How and why the inefficiency of “solutionism” is compromising advanced technology
I agree with Evgeny Morozov that a never-ending quest to ameliorate, what Tania Murray LI characterizes as “the will to improve,” has created problems whose disruptive and (yes) destructive impact has been exacerbated by various technologies. Morozov calls this pathology “solutionism.” In Chapter One, he observes, “It’s not only that many problems are not suited to the quick-and-easy solutionist tool kit. It’d also that what many solutionists presume to be ‘problems’ in need of solving are not problems at all; a deeper investigation into the very nature of these ‘problems’ would reveal that the inefficiency, ambiguity, and opacity — whether in politics or everyday life — that the newly empowered geeks and solutionists are rallying against are not in any sense problematic. Quite the opposite: these vices are often virtues in disguise. That, thanks to innovative technologies, the modern-day solutionist has an easy way to eliminate them does not make them any less virtuous.”
Morozov probably knew that this book would generate a great deal of controversy, and it has because he almost gleefully challenges the assumptions and conclusions of what James O’Toole (in Leading Change) characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny if custom.” “On the odd chance that this book succeeds, its great contribution to the public debate might lie in the redrawing the front lines of the intellectual battles about digital technologies.”
Morozov seems to divide Internet thinkers (or at least those claim to have thought about it) into two groups. “Those front lines will separate a host of Internet thinkers who are convinced that ‘the Internet’ is a useful analytical category that tells us something important about how the world really works from a group of post-Internet thinkers who see ‘the internet,’ despite its undeniable physicality, as a socially constructed concept that could perhaps be studied by sociologists, historians, and anthropologists – much as they study the public life of ideas such as ‘science,’ ‘class,’ or ‘Darwinism’ – but that tells us nothing about how the world works and even less about how it should.”
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Morozov’s analysis of “the folly of technological solutionism”:
o Against the Internet Grain (Pages 21-25)
o Recycle the Cycle (57-62)
o The Perils of Information Reductivism (85-89)
o Future Perfect — Democracy Isn’t (107-110)
o Drowning in the Algorithmic Sea (146-153)
o The Rise of Unethical Critics (173-180)
o The Perils of Preemption (202-208)
o The Great Unraveling (238-243)
o Hunches and Fractured Pelvises (264-267)
o Madeleine: There’s an App for That! (276-281)
o Phantoms and Backpacks (286-290)
o Monkeys, Sex, and Predictable Duress (305-309)
o Mad Men, Faded Denims, and Real Phonies (313-317)
o Radios, Caterpillars, and Lamps (325-328)
o On Frictionless Traps (344-350)
Before concluding his book, Morozov affirms, “Technology is not the enemy; our enemy is the romantic and revolutionary problem solver who resides within. We can do nothing to tame that little creature, but we can do a lot to tame its favorite weapon: “‘the Internet.’ Let’s do it while we can – it would be deeply ironic if humanity were to die in the crossfire as its problem solvers attempted to transport that very humanity to a trouble-free world.” Who will prevail, the Problem Creators (i.e. Solutionists) or the Problem Solvers? Stay tuned.
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Meanwhile, in the comment below, Randy Mayeux recommends checking out “a fascinating back-and-forth between the author, Evgeny Morozov, and Farhad Manjoo.” To do so, please click here.
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.
How and why “it’s culture that will differentiate your organization and drive real business results”…for better or worse
Those who have read any of Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s previously published books (notably The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution) and share my high regard for them are no doubt as eager now as I was to read their latest, All In. Based on what they learned from a research study that involved more than 300,000 respondents, it is – in my opinion – their most important book…thus far. Why? Because I think the information, insights, and (especially) the wisdom they share in it will have much wider and much deeper impact than any previous provisions.
