Gokarn V. "Arrival of the Idea Practitioner" Business Standard, December 11 2003.

Eugene Garfield garfield at CODEX.CIS.UPENN.EDU
Thu Dec 11 13:22:52 EST 2003

Vasant Gokarn : vasgok at hotmail.com

Business Standard, December 11, 2003 (online)

TITLE       Arrival of the idea practitioner
AUTHOR      Vasant Gokarn
Published : December 5, 2003

The last two years have witnessed a quiet revolution in Indian industry. A
year ago, many corporates took industry watchers by surprise with their

With hardly any growth in the top line, there was a substantial improvement
in the bottom line. This year, with the economic resurgence, there has been
buoyancy in the topline as well as in the bottom line.

To take two examples: Tata Motors saved Rs 960 crore in manufacturing
expenses in the last two years.Tata Steel increased its per man year
productivity of steel from 209 tonnes to 254 tonnes. Just what were the
steps taken that brought about such outstanding performance?

Who were the people who implemented the ideas? How does one ensure that
these measures are sustainable and that old habits do not resurface once the
market pressures are off?

Enter the Idea Practitioner.The authors of this book, Thomas Davenport and
Laurence Prusak have done a good job in highlighting the role of the idea
practitioner,who is a vital link between an idea and the results but who
often remains in the background,unnoticed and unheralded.

It is the idea practitioner who determines what ideas make sense for his
organisation,modifies them to suit his needs and mobilises the
organisation's resources to make them real.

The authors have impeccable credentials for writing this book,having been
researchers,consultants and idea practitioners themselves.

In the course of writing this book,they have interviewed many idea
practitioners,some of whom have been profiled. As the authors claim, this is
probably the first book on the subject.

The authors then go on to discuss how ideas are sourced (management gurus
are one source but not the only one),how they need to be packaged and sold
within the organisation,how resources need to be mobilised within the
organisation(and often outside the organisation) and finally how to make
them happen.

Ideas also have a life cycle,internal and external, and it is important to
bear in mind their interplay in the success of the implementation programme.
There is of course a mandatory reference to the methods adopted by GE like
'workouts' and 'boundaryless organisation' and the 'ideas factory' at

There is a tongue in cheek chapter on management gurus,as can be expected
from an idea practitioner.

The authors discuss the merits and demerits of the guru's background-
academics,practicing managers, consultants and business journalists.
By and large many management gurus tend to borrow ideas from successful
practices or practitioners, package them nicely, jazz them up with new
buzzwords and propagate them with evangelistic fervour.

Many ideas don't live up to the expectations generated by the initial hype
and some indeed turn out to be faddist.

One instance of this is Business Process Reengineering(BPR), to which the
authors have devoted a whole chapter.

They discuss the origin of this idea which first gained currency in the
early '90's, the hype surrounding it and the bandwagon effect and finally
its rapid decline with a mea culpa article by Michael Hammer,one of the
originators of this idea,in the Wall Street Journal in 1996,in which he
admitted that "he was insufficiently appreciative of the human dimension".
It is interesting to note that with the holistic approach adopted by Indian
industry, BPR may indeed have a second coming in India.

The authors have listed 200 management gurus in accordance with their
ranking, based on an empirical system (on the number of hits on Google
search, number of citations in Social Sciences Citation Index etc).
The top position is held by Michael Porter. In the No. 2 position is Tom
Peters,who is credited with turning management consulting into performance
art,as regular viewers of Richard Quest's programme, Global Office, on CNN
would have seen for themselves in recent weeks.

Gary Hamel, reputedly the world's richest consultant, is at No 7. There are
six Indian names, with C K Prahalad at 24 and Sumantra Ghoshal at 43.There
is also a list of 50 idea practitioners.There is only one Indian name,
Sanjiv Sidhu of i2 Technologies.

The concluding chapter on knowledge management,which is now a zeitgeist
(spirit of the times) idea, is a natural corollary.
Basically it involves tacit knowledge development and its propagation across
the company to its divisions and operational sites. The authors could have
made it more interesting with one or two case narrations.
However, the lack of these need not disturb the Indian reader who can easily
recall several outstanding instances in recent years both within the country
and outside.

One has only to reflect on the remarkable success achieved by L N Mittal,
who is now the second largest steelmaker in the world.

After acquiring several sick mills on the American continent and turning
them round, he started foraging in the rust belt of Eastern Europe and the
smaller states of the erstwhile Soviet Republic.

His recent acquisitions in Romania and Kirghizhistan of decrepit discarded
steel mills have turned out to be money-spinners within a few months. And
the managers who performed this feat are Indians who had honed their skills
in plants belonging to Steel Authority of India.

This is not a book for the executive on the run who is looking for instant
wisdom (despite its inviting title).

Rather it is for the silent manager in the backroom who has delivered the
astonishing results in the last two years and is seeking to articulate his
experiences.This should herald the arrival of the idea practitioner in
vasgok at hotmail.com

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Eugene Garfield, PhD. email:  garfield at codex.cis.upenn.edu
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