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STRATEGY

Too Good to Be True: A Critique of Business Advice

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Flawed Advice and the Management Trap
by Chris Argyris
Oxford University Press, 1999, 262 pages,$27.

Check out the shelves of any bookstore's business section, and you will be confronted with countless volumes offering advice. But how do you evaluate which of this advice is best for your situation?

In Flawed Advice and the Management Trap, author Chris Argyris reviews many of these books and concludes that most business advice is not actionable. The reason: The advice is too full of abstract claims, inconsistencies, and logical gaps and therefore is not useful as a "concrete basis for concrete actions in concrete settings."

Two Frameworks

According to Argyris, we all generally operate with two frameworks: One we espouse, and one we actually apply. The first framework reflects our ideals; the second framework, which Argyris terms our "theory in use," is what produces concrete action. Argyris maintains that most advice is conceived within the first "ideal" framework, but we need to use the advice in a concrete framework. This divide between the two frameworks is the root of the gaps and inconsistencies that make it impossible to act on this advice effectively.

Argyris takes the reader through some popular examples of business advice and conducts a step-by-step critique of each. He evaluates the advice not based on the ideals it represents, but instead on whether it can actually be applied in a real-world situation.

More important, Argyris provides his readers with the tools to conduct such critiques on their own. Now you will have a test to put advice to before you attempt to put it in action.

Opinionated Conclusions

You may not necessarily agree with all of Argyris's opinionated conclusions regarding some popular advice (Soundview's editors didn't). In fact, Argyris invites the reader to use his system to critique his own advice as well. But we think you'll find this a thought-provoking read ? and you'll have some valuable tools you can use the next time you are scanning the shelves of the local bookstore and come across an idea you'd like to apply to your business.

Copyright © 2000 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Last updated: May 1, 2000




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