Gostick and Elton assert, and I emphatically agree, that it is culture that will differentiate a team or organization and drive initiatives that produce high-impact results. Moreover, they believe – and again I agree – that a “culture” can be any shared community in which there are direct contact and frequent interaction. The Pixar campus in Emeryville (CA), for example, but it could also be the animators within the Walt Disney Company who created classic films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. In fact, it could be a team of only two or three persons who also have direct contact and frequent interaction while at work. Here’s the key point: In a healthy culture (whatever its size and nature may be), those who share it are nourished by mutual respect and trust. It is no coincidence that most of the companies that are annually ranked among those that are the most admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their respective industries.
“For worse?” In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that most change initiatives fail or fall far short of expectations because of cultural resistance, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Who wants to be part of a culture with command and control leadership, departments that resemble silos and bunkers, and a workplace in which incivility is ignored and incompetence is tolerated? Such a culture will definitely drive real results….all bad and increasingly worse
The material in the book is divided within three Parts. First, Gostick and Elton create a context, a frame of reference, for “The Seven Step Road Map,” explaining why the belief factor is “the secret sauce that makes a culture contagious.” They assert that 100% all-in employee engagement is not enough. That caught my eye. Hence the importance of the E + E + E formula: Employees must be engaged, enabled, and energized. Gostick and Elton then devote a separate chapter to each of the steps in Part II. I especially appreciate the “Step Summary” section at the conclusion of these chapters, 4-10. This brief but substantial material facilitates, indeed expedites frequent review of key points later. Then in Part III, they provide what could be characterized as an “All-in Toolbox,” accompanied by a detailed “operations manual” that includes an explanation of 52 different ways to get people all-in and productive. Also carefully check out the Appendix in which Gostick and Elton examine the “Culture Works Process” by which to build and sustain a high-performance culture.
With rare exception, the most valuable business books are research-driven and concentrate on explaining what works, what doesn’t, and why. This book succeeds brilliantly on both counts. I consider it “must reading” for C-level executives and for those who aspire to become one; but it is also, in my opinion, “must reading” for business school instructors and their students because the material that Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton provide is relevant to all organizations (whatever their size and nature may be) and to all of those who comprise the workforce in those organizations (whatever the level and area of operations may be). If that doesn’t convince you to buy it, read it, re-read it, and then refer to it frequently, I have no idea what will.
Note: I re-read this book curious to know to what extent — if any — Gardner’s insights have lost relevance in light of revelations within recent neuroscience research. My conclusion? If anything, his insights are more relevant — and more valuable — now than they were when the Hardbound Edition was published in 2004.
Unless and until we understand how and why to change our own minds, it is possible but unlikely that we will be able to change anyone else’s.
Although many of Gardner’s core concepts were first introduced and developed in earlier works, notably in Multiple Intelligences and Frames of Mind (1993) and then Intelligence Reframed (2000), he breaks important new ground when examining the process by which we can change others’ minds (assumptions, premises, mindsets, convictions, opinions, etc.) and, of even greater importance, how we can change our own minds wherein resistance to such change can be especially formidable. This is precisely what Jim O’Toole has in mind when discussing “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom” in his brilliant book Leading Change. As Gardner advocates, “One can — and must — go through an exercise of deep and pervasive mental surgery with respect to every entrenched view: Define it, understand the reasons for its provenance, point out its weaknesses, and then develop multiple ways of undermining that view and bolstering a more constructive one. In other words, search for the resonance and stamp out the resistance.
Gardner identifies seven factors (“sometimes I’ll call them levers”), most or all of which may influence a mind change: research (relevant data), resonance (the affective component), redescriptions (mutually reinforcing images of what will result from the change), resources and rewards (perceived cost-benefit relationship), real world events (wars, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, depressions, etc.), and resistances (motivation stimulated by opposition). When we attempt to change our own minds or others’ minds, or when they attempt to change theirs or ours, the process of persuasion usually involves concepts, stories, theories, and skills.
