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Less is sometimes more: promising practices reconsidered

Research output: Working paper

Publication date2006
Place of PublicationLancaster University
PublisherThe Department of Management Learning and Leadership
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Publication series

NameManagement Learning and Leadership Working Paper Series


This paper focuses upon the notion of the 'promising practice' which has recently been advanced as a potential resolution to the problem of the perceived gap in UK competitiveness. The promising practices in which such great faith is being stored include those of: TQM, JIT, BPR, quality certification schemes and lean manufacturing. Whilst accepting the underlying principles, the need for organization to engage in the acquisition, absorption and exploitation of knowledge, we proceed to problematise the current conceptualisation of promising practices by reference to the example of TQM. Resultantly, we argue that organizations that attempt to follow the advice based upon such a conceptualisation are likely to face difficulties. These include the scale of intervention, the temporal and financial costs involved, and the reliance upon codified knowledge. However, a final concern is perhaps the most demoralising of all. The notion of adopting TQM, or any other generic management philosophy as a promising practice, is incongruent with contemporary understandings of competitive advantage which hold that such advantage is gained via inimitability. Thus, we argue that it is unlikely for truly promising practices to be willingly shared and hence, we advance an alternative conceptualisation of a promising practice, that of Strategic Social Engineering, in an attempt to avoid the aforementioned obstacles.