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Sociologist Best (Damned Lies and Statistics) dissects the dangerous hula hoops of business, medicine, science and education in this light exposition on institutional fads. According to Best, American attitudes toward progress (colored by optimism, competitiveness, a belief in positive change and a fear of being seen as old-fashioned) serve as kindling to the fire of the next big cure, technological revolution, business management secret or teaching method. Best delineates stages of the fad life-cycle ("emerging," "surging," then finally "purging") and identifies conditions and players essential to creating a successful fad (a problem needs a solution, which is then proposed by originators and pushed by promoters), and though he makes an intuitive and immensely readable case, his book suffers from a dearth of hard data and case studies (the hypothetical "Dr. Michael" and "Professor Alice" used to illustrate Best's points feel contrived and simple). Similarly, his five rules for "fad-proofing" will work well for an individual, but those who adhere to his principles and swim against the tide in a large organization may find themselves reading this book in the soup line.
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Best is author of Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists (2001) and several other books that take a fresh look at social trends. Although the title might suggest a whimsical look at the pop-culture fads that we all love to make fun of, this book focuses on a much lesser- but more insidious version: the institutional fad. Institutional fads occur in business, education, government, and medicine whenever normally rational people embrace novel solutions just because they are the latest, greatest thing. Since the definition of a fad is something that catches on and then quickly fades away, these passing solutions waste a lot of resources and can even leave damage in their wake. Some institutional fads that may not be all they were cracked up to be include multiple-personality-disorder diagnoses, business management systems such as Six Sigma, and the No Child Left Behind program. Best examines the life cycle and dynamics of fads and suggests some basic adages for becoming "fad-proof," such as "remember last time." David Siegfried
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