How we (or others) use logic and/or evidence, for example, is determined by our (or their) age, intelligence, education and training, and experience. Young children who fully understand various fables and fairy tales will probably not understand concepts of gravity, democracy, photosynthesis, and pride. How parents attempt to convince their children to take proper care of their toys is obviously quite different from how the same parents attempt to persuade each other when disagreeing about financial issues. Gardner asserts (and I agree) that over time, people become more resistant to change. Set in their ways, determined to protect their “comfort” and “custom.”
From my own perspective, entrenched views tend to fall within one of three categories: Those which remain unchanged by any of the seven factors (or levers), those which are improved (i.e. made “more constructive”) by it, and finally, those beyond remediation. Moreover, all entrenched views (like nuggets of cheese) have an unsettling tendency to move around — or be relocated — by external forces. Therefore, presumably Gardner agrees with me that what he calls the process of “deep and pervasive mental surgery” should be continuous.
Unless and until we understand how and why to change our own minds, it is possible but unlikely that we will be able to change anyone else’s.
Richard P. Rumelt received his doctorate from the Harvard Business School in 1972, having previously earned a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from UC Berkeley. He worked as a systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories and served on the faculty of the Harvard Business School. He joined the UCLA faculty in 1976. During 1993-96 he was on long-term leave from UCLA, serving on the faculty at INSEAD, France. At INSEAD, Rumelt headed the Corporate Renewal Initiative, a research-intervention center devoted to the study and practice of corporate transformation. Rumelt was President of the Strategic Management Society in 1995-98. He received the Irwin Prize for his book Strategy, Structure, and Economic Performance. In 1997, he was appointed Telecom Italia Strategy Fellow, a position he held until April 2000. He has won teaching awards at UCLA and received a “best paper prize” in 1997 from the Strategic Management Journal.
Rumelt’s research has centered on corporate diversification strategy and the sources of sustainable advantage to individual business strategies. He occupies the Harry and Elsa Kunin Chair in Business and Society. His published works include Fundamental Issues in Strategy: A Research Agenda co-authored with David Teece and more recently, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. His current research interests center on corporate strategy and issues of institutional governance. Education: D.B.A. Management, 1972, Harvard University; M.S. Electrical Engineering, 1965, UC Berkeley; and B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1963, UC Berkeley.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, a few general questions. First, to what extent (if any) has your formal training in electrical engineering proven invaluable to your work on strategy.
Rumelt: The gifts of my EE training were many. First there is a capability in mathematics. Second is an appreciation that technical skills are only acquired by drill and practice. Finally, there is a confidence that I can understand almost all technical issues if I apply myself. That keeps me from shying away from a wide range of problems and settings.
Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original expectations. Why?
Rumelt: Change is difficult and it takes time. It is hard for people to change their own behavior, much less that of others. Change programs normally address attitudes, ideas, and rewards. But the behaviors of people in organizations are also strongly shaped by habits, routines, and social norms. Real change requires new power relationships, new work routines and new habits, not just intent.
Morris: In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests some of the strongest resistance to change is cultural in nature, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” What do you think?
Rumelt: I agree with O’Toole that custom and comfort are impediments to change. However, it is important to recognize that resistance to change is logical as well. The new “change masters” literature seems to take change as the norm. It isn’t. Humans naturally see change as risky because it is risky, just as mutations in genes are mostly destructive. You would not want to go to work were everything changed every week! The phone system, the office assignments, who reports to who, and the whole set of job expectations.
Morris: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?
Rumelt: You overcome the logical resistance to change by proving that a new approach actually works, usually on a small scale.
Morris: Peter Drucker and Michael Porter have provided many valuable insights. For example, from Drucker: ”There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” And now from Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” What are your own thoughts about all this?
Rumelt: Drucker and Porter are each pointing at vital, though slightly different, aspects of strategy. A good strategy focuses efforts on a target, and that focus can only be achieved by not diffusing energy in other directions—that is the meaning of Porter’s dictum of “choosing what not to do.” At the same time, a good strategy chooses the right target to focus on, not wasting the focus of energy on a target that cannot be affected or that is unimportant—that is the meaning of Drucker’s distinction between efficiency and effectiveness.
