Why not suggest some business books?
In my opinion, whether as a gift from someone else or one you give yourself, these ten are among the essentials, listed in title alpha order:
Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage
Scott Keller and Colin Price
Beyond Performance Management: Why, When, and How to Use 40 Tools and Best Practices for Superior Business Performance
Jeremy Hope and Steve Player
The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads: Essentials
The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor
Think Big, Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive
Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success
Dean R. Spitzer
They would be most welcome!
The power and value of serendipity on the other side of complexity
As I began to read this book, I was reminded of an observation by Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity but would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” This is what Soren Kaplan has in mind when suggesting that the single most important factor in fostering true game changers in innovation is “the way leaders and organizations handle the discomfort, the disorientation, and the thrill (and pain) of living with uncertainty, finding clarity from ambiguity, and being surprised.” Very few business leaders and their organizations are both willing and able to work heir way through the complexity of what I view as “the fog of innovation” until, finally, there is a business breakthrough.
In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that many change initiatives fail because of cultural resistance that results from what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Kaplan duly acknowledges that leapfrogging – “the process of overcoming limiting mindsets and barriers to create business breakthroughs – is almost never easy. On the contrary, the status quo always has staunch defenders and many of them reside in the C-suite. More often than not, the current status quo is one they created by the same process of transformation to which Kaplan refers. That is, in response to what was then the status quo, they and their associates “delivered exactly what groundbreaking innovations always deliver: something new, something powerfully effective, and – most important – something [begin italics] unexpected [end italics].” Now the target is on their backs. Moreover, the greatest threat the organization now faces is not from a competitor. Rather, it is internal: an obsolete mindset among its leaders who cannot respond effectively to “an age of wrenching change and hyper competition.”
Kaplan inserts real-world examples of business executives in dozens of quite different organizations (e.g. DuPont, Four Seasons, Google, Kimberly-Clark, KIPP, PepsiCo, and Unilever) who struggle – with mixed results – to “harness the power of surprise for business breakthroughs.” These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye:
o Breakthroughs Can Come from Anywhere (Pages 17-22)
o Big Surprises Can Come in Small Doses (41-45)
o New Mindsets Are the Missing Link (52-54)
o The LEAPS Model (58)
o Liberating the Brain Delivers the Big Picture (64-69)
o “Leapfrogging Tools” (77-79)
Note: Kaplan adds to his reader’s “tool box” with other “tools” on Pages 98-103, 121-125, 150-153, and 176-180.
o New Insights Come from Pushing Beyond Comfort Zones (87-91)
o Small Steps Can Lead to Big Things (107-110)
o External Criticism Is Rooted in Old Assumptions (161-166)
o Humility Opens Us Up to Seeing Surprise [and Being Surprised] (161-166)
o The Paradox of Surprise (188-189)
Readers will also appreciate Kaplan’s strategic insertion of “Questions to Consider” sections within – rather than one at the conclusion of — Chapters 1-8 that will facilitate, indeed expedite review of key points and issues later. Moreover, of equal importance, the questions enable the reader to interact with the material by thinking about how best to apply appropriate portions of it within the reader’s own organization.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out three others: Peter Sims’s Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, Jason Jennings’ Think Big, Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive, and Paul Schoemaker’s Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure.
In fact, companies do not “pursue radical continuous change,” extraordinary executives do. As Jason Jennings brilliantly explains in his latest book, companies need “reinventors” at all levels and in all areas, active and productive people who constantly improve what is done and how it is done, thereby sustaining what should be an un-ending process of organizational improvement. They are best viewed as results-driven innovators who make certain they and their organization are continually providing something of value to someone willing to pay them enough to make it worthwhile.” Jennings stresses “radical” improvement but I am certain he agrees that sometimes a minor adjustment can have a major impact.
Here are several of the several dozen passages that caught my eye. These can be found in Chapters 1-3:
o Tired old excuses for little or no growth
o The defining characteristics of a culture of change & growth
o “Letting go” of what doesn’t work and/or isn’t appropriate (i.e. “If it’s DOA, bury it.”)
o The major “reinvention killers”
o Determining the WTGBRFDT (“What’s the good business reason for doing this?”
o Selecting the appropriate destination (i.e. ultimate objective)
o Becoming an intense, focused, purposeful listener
I also appreciate Jennings’ provision of an end-of-chapter “Action Plan” section that highlights key points and suggests specific action steps. For example, a plan to get and then keep everyone “on the same page” (Chapter 6); a plan to become and remain “forever frugal,” especially if resources are abundant (Chapter 7); a plan to systematize everything in order to correctly evaluate all options such conflicting perspectives, rightsizing rather than expanding or downsizing, answer questions, solve problems, prioritize opportunities (Chapter 8). No action plan to avoid procrastination (as opposed to prudent caution) is provided at the conclusion of Chapter 9. My guess (only a guess) with regard to Jennings’ reason for this is that he assumes that the reader, having reached this final chapter, should be able to formulate such a plan.
