Double Hermeneutic - A concept for strategists and managers

Business schools do not need to do a great deal more to help prevent future Enrons; they need only to stop doing a lot they currently do. They do not need to create new courses; they need to simply stop teaching some old ones.
— Sumantra Ghoshal

I came across this term (pronounced 'her men you tic') in my strategic management PhD travels and was intrigued by it's importance. It may sound complex but it is both simple (despite its name) and enlightening and it is a concept that strategists and managers alike need, I think, to understand


The term was coined by Anthony Giddens, a well known British sociologist, and it reveals a major difference in the way we should (stress on the word should) look at the natural/physical world and the social world of business and management.

In essence, if a new theory emerges about the natural world it has no impact on the natural world itself which remains the same no matter what we think. For example - it was previously thought that the sun orbited the earth but this didn't change the fact that it was the earth that orbited the sun. This is a single hermeneutic where what we believe has no impact on physical reality.

However, in the social sciences this isn't the case. If a management theory gains sufficient currency, say management by walking around, then this can influence how managers act despite the robustness or validity of the theory. This is a double hermeneutic. There is no unchangeable truth to be discovered and, therefore, theories and what we choose to believe alters reality.

Have you heard the story of the two management authors who brought 50,000 copies of their own book so as to push it up the best sellers list. If managers buy the book because it is a best seller and implement their suggestions we end up with management practice being influenced by nothing more than a clever marketing strategy.

The late Sumantra Ghoshal wrote an excellent article entitled - Bad management theory is destroying good management practice and, in part, employed the concept of a double hermanutic to illustrate his thinking. It is well worth a read and was one of the most influential articles I came across in my research travels.

The takeaway for strategists and managers is - the latest management guru or "big new/old idea" is on the shelves to make money. Don't let your management practice or strategy become the equivalent to trying to convince people the world is flat!