Morris: The percentages vary among recent research studies but they all suggest that, on average, C-level executives spend about 10% of their time discussing strategy on a weekly basis and a substantial majority of employees have no idea what their organization’s strategy is. How do you explain these rather astonishing statistics?
Rumelt: Many C-level executives use the term to refer to big deals or forward-looking financial goals and plans. Others use it to mean overall “visions” or “missions,” or other corporate slogans. However, a real strategy is a coherent mix of policy and action designed to overcome a significant challenge. So a sensible employee might indeed say that they have no idea what the organization’s strategy is—because it seems to have none. Senior managers’ so-called “strategies” are heavy with aspirations and goals, but light on how resources and strengths will be combined to achieve them.
Morris: In your opinion, who in the given enterprise should be involved in the formulation of its strategy?
Rumelt: Small groups of very senior people. Real strategy is not bottom up because it deals with issues that require unexpected or unusual types action, especially of coordination among units.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Richard Rumelt cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
John Bernard is the author of Business at the Speed of NOW, published by John Wiley & Sons in December of 2011. He’s a top-rated speaker for the Conference Board, discussion leader on the Harvard Business Review blog, and his monthly newspaper column is syndicated to 41 Business Journals across the U.S. For 30 years John has been building and reengineering organizations to enable them to aggressively grow the top and bottom line. As the principal architect of the NOW Management System℠, his passion focuses on leveraging best-practice management with social media INSIDE the organization to engage employees, sharpen focus and accelerate execution. John’s deep and varied career ranges from serving as an executive team member at multi-billion dollar StanCorp Financial Group to being the founding CEO of a technology start-up, which he led through its sale. He also served in senior positions at Omark Industries, Floating Point Systems and ESI. John has led operations, manufacturing, customer service, product development, human resources, quality, information technology, strategic planning, engineering, shared services, marketing and communications. He has consulted with senior executives at all levels in high technology, health care, insurance, banking, forest products, distribution, manufacturing, and a wide range of service companies, along with many large government agencies. John loves writing and spending time with his family; he has toddler boy/girl twins in addition to three grown and accomplished daughters. John has a BA from the University of Portland in Mass Communications and Journalism.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Business at the Speed of NOW, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? Please explain.
Bernard: This is tempting to evade because people have preconceived notions about what it means, but I am a Christian. I believe we were created to bring gifts to the world and the workplace is the ideal place to share those gifts. His teachings put great responsibilities on leaders to hold to a set of values that respect the individual and demand growth of every one of us imperfect human beings. The whole principle of grace bridges the chasm between our desire for perfection and the reality of being human.
Morris: The greatest impact of your professional development?
Bernard: Dr. W. Edwards Deming played a big role in what I have come to see as the great truths of management. Early in my career I spent some time with Tom Peters who lifted both my courage and my sense of responsibility to challenge the status quo.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning-point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow?
Bernard: I was interviewing the chief operating officer of the first big company I worked for, Omark Industries. His name was Jack Warne. I was probably 23 years old and was writing the company’s annual report to employees. I asked Jack what was the single thing the company could do to become more productive. I was sure he would wax on about it being all about the people. His answer set me back, “Buy more productive capital equipment.” I simply believed his answer was wrong and that it really was about the people. I have spent my career proving that to myself and to anyone else who would listen to me. As a side note, a couple of years later (circa 1980) Jack toured Japan on one of the very first business study missions to see what companies such as Toyota were doing. Jack became a total zealot and globally recognized early advocate for lean — and a real believer in the power of people.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have achieved thus far?
Bernard: I was a mass communications major with an emphasis in journalism. My passion for employee engagement and my ability to articulate provocative ideas have always been assets.
Morris: Of all that has changed in the business world during (let’s say) the last decade, which single development – in your opinion – has had the greatest impact? Please explain?