Having read all of Jennings’ previously published books, I conclude with three brief observations. First, in all of those books as in this one, they examine organizational transformation achieved by leaders (including but not limited to those at the C-level) who embrace and execute constant change and reinvention. Also, I think this is his most important, indeed most valuable book…thus far. Why? Because I think the information, insights, and wisdom he provides will have wider and deeper impact than any provided earlier.
Finally, I think Jason Jennings serves as a role model for the qualities of great leader that he envisions. His own thinking has obviously proceeded through a “crucible” of constant change and reinvention. As in the past, he generously shares what he has learned and we who read this book are his grateful beneficiaries.
Many years ago during an interview, Katherine Hepburn was asked the secret to the success of her career. “Elimination! I have eliminated everyone and everything from my life that interferes with what I want to do and how I want to do it. Even Luddie [Ludlow Ogden Smith], my former husband and dearest friend still. He simply had to go!”
Years later, I came upon Albert Einstein’s observation, “Make everything as simple as possible…but no simpler,” then an observation by Peter Drucker, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all,” and still another by Michael Porter, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”
These and other insights help to explain why elimination can have great power if (huge “if”) combined with sound judgment and sufficient information.
In business, for example, “downsizing” should really be viewed as “rightsizing.” Smart executives may eliminate or reduce but are well-advised to make additions and increases wherever needed.
One of my favorite anecdotes from the arts world involves a French Romantic poet (I think it was Baudelaire but I’m not certain) who was once asked. “How to write a poem?” After a lengthy pause for reflection, he replied, “First draw a birdcage and leave the door open. Then wait and wait and wait. Eventually, maybe, a bird will fly in. Then erase the cage.”
About 20 years ago, a severe frost was predicted here in Dallas. My wife said we had to trim back all the crepe myrtles or they would die. We cut them back almost to ground level. I feared that we had decapitated them. On the contrary, they were among the few smaller trees and bushes in our neighborhood that survived several days of sub-freezing temperatures.
Here’s another personal note. Years ago before my family and I moved from Connecticut to Rhode Island, a grizzled New Englander from United Van Lines came by the house to estimate the costs of packing and shipping our belongings. Then he met with us to discuss the situation. “With all due respect, m’am, please remember that crap here will be crap there.”
I think it is important to keep in mind that the power of elimination can have both positive and negative impact. Again, I stress the importance of sound judgment in combination with sufficient information. As Jason Jennings suggests, “If it’s DOA, bury it.” Fair enough. However, invoking a gardening metaphor, let’s also be careful not to rip out seedlings just to see how well they are growing.
Note: This review is of a book published earlier this year. It is a sequel to one published in 2003.
What we have here is a series of brief discussions of “the most influential management books you’ll never have time to read,” a total of 130, one per author or co-authors. They were selected by persons not identified and the book was published by (appropriately) Basic Books. No doubt those who examine the list will disagree with the selections (I do and more about that later) because any such list is bound to generate controversy. Some readers will question the selection of an author’s work (e.g. preferring Jim Collins’ Good to Great to Built to Last written with Jerry Porras) and other readers will object to an author’s inclusion (e.g. Gerry McGovern, R. Meredith Belbin) and/or exclusion (e.g. Adrian Slywotsky, Jason Jennings). That said, the 130 really would provide an excellent “basic library” of resources that include non-business books such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Carl von Clauswitz’s On War that have indeed had significant impact on thinking about leadership and management.
The two-page format is eminently sensible:
WHY READ IT? A capsule introduction describing the book’s key contribution to management
GETTING STARTED: An introduction to the main themes that each author sets out to address
CONTRIBUTION: A detailed summary of the book’s most important points
CONTEXT: An overview of both the immediate reaction to the book and its long-term significance
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Essential bibliographic information on the given title
Granted, it is impossible to do full justice to any of the 130. What surprised me is how much useful material the anonymous co-authors of the digests manage to provide. Although the format is standardized, the approach to essential points varies to accommodate the unique significance of the given work. Here are two brief excerpts:
On the contribution of Igor Ansoff’s Corporate Strategy (1965): “The book presented several new theoretical concepts, such as partial ignorance, business strategy, capability and competence profiles, and synergy. One particular concept, the product-mission matrix, became very popular because it was simple and – for the first time – codified the differences between strategic expansion and diversification.”
