James Champy, former reengineering guru, says there are lots of theories about why corporate spending and investment remain stagnant. In addition to continued worries over the Iraq war, skepticism over information technology ROI, and the lingering impact of business excess and greed, Champy suggests another reason: “Many managers, including people in very high places, just don’t seem to have any ambition or much of an appetite to do something big within their companies.” Whereas managers in the ‘90s were eager to snap up the latest how-to book on improving business practices, today many leaders are almost cynical about new ideas.  This “idea recession” is reflected in a dearth of business books, leadership lectures, consulting revenues, employee skills training, venture capital and issued patents. Today, rather than seeking out new ideas, executives have stacked their bedside tables with past managers & memoirs whose accomplishments may be praiseworthy, but whose experiences and advice hark back to earlier times and may not be applicable in today’s corporate culture and conditions. Champy says it’s no coincidence that most executives are suffering from management malaise, because the next round of business changes will be very difficult.

“Companies like Wal-Mart, Dell and Cisco make it look easy. They are prime examples of well-run organizations that have moved aggressively to leverage technology. But most companies still have to go through massive process and organizational change to enter the digital age. All this will take great ambition on the part of forward-thinking leaders and a strong appetite to move to even greater levels of productivity. Managers have always had the seeds of great ambition. Now their ambition must also be reawakened, ahead of any economic recovery.”

Fast Company Sep 2003