Bernard: No doubt it is the Internet coupled with social media. The truth will set you free and now the truth is unavoidable.
Morris: What do you think will be the single greatest challenge that CEOs will face in (let’s say) the next 3-5 years? Any advice?
Bernard: CEOs have to figure out how to tap into the passions and innovations already resident in the minds of their employees. We have to move from a centrally planned organization to one where decisions truly are being made where the work is done. There’s no choice because increasingly the only value proposition that matters is YES and the only acceptable timeframe is NOW. The rules have changed and so must the game.
Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of initial expectations. Why?
Bernard: That’s because the search for the Holy Grail leads to complex solutions, solutions that demand a lot of work and a lot of soul searching. I remember someone telling me the reason American managers don’t do well dealing with complexity is that they much prefer to do “happy work” — the fun, challenging and creative work. But if you have them sit down and build a detailed project plan or insist they follow a structured and disciplined problem solving methodology, it’s like asking them to volunteer to have their teeth all pulled. Most change fails because people don’t understand what they are committing to and they don’t have the discipline to do the work and stick with it until the results arrive.
A great example of this is that when organizations get into process improvements everyone’s process is under consideration for improvement (lean-outs, Kaizens, Six Sigma implementation) except management’s. Management doesn’t view its work as a process even though it will assert that all work is a process. Think about it, the management process is the mother of all processes. The management process decides what work matters, allocates responsibility and resources, establishes accountability, determines whether problems will be visible, defines how problems will be addressed and ultimately measures success. Why isn’t this seen by management as a process? Because it is hard work to manage an enterprise and for some reason management’s processes are not subject to the same scrutiny or discipline.
Morris: In Leading Change, James O’Toole asserts that most resistance to change is cultural in nature, the result of what he aptly characterizes as ‘”the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome cultural resistance?
Bernard: Culture, the hidden rules and norms, is often talked about as some mysterious force. Culture is the set of expected behaviors which are shaped by what management expects. If you want to change the culture, change the management system and you will get new behaviors.
Morris: Percentages vary from one major research study to another (e.g. Aon Hewitt, BlessingWhite, Gallup, TowersWatson) but the fact remains that, on average, about 70% of employees in a U.S. workforce are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, doing whatever they can to undermine the success of their organization. How do you explain this?
Bernard: Most organizations seek employee engagement but operate a system of management where engagement is not only discouraged, it is impossible. If you are an employee and have an idea and your boss has to approve the idea and your boss has a million more pressing things to do, you’ll try a couple of times and then give up. Why are we surprised our employees aren’t engaged when they work in a system of management that was not designed for engagement.
Morris: Here’s a follow-up question. In your opinion, which strategies are most effective when leveraging best-practice management with social media within an organization to engage its employees, sharpen focus and accelerate execution?
Bernard: Social media is simply a free-flowing conversation of ideas and the immediate exchange of information. To survive in a NOW-centered economy a business must listen to the voice of its customers and the voice of its employees or it will quickly be hopelessly out of touch. The truth will set you free, if you are willing to listen and respond to it.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
John invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
How and why knowing and doing what matters NOW will create an organization “fit for the future and fit for human beings”
I have read and reviewed all of Gary Hamel’s previously published books and consider What Matters Now to be his most valuable…thus far. There are specific reasons why he is ranked among the most important business thinkers and all are evident in his latest book: He has an insatiable curiosity to understand what makes an organization successful, what doesn’t, and why; he has a passion to share what he has learned with as many business leaders as possible; his material is directly relevant to almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be; and his experience-driven insights invalidate the sacred premises and assumptions of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes, in Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
In the Preface, Hamel urges his reader to ask, “What are the fundamental, make-or-break challenges that will determine whether your organization thrives or dives in the years ahead?” For Hamel, five issues are paramount:
o Values: “Not surprisingly, large corporations are now among society’s least trusted institutions…vales now matter more than ever.”
o Innovation: “After a decade of talking about innovation, it’s time to close the gap between rhetoric and reality. To do so, we’ll need to recalibrate priorities and retool mindsets.”
o Adaptability: “In most organizations, there are too many things that perpetuate the past and too few that encourage proactive change. The `party of the past’ is usually more powerful than the `party of the future.’”
o Passion: “The problem is not a lack of competence, but a lack of ardor. In business as in life, the difference between `insipid’ and `inspired’ is passion.”
o Ideology: “Better business processes and better business models are not enough – we need better principles. That’s why ideology matters now more than ever.”