On the contribution of Clayton M. Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma (2003): “The author cites five reasons successful companies fail to capitalize on disruptive technologies:
• Customers control the pattern of resource allocation.
• Small markets do not solve the growth needs of large companies.
• It can be difficult to identify successful applications in advance.
• Larger organizations rely on their core competencies and values.
• Technology supply may not equal demand.”
Having read most of the 130, reviewed a majority, and interviewed the authors of several, I disagree with only a few of the selections and would have replaced them with others I consider more worthy such as Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1987), Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (2002), Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition (2008), Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1996), and the U.S. Army’s Official Army Leadership Manual: Leadership the Army Way (available to the general public in Be*Know*Do, an adaptation of the manual published in 2004).
“Arrogance diminishes wisdom.”
Here is one of those delicate balancing acts. A leader has to be confident – but not arrogant.
Confidence spreads like wildfire. A confident person will energize followers. A confident person will lead to decisive actions by all who follow. A confident person will recruit willing, eager followers.
But…an arrogant person will breed resentment, and the “followers” will be anything but eager.
I thought of all this as I read the opening lines of Hit the Ground Running by Jason Jennings. He begins the book with a call to decisive action. He speaks of decisiveness – of decisive action from the very beginning:
Every manager or leader needs to hit the ground running!
When you’re given the opportunity to take charge and you get it right, you put yourself on the your leadership’s radar. Do it right a second time and you’ll become known as a go-to manager who can be trusted to deliver results.
But if you don’t get it right, you’ll join a long list of question marks at your company.
…it’s imperative that you know how to get up to speed, make good decisions, quickly, and begin producing results fast.
Al of this flows from a person who exudes self-confidence: confidence about his/her own abilities, confidence about outcomes, confidence about processes.
But, confidence in yourself, and in the abilities of the people you lead…without arrogance. That is the challenge.
The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results
Calhoun W. Wick, Roy V. H. Pollock, Andy Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan
Pfeiffer/A Wiley Imprint (2003)
An organization’s chief learning officer or equivalent must be prepared to answer questions such as these:
What is the ROI of our learning and development programs?
How do you determine that?
If the ROI is unacceptable, what is being done to increase it?
My guess (only a guess) is that similar questions are also asked of those who lead innovation initiatives. The fact remains that in most organizations, board members and CEOs not only expect but indeed demand that every hour and every dollar be committed to helping achieve and then sustain profitable growth and that is especially true of training programs and innovation initiatives. There seems to be little (if any patience) with any costs that cannot be justified in business terms. In this context, I am reminded of a brainstorming session at Southwest Airlines years ago during which someone suggested that a chicken salad treat be given (not sold) to passengers as an expression of appreciation. Then CEO Herb Kelleher is reported to have responded, “Does it help us to continue to be the low-cost airline? If not, then chicken salad is chicken shit.” End of discussion.
What Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan (hereinafter referred to as co-authors) offer in this volume is a rigorous and eloquent analysis of what they characterize as “the six disciplines of breakthrough learning.” They devote a separate chapter to each discipline, concluding each chapter with one checklist of reminders and action points for learning leaders and another for line leaders. In this context, it may be of interest to at least some of those who read this review to know that two other authors also recommend comparable disciplines. In Think BIG Act Small, Jason Jennings suggests that all high-performing companies are led by people who are down to earth, keep their hands dirty, make short-term goals with long-term horizons, let go (“when it’s DOA, bury it”), have everyone think and act like an owner, invent new businesses, create win-win situations for everyone involved, choose their competitors, build communities, and grow future leaders. In Six Disciplines for Excellence, Gary Harpst recommends these: Decide What’s Important, Set Goals That Lead, Align Systems, Work the Plan, Innovate Purposefully, and Align Systems.
Because learning and development programs are investments by a company in its workforce, the authors acknowledge that management “has a fiduciary and ethical responsibility to ensure that those investments produce a return: results that increase enterprise value.” None of what the co-authors call “the 6Ds(tm)” is a head-snapping revelation, nor do they make any such claim. However, in my opinion, they should guide and inform all performance at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise and rigorous measurement and review of performance should be based on them. Exhibit 1.1, the “6Ds(tm) Learning Transfer and Applications Scorecard,” provides a diagnostic that enables the reader to evaluate the readiness of a learning program to deliver results. There are other diagnostic exercises inserted throughout the book’s narrative.
