start blogging?

I didn’t really do a lot of thinking about it – I just started! I read a lot of academic journals, which I find interesting, but they’re only really understandable for academics. I realised that these articles would be a great resource for practising managers, so I decided to ‘translate’ them on my blog, giving them a much wider readership.

What are the best things about being involved in the blogging world?

I’ve noticed that I learn a lot from writing up the most important and interesting messages from articles: it tends to clarify them in my own mind. But that’s a rather ego-centric benefit!
It also allows me to reach a worldwide audience, and end up in contact with all sorts of different people from faraway countries.

On your blog, and in your book ‘Business Exposed’, you try to look at what’s really going on in the world of business. What does this entail?

I do some research on controversial news topics, but I also expose issues researched by others which I don’t think are covered enough. For instance, when you look at the salaries of CEOs, and those on the board of directors, you realise that there is relationship between performance and salaries –there’s a lot of good evidence that indicates this. Salary levels tend to be more about who has managed to become part of a business's ‘inner circle’.

What is the most shocking thing you’ve uncovered?

In my own research, it has to be the long term consequences of some popular management practices. New management ideas are quickly adopted and spread to the extent that they can persist for decades – even centuries – without anyone analysing whether they actually do good. People assume that the market is somehow Darwinian, and that bad practices will be naturally filtered out. It’s a complete misconception, and unfortunately, genuinely harmful practices continue to be implemented.

What would be the one lesson you’d like all b-school students to take on board?

Don’t just copy what others do. It’s an incredibly bad idea! Not only can you pick up bad habits, you also lose any competitive advantage. Learn to think for yourself instead.

Comments.

Alexandra Dean

Wednesday 18th July 2012, 11.40 (Europe/Paris)

Pro Freek, isn't managing a publicly traded company the worst job in the world? Do you think fewer companies will list in future? Also, thank you for pointing out that the market is not Darwinian - as G4S proves

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