Hamel devotes a separate Section (consisting of five chapters) to each of these five challenges in which he explains how leaders can ensure that their companies “win in a world of relentless change, ferocious competition, and unstoppable innovation.” As I worked my way through his lively and eloquent narrative, I was reminded of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s books whose title asserts, “what got you here won’t get you there.” In response, I presume to suggest, Hamel would assert, “what you do NOW and how you do it will determine whether or not there is a ‘there.’”
In the concluding chapter, he shares a roster of 25 make-or-break management “moonshots” that are intended to inspire business innovators everywhere, compiled by 36 management experts (the “Renegade Brigade”) after lengthy discussion during a conference. (Note: Some of this material previously appeared in an HBR article, February 2009.) He hopes that one or more of these moonshots will inspire his reader to become a management innovator. More specifically, “to question your assumptions, surrender your conceits, rethink your principles, and raise your sights – and that you challenge otters to do the same. We know broadly what must be done to create organizations that are fit for the future. The only question is, ‘Who’s going to lead and who’s going to follow?’ How you answer that question matters most of all.”
If not now, when?
Principles and practices to ensure that organizations move faster as well as be more productive and more profitable
As with any other strategy, speed needs to be used selectively rather than impulsively. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) acknowledges the importance of speed but as a strategic option, not an imperative, when striving to achieve peak performance. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, companies should move as fast as appropriate…but no faster. The speed to which John Bernard refers in his book’s title enables an organization to stay ahead of its competitors’ threats as well as its customers’ expectations.
Many (most?) business leaders embrace what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes in one of his books, Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” In a word, “then”: whatever was done until now that has been successful. Marshall Goldsmith observes, “What got you here won’t get you there” to which Bernard responds, “What got you here won’t even keep you here.” At best, “then” is a fond memory and for many (most?) executives, “now” is merely a continuation of it.
Bernard offers 12 admonitions. He assigns a separate chapter to each, explaining how to formulate and then implement a plan to achieve high-impact results with sharply-focused initiatives:
1. Prepare for Yes (e.g. empower front-line people with authority)
2. Put an End to Then (i.e. simplify the flow of work)
3. Drive Growth with Yes (i.e. create a culture of contagious affirmation)
4. Gain the Speed You Need (e.g. “travel light” in terms of “baggage”)
5. Create the Context for Speed (e.g. base decisions on verifiable facts)
6. Achieve Critical Breakthroughs (with a seven phase process)
7. Close the Execution Gap (with seven-step transparency initiative)
8. Equip Everyone with the Core Skill (with seven-step problem-solving process)
9. Banish Fear, Build Trust (e.g. be sensitive to individual needs to earn trust)
10. Stop Bossing, Start Teaching (e.g. remove “no” and “yes” from your vocabulary)
11. Accelerate the Shift [from Then to Now] with five initiatives (Pages 195-196)
Bernard makes skillful use of several reader-friendly devices such as the “Speedometer” self-audit at the end of each chapter than enables the reader to identify areas in greatest need of immediate attention in her or his organization. areas relative to the subject of the given chapter. Then on Pages 215-216, the reader can calculate the NOW score based on net scores from Chapters 1-11. Bernard also explains what each total score means. I also commend Bernard for including a framework for a “Then-to-Now Breakthrough Plan” that each reader completes. There are also dozens of Figures inserted throughout the narrative that either demonstrate transition processes (e.g. Figure 1.2, “Mass Production versus Mass Customization,” Page 8) or summarize key points (e.g. Figure 8.2, “Rules for Total Transparency,” Page 142).