I appreciate the fact that the authors also include a number of mini-case studies based on real-world initiatives by prominent organizations that include Sony Electronics, British Broadcasting Company, Home Depot, and Pfizer. And I also appreciate the series of brief but insightful statements by a CLO or equivalent, called “From the Top,” that provide an eyewitness account of specific learning initiatives. The exemplar organizations include the Center for Creative Leadership, General Mills, University of Notre Dame, Honeywell, and AstraZaneca.
Knowing what not to do is often at least as important as knowing what to do. Kevin Wilde offers a case in point in the Foreword: “A talented and hard-working team designed an air-tight course: activities planned to the minute, world-class external faculty and cutting-edge simulations…all grounded in specific learning objectives. But the team fell short by failing to first clearly identify how the company would benefit from having leaders attend the program. I’ve been there – so caught up in crafting the excellence of the learning event that we failed to ground everything in the real business case. When that happens, the results leave you heartbroken, far short of the learning breakthrough intended.”
The authors are exemplars of pragmatism, of “nailing the fundamentals,” when formulating and then launching learning initiatives. They also have bold and compelling visions of breakthroughs in training and development while agreeing with Thomas Edison’s observation, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” The advice with which Marshall Goldsmith concludes the book will also conclude my review of it:
“The designs for learning and development programs should be considered incomplete if they do not include plans to encourage participants to follow through, practice what they have learned, and reach out to colleagues for feed forward ideas and coaching. When those elements are in place to support well-designed and well-delivered learning, then we have all the ingredients for a true transformation. Life is good.”
Given the current unemployment rate, additional lay-offs that are imminent, and competition is ferocious for the few positions that are being filled, the careers of individuals need the same “building blocks.”
I know of no one else who possesses more and better business wisdom than does Jason Jennings. Be sure to read his various books, especially Think Big Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive and Hit the Ground Running: A Manual for New Leaders, both published by Portfolio/The Penguin Group.
1. Down to Earth: Modesty and humility in word and manner are most appropriate. Outstanding performance attracts attention (not self-promotion) and speaks volumes, silently but effectively. Those with the
healthiest egos have emotional intelligence (e.g. they consider it a privilege to serve others).
2. Keep Your Hands Dirty: Volunteer for the most unpleasant tasks, offer assistance to colleagues in need of it, share credit with others. Occupy the “trenches” and you control the “battlefield.”
3. Make Short-Term Goals and Long-Term Horizons: Often, progress consists of a series of “baby steps” to achieve an especially ambitious goal. The same is true of barrier removal during change initiatives. Generate momentum with incremental success.
4. Let Go: As Jennings suggests, “If it’s DOA, bury it.” Learn from the past but don’t let your mind dwell there. Grow, reach, stretch, stumble, get up, but keep moving in the right direction.
5. Think and Act Like an Owner: Take a proprietary interest in your organization. Eliminate waste (especially wasting time), focus on what’s most important rather than on what’s urgent, and be a builder rather than a spectator.
6. Invent New Businesses: Be constantly alert to what can be improved, what can be used in new ways, what can succeed in new markets with different customers. The #1 competitor? Who you are today and what your organization is today? Constantly improve or deteriorate and eventually….
7. Create Win-Win Situations: This strategy is especially important during negotiations and also applies to relations with competitors as well as with customers. Respect others’ rights; indeed, when necessary, protect and defend them.
8. Choose Your Competitors: Both organizations and individuals should know who they are…and who they aren’t. Leverage strengths. Know “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” And also know when to be bold, to be aggressive. Keep in mind that competitors are not enemies and these days, some competitors may soon become strategic allies.
9. Build Communities: Establish and nourish relationships with others by earning their respect for your expertise, then their respect for your character, and finally their appreciation of being associated with you.
10. Grow Future Leaders: Be unconditionally generous with the information, knowledge, and wisdom you possess as well as skills and techniques that will help others to success. Measure your own success in terms of the nature and extent of how well you collaborate with others on their success.
In addition to Think Big Act Small and Hit the Ground Running: A Manual for New Leaders, I also highly recommend Arlene Johnson’s Success Mapping: Achieve What You Want…Right Now!
