by Vidya Jonnalagadda
Can any activity be worse than zero? Can something be so inane, silly, absurd, ridiculous, ludicrous, bizarre, childish, immature, meaningless, pointless, and futile that it merits a negative score on a scale for utilitarian value?
Sadly, the answer is yes. And one perfect triple example of worthless activity is INSEAD winning a top award for launching black toilet paper! The report at http://mba-periodical.blogspot.in/2012/02/insead-knowledge-news-alert-insead-wins.html notes “The INSEAD case study documented how Renova, a privately-held European paper products company headquartered outside of Lisbon, Portugal, managed to differentiate itself from its international competitors, transform white toilet paper from a commodity into a premium product, and then enter new business sectors through innovative marketing. The result was “Renova Black,” the world’s first black toilet paper, which rapidly shifted from a novelty item to a luxury fashion item. Equally rapidly, the company moved from supermarket aisles into boutique hotels, fashion shows and the headlines.”
Well, toilet paper has value, but to me, its value does not lie in the designer colors and prints; what matters is that it meets certain service requirements. So, to me, creating designer toilet paper is the first waste-of-time activity. Researching and documenting this instead of following other ventures that produce something of real value is the second waste-of-time activity. And finally, recognizing this documentation as the best management study is the third waste-of-time activity.
Having read about this award, do you also, like me, have questions like: Is making profit the only criterion for judging the “value” of a business? Does success in marketing lie in convincing people that they are someone special if they use designer toiletries? In fact there is one company that tells us to use their products because "you are worth it!" Is there no interest in seeking and studying cases where a company introduced improved utilization of resources or addressed a long-standing social problem such as unemployment? Do most or all MBA students have to study such case studies as ‘model’ business practices? And, like in a recent TV advertisement claiming that responsible parents provide a color printer for their children as the sure shot route to academic advancement, is slick presentation all that is required to garner recognition of merit? Does the social relevance or significance of the content of a presentation have no worth?