I agree with John Bernard’s concluding thoughts: “The journey from managing in the then to managing in the now does not differ from the hero’s journey [portrayed by Joseph Campbell in his classic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces], and it always includes predictable experiences and struggles. It’s no coincidence that the hero’s seven steps on the path to success parallel the 11 chapters of this book when viewed as 11 steps.” Most change initiatives either fail, or fall far short of original expectations. Business leaders who read and then (preferably) re-read John Bernard’s book will be well-prepared to fire up their people, thrill their customers, and crush their competitors. If that is their vision, and it is certainly an admirable one, I presume to remind them of Thomas Edison’s observation: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Note: I recently re-read this book to assist with the preparations for an interview and even more impressed by the book now than I was when it was first published fuve years ago.
A Special Place Where “Extraordinary Ideas” Are Born
As Frans Johansson carefully explains, this book is really not about the Medici family, although the community of creative people its members funded exemplifies all manner of exciting possibilities for collaborative productivity; nor is it really a “business book,” although Johansson asserts — and I wholly agree — that there are lessons to be learned from that community which can be of substantial value to organizations in the 21st century. For example, to corporations which rely on multi-lingual communications and multi-disciplinary initiatives to compete successfully in a global marketplace.
So, what is this book’s core concept? The idea behind it is simple: “When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary ideas.”
Johansson achieves three specific objectives: He explains what, exactly, “the Intersection is and why we can expect to see a lot more of it in the future”; next, he explains “why stepping into the Intersection creates the Medici Effect”; finally, he outlines “the unique challenges we face when executing intersectional ideas and how we can overcome those challenges.” With regard to the third objective, I am again reminded of a passage in Leading Change where Jim O’Toole observes that there are always unique and formidable challenges when threatening what he characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
In Part One, Johansson focuses on the Intersection which, for most of us, offers the best environment in which to innovate. Next, he explains how to create the Medici Effect within that creative and collaborative environment. Then in Part Three, he offers specific suggestions as to HOW to make intersectional ideas happen. I share Johansson’s faith in what an Intersection makes possible, no matter who is involved, no matter where that Intersection may be located. I also agree with him that we can all create the Medici Effect because we can all get to the Intersection. “The advantage goes to those with an open mind and the willingness to reach beyond their field of expertise. It goes to people who can break down barriers and stay motivated through failures.” There are countless examples of groups whose talented members created the Medici Effect. For example, the research laboratory which Thomas Edison established for himself and his associates in Menlo Park (NJ) in 1876; he relocated it to West Orange (NJ) in 1883.
Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman examine more recent examples in their book, Creating Genius: the Disney studios which produced so many animation classics; Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which developed the first personal computer; Apple Computer which then took it to market; in the so-called “War Room” which helped to elect Bill Clinton President in 1992; the so-called “Skunk Works” where so many of Lockheed’s greatest designs were formulated; Black Mountain College which “wasn’t simply a place where creative collaboration took place” for the artists in residence from 1933 to 1956, “it was about creative collaboration”; and Los Alamos (NM) and the University of Chicago where the Manhattan Project eventually produced a new weapon called “the Gadget.”
Although the brief excerpt which follows is taken from Johansson’s Introduction, it serves as an appropriate conclusion to my brief commentary: “We, too, can create the Medici Effect. We can ignite the explosion of extraordinary ideas and take advantage of its individuals, as teams, and as organizations. We can do it by bringing together different disciplines and cultures and searching for places where they connect. The Medici Effect will show you how to find such intersectional ideas and make them happen. This book is not about the Renaissance era, nor is it about the the Medici family. Rather, it is about those elements that made that era possible. It is about what happens when you step into an intersection of different disciplines and cultures, and bring the ideas you find there to life.”
If there is another book published in recent years which is more intellectually stimulating than this one, I have not as yet read it.