Be sure to check out the following resources:
Portfolio/The Penguin Group (2009)
Through a rigorous process of elimination best explained in the book, Jennings and his associates selected nine exemplar companies and their CEOs and explains how each of the nine combinations (i.e. company and its CEO) demonstrates an especially important “Rule.” Jennings devotes a separate chapter to each of the ten, the last being “Be a Fish Out of Water.” His focus is primarily on the nine CEOs and suggests that the best way to measure the performance of a CEO and compare one anther to each other is to calculate the total amount of economic value they created. “We defined economic value as the sum of the profits generated, dividends paid, increases in sales and profits, and the increase in the company’s share price during the CEO’s tenure.” After all of the nine CEOs who took over companies because of death, retirement, resignation, or the poor performance of their predecessor, they hit the ground running and “almost doubled revenues, more than tripled earnings per share, nearly tripled EBITDA, and doubled their company’s net profit margins.” How did they accomplish these exceptional results? Jennings provides the answer in this book.
The focus in this book is primarily on the first-year performance of nine CEOs: Patrick Hassey (Allegheny Technologies), Marshall Larsen (Goodrich Corporation), Frederick Eppinger (The Hanover Group), Howard Lance (Harris Corporation), Jeffrey Lorberbaum (Mohawk Industries), Ronald Sargent (Staples), Keith Rattie (Questar), Mike McCallister (Humana Inc.), and finally, Tim and Richard Smucker (The J.M. Smucker Company). After lengthy interviews, Jennings notes an obvious connection between and among them, one overpowering characteristic that all the CEOs shared: “They told the truth. None of them deceived themselves about anything, nor did they surround themselves with executives who did; they all practice the Golden Rule; and as a result, they’ve become the best performing CEOs in the nation.”
All of them stressed the importance of others’ contributions to the success achieved. Each reveals highly developed emotional intelligence as well as a profound appreciation of those with whom they are associated each day. That attitude explains how Eppinger gained credibility when he became CEO of The Hanover Group and why Lance asked his associates for their assistance when he became CEO of Harris Corporation. As is also true of the CEOs of the eleven “Good to Great” companies that Jim Collins interviewed, the nine that were interviewed by Jennings and his associates (notably Laurence Haughton) indicate almost no personal ego. They seem almost totally obsessed with the success of their companies but insist that that success is not about them. This is authentic humility, not false modesty, and (in my opinion) helps to explain why certain CEOs who are otherwise rather ordinary people have led their companies to achieving and then sustaining extraordinary success.
Jennings is a staunch and eloquent advocate of this principle: Do much more and do it much better, faster, and do it with less. OK, but how? The answer to that question was revealed by rigorous and extensive research that he and two associates (Brian Solon and Greg Powell) conducted. They began with 70,000 companies as candidates for designation as the best performing companies in the U.S. Among all of them, which have increased their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer? Only nine qualified: Cabela’s, Dot Foods, Koch Industries, Medline Industries, O’Reilly Automotive, PETCO Animal Supplies, SAS Institute, Sonic Drive-in, and Strayer Education.
Back to “How?” Jennings identifies ten “Building Blocks” which, in combination, explain why each of those in an obviously mixed bag of companies has been and continues to be a best performer (i.e. among the top one-hundredth of 1% of all U.S. companies). It would be a disservice to both Jennings and to those who read this brief commentary to list them and then comment on each out of the context within which Jennings so skillfully presents them. Suffice to say that all organizations (regardless of their size or nature) need to have all ten Building Blocks as a core foundation on which to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% and then continue to do so year after year after year.
How revealing that the CEOs whom Jennings and his research associates interviewed indicate little (if any) interest in any of Sun Tzu’s deception strategies…nor in what their competitors are up to, for that matter. They seem wholly preoccupied with sticking to their own “knitting,” focusing on what their companies can do best, how to do it even better, and thereby deliver even greater value to their customers. Also, each seems determined to nourish and enhance the quality of life as well as standard of living of everyone involved in the enterprise. This is precisely what Jennings means when referring to building communities, Building Block #9. Employees, customers, and allies should be viewed as “partners” and treated as such.
Ultimately, one of the most formidable challenges for those in any organization is to achieve and then maintain an appropriate balance of “thinking BIG” while “ACTING small.” Hence the importance of Section Three, “The Quad: A Self-Evaluation and Ranking,” in which Jennings “breaks down the title of the book into four scenarios, each represented by a quadrant”:
TSAS Think Small, Act Small
TSAB Think Small, Act Big
TBAB Think Big, Act Big
TBAS Think Big, Act Small
He applies this template to each of the ten Building Blocks. It remains for each reader to complete the self-evaluation, one that helps to measure her or his own organization’s current situation. The details of this exercise are best revealed within the text, pages 189-201. I highly recommend this book for reasons previously indicated but also because I cannot recall a prior time since the Great Depression when it was more difficult for companies to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer.