When I saw the book at the left, Hard Facts, I ordered it immediately. It hasn't yet arrived, so I obviously haven't read it, but this is exactly the kind of thing I like given my natural contrarian streak and my increasing frustration with "managament by platitude."
HBS has an excerpt from the book that takes on the practice of benchmarking.
There is nothing wrong with learning from others' experience-vicarious learning, as contrasted with direct experience, is an important way for both people and organizations to learn how to navigate a path through the world. After all, it is a lot cheaper and easier to learn from the mistakes, setbacks, and successes of others than to treat every management challenge as something no organization has ever faced before. So benchmarking-using other companies' performance and experience to set standards for your own company-makes a lot of sense. In the end, good or bad performance is defined and measured largely in relation to what others are doing.
The problem lies with the way that benchmarking is usually practiced: It is far too "casual." The logic behind what works at top performers, why it works, and what will work elsewhere is barely unraveled, resulting in mindless imitation. Consider a pair of quick examples. When United Airlines decided in 1994 to compete with Southwest in the intra-California marketplace, the company tried to imitate Southwest. United put its gate staff and flight attendants in casual clothes; it flew only Boeing 737s; it gave the service a different name, "Shuttle by United," and used separate planes and crews; it stopped serving food; it increased the frequency of its flights and reduced the scheduled time planes spent on the ground, copying Southwest's legendary quick turnarounds. Southwest, however, wound up with a higher market share in California than it had before United launched its imitation.7 The Shuttle failed and is now shuttered.
I'll be sure to blog about the book once I read it, if it turns out to be any good.