Flavor of the Month

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I recently finished Joel Best's Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall For Fads. It's a good book that looks not only at fads like Hula Hoops and Atkins' Diets, but also managerial and business fads.

Best makes an excellent point in the beginning of the book, which is that fads are a product of our belief that change can make things better. Societies that don't embrace new ideas don't have fads. Our belief in improvement makes us willing to try new things, some of which turn out to be lasting changes, and some of which are fads. It is also difficult to distinguish between a fad and a real lasting change in the early days of diffusion because their adoption curves could look very similar.

The book analyzes the cycles of a fad, and follows through with more detailed explanations of why they get adopted. No one wants to get left behind. If we see what Best calls "the illusion of diffusion," we jump on the bandwagon. The media just perpetuates the problem because they are constantly looking for anything new that they can tell us about. When something is on the rise, we hear all about it and thus get the illusion of diffusion. Of course, when the fad dies off, no one writes about that.

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Best ends the book with suggestions for becoming fad proof.

  • Don't forget what happened last time.
  • Be skeptical of astonishing claims
  • Continue to insist on persuasive evidence
  • Don't focus on the fear of being left behind
  • Remember that people rarely proclaim their disappointments

The last point is one of the reasons I like annual reports. There will be lots of fanfare in the news when a company adopts something new, but little news when they shut down that line of business. An annual report will usually tell you that.

Overall, this is a good book that I would recommend for anyone that likes to follow the latest ideas. If things like Second Life, Crowdsourcing, and Social Networking get you excited, you need this book to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.