As always there is a short answer to this question and a long one. I will be looking at the longer answer to this question, using research material to do so in a future post, but for now here is the short answer:
- If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is - This is the root of the "snake-oil" phenomena. The idea that a single sip of snake-oil will turn you into an olympic athlete is really attractive, but life is seldom like this. Most things of value require good old-fashioned hard-work to attain.
- Just because it works for some, doesn't mean it will work for you - This is about spotting the myth of universality. The idea that there are universal rules that work in all context with all people. Beyond the most simplistic phenomena, this is simply not true. Life just isn't like that. People are complex, and with complexity comes diversity. What works for some, in a given context won't work for others. So a claim of universality is a sure way to spot a fad.
- All ideas have prerequisites. A sweet-spot where they hold sway - This is the opposite of the idea of a golden hammer. There are no golden hammers. Fad free advocates go to pains to describe the prerequisites that are needed for success, spelling out where an idea works and more importantly where it does not. If this information is omitted from the sales pitch, then this is another sure sign of a fad.
I came across this article on Quality Circles recently that shows how a good idea can easily become a fad. I chose this article because the subject matter is neutral for most software practitioners, avoiding the usual religious wars. After describing what a quality circle is, the article goes on to describe the demise of the idea in the West:
Replace the label "Quality Circle", with "Agile", "Scrum", "Lean", "Kanban" or any of a number of ideas in Software Development that have been oversold and have under-delivered, and you will see that any idea can succumb to faddism. Very little is fad free.