o “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” – Douglas Adams
o “The will to power, as the modern age from Hobbes to Nietzsche understood it, far from being a characteristic of the strong, is, like envy and greed, among the vices of the weak, and possibly even their most dangerous one. Power corrupts indeed when the weak band together in order to ruin the strong, but not before.” – Hannah Arendt
o “Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power – that is not easy.” – Aristotle
o “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” – P.T. Barnum
o “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
o “In my experience, people who are truly compassionate rarely use the word ‘compassion.’ Those who do talk compassion generally intend to be compassionate with your money, not their own. It’s wrong for someone to confiscate your money, give it to someone else, and call that ‘compassion’.” – Harry Browne
o “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” – Indira Gandhi
o “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” – Alexander Hamilton
o “Pessimist by policy, optimist by temperament– it is possible to be both. How? By never taking an unnecessary chance and by minimizing the risks you can’t avoid. This permits you to play out the game untroubled by the certainty of the outcome.” – Robert A. Heinlein
o “When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail” – Abraham Maslow
o “For every human problem there is a solution that is simple, neat…and wrong.” – H.L. Mencken
o “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” – Thomas Paine
o “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” – Plato
o “If you ignore the rules, people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so they don’t apply to you.” – Terry Pratchett
o “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
o “Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do.” – Bertrand Russell
o “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” – Nikola Tesla
o “Wait by the river long enough and the body of your enemy will float by you.” – Sun Tsu
o “Man is the only animal that blushes – or needs to.” – Mark Twain
o “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Chris Zook and featured at the Thinkers50 website, an organization whose definitive global ranking of management thinkers is published every two years. The 2009 winner was CK Prahalad. The ranking is based on voting at the Thinkers50 website and input from a team of advisers led by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove. The Thinkers50 has ten established criteria by which thinkers are evaluated – originality of ideas; practicality of ideas; presentation style; written communication; loyalty of followers; business sense; international outlook; rigor of research; impact of ideas and the elusive guru factor.
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“Commander’s intent” is a legacy of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is a way that the strategy and priorities of a mission can be stated in a simple, and operational, way so that the field commanders at the front line and the most senior general can have a shared view of what is most important. At its best, a one-page “Commander’s intent” creates a more aligned organization that can respond faster by decentralizing decisions better. The practice is even more important in today’s world of near-instant electronic surveillance and response.
Yet, the typical business organization today, to its peril, is going in the opposite direction:
• Only about two in five people in the typical business say that they have any idea of the strategy and the key management priorities. Yet imagine a marching band where only 40 per cent knew the formation?
• Over half of “yield loss” from strategy targets to results is now attributable to faulty “wiring” as the strategy is driven to action at the front line, not to the high level idea itself.
• Though 80 per cent of executives feel that their core product is highly differentiated in the consumer experience, only 8 per cent of end-users agree – a large delivery gap.
Today, only 9 per cent of companies worldwide have achieved even a modest level of sustained, profitable growth in the past decade (5.5 per cent real growth in revenues and profits while earning the cost of capital) and the percentage has been declining for decades. Sustained growth is getting harder, though few deny that change in the world creates plenty of opportunities for most businesses. What can be done about this?
We recently completed a three year study at Bain & Company which concluded that the growing complexity of companies has become the silent killer of profitable growth – slowing companies down at the same time that markets are moving ever faster.
We examined hundreds of companies to define the design principles of businesses that permit faster response and better ability to adapt to change than their rivals. We called these companies the “Great Repeatable Models.” What we found at their centre was an essential simplicity of concept, and ability to use the hidden power of simplification as a competitive weapon increasing speed and the ability to learn, while controlling the growth of complexity that can accumulate like barnacles, layer after encrusted layer.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
To read my interview of him, please click here.
Chris Zook is a partner at the management consulting firm Bain & Company. He is co-head of Bain’s global strategy practice. The Profit from the Core books offer a blueprint to finding new sources of growth from a core business, based on a three-year study of thousands of companies worldwide. Chris ranked No. 50 in the Thinkers50 in 2007.
Note: I recently re-read several books that were published a while ago. For example, one of them is a brilliant biography of one of the most misunderstood but nonetheless one of the most influential thinkers who ever lived.
This is one of several volumes in the HarperCollins Eminent Lives series. Each offers a concise rather than comprehensive, much less definitive biography. However, just as Al Hirschfeld’s illustrations of various celebrities capture their defining physical characteristics, the authors of books in this series focus on the defining influences, developments, and achievements during the lives and careers of their respective subjects. In this instance, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527).
Obviously, this is not a definitive biography nor did Ross King intend it to be. However, for most readers, it provides about all of the information they need to understand the meaning and significance of this excerpt from the final chapter in King’s biography: “The key to some of the ambiguities may lie in the nature of the man himself. Machiavelli’s numerous undertakings – diplomat, playwright, poet, historian, political theorist, farmer, military engineer, militia captain – make him, like his friend Leonardo, a true Renaissance man. Yet, like Leonardo [da Vinci,] who denounced the ‘beastly madness’ of war while devising ingenious and deadly weapons, Machiavelli is awash in paradoxes and inconsistencies…Probably his greatest contradiction was that he understood better than anyone else in the sixteenth century how to seize and maintain political power – and yet, deprived of power himself in 1512, he spent many long years in the political wilderness, making a series of bungling and fruitless attempts to regain his position.”
With remarkable precision, concision, and eloquence, King examines not only Machiavelli’s life and career but also the cultural, political, and religious environment in which he was so actively involved more than 500 years ago. The Prince (or The Ruler) is Machiavelli’s most famous work but was not published until four years after his death, in 1531, when Pope Clement VII granted that permission to Antonio Blado. It was published together with Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy and The History of Florence. The Art of War (1520) was the only one of Machiavelli’s works to be published in his lifetime. King notes that The Prince circulated in manuscript and earned for Machiavelli a certain notoriety. “‘Everyone hated him because of The Prince,’ one commentator observed around the time of Machiavelli’s death. ‘The good thought him sinful, the wicked thought him even more wicked or more capable than themselves, so that all hated him.’ This was no doubt an exaggeration: Machiavelli was far better known as a popular dramatist and controversial state functionary than as the author of a tract on statecraft. Still, in the decades that followed, the hatred did indeed begin to curdle.”
King points out that a well-worn edition accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte to the Battle of Waterloo and Adolph Hitler kept a copy on his bedside table. Today, many people who have never read The Prince and know little (if anything) about its author do not hesitate to invoke his name — or at least apply it as an adjective — to describe or repudiate any political maneuvering they perceive to be devious. However, King asserts, rather than having been uniformly demonized or unfairly misunderstood “as a preacher of the straightforward message of evil,” Machiavelli has been “conscripted into service” by adherents of all manner of political causes because his thought is strangely malleable to any number of diametrically opposing ideologies and approaches.”
As I hope these brief remarks indicate, I learned a great deal about Machiavelli, a man of “numerous antimonies,” that I did not know before. I am grateful to Ross King for that but also for all that I learned about the extraordinarily interesting age in which Machiavelli lived, more than 500 years ago. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that King “brings it to life.” No one could. But he does present material with the skills and eloquence of a storyteller…and in seamless combination with the skills of a cultural anthropologist.