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Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, which has gone on to sell well over 4 million copies, and we liked it enough to pick it as one of our 100 best business books of all time, has written, with Morten Hansen, another seminal book. All of Collins’s books are research-based and are often quite contrarian. But Collins also has shown a remarkable ability to create metaphors that explain very complicated concepts, metaphors that stick in your brain, like the Hedgehog Concept and the Flywheel, which represent important business ideas and have become part of the business lexicon. With Great by Choice, Collins and Hansen continue this winning model.
Based on nine years of research, the authors looked for enterprises that excelled statistically but also excelled in a particularly turbulent environment. “From an initial list of 20,400 companies, we systematically sifted through 11 layers of cuts to identify cases that met all our tests.” Out of this research they found a final set of companies they called 10X because they beat their industry index by at least 10 times. I appreciate that for people who have read Good to Great this sound familiar. The difference is the second basis the researchers used: “The enterprise achieved these results in a particularly turbulent environment, full of events that were uncontrollable, fast-moving, uncertain and potentially harmful.”
The researchers believe that 10Xers display three core behaviors: fanatic discipline, empirical creativity and productive paranoia.
By embracing the myriad of possible dangers, they put themselves in a superior position to overcome danger. 10Xers distinguish themselves not by paranoia per se, but by how they take effective action as a result. Paranoid behavior is enormously functional if fear is channeled into extensive preparation and calm, clear-headed action, hence our term “productive paranoia.”
In the end, the number of 10xer companies were distilled to seven, Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, and Stryker, and we meet them all in great detail and with surprisingly fresh stories in Great by Choice.
Research is all well and good--and this book presents plenty of it including a substantial section at the back of the book of research notes--, but a book has to be readable, the advice applicable, the examples memorable to really get you thinking and inspire change. Collins and Hansen have done all of that, and in doing so, have given us the perfect book for our times.
A couple of years ago, Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote Too Big to Fail, a brilliant and unparalleled “fly on the wall” narrative deep from the heart of the financial meltdown. Now, Bill Vlasic has written the equivalent about the American automotive industry meltdown from 2005 to the present.
Bill Vlasic, Detroit bureau chief of The New York Times, shows us, in amazing detail, the people and the cultures responsible for “the fall and resurrection” of this mainstay of the American economy throughout the 20th century. All the characters are present and there is plenty of drama present too. When the troubled companies went to Washington with hat in hand looking for loans to survive, Ford was actually looking for a line of credit instead.
This was a juncture in history, the exact moment when the Big Three parted ways forever. For decades, these three auto companies had moved in lockstep, whether it was the cars they built or the wages they paid or the mistakes they made. They had always fought like brothers in the same house and played by their own unique, inbred set of rules. But not anymore, Ford was going in one direction, and GM and Chrysler were going in another.
After the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler, what emerged were new versions of the companies, but they remain haunted by the past. Vlasic writes with color and criticism:
The “old GM” and the “old Chrysler” were junkyards laden with rusted parts and pieces of an industry fallen on very hard times. There wouldn’t be much demand for any of it. The nation was littered with shuttered auto plants…. Most were just abandoned industrial hulks sprawled over hundreds of acres, left vacant while awaiting demolition, environmental cleanups, and willing developers.
Once Upon a Car tells one of the gravest and under-told stories in American business history. Even if you find yourself less than sympathetic to this trifecta that resisted change until change was brought upon them, you’ll be riveted by their story, as Vlasic enriches his journalistic attention to detail with the drama and pacing of a summer beach read thriller.
Imagine a company that has zeroed in on an opportunity to solve a problem or fulfill a need. They hire a bunch of their friends and start brainstorming on how to create something innovative that will not only serve the opportunity, but will set them apart from the competition in big ways. Then, slowly but surely, things go nowhere. The project isn’t a total failure, but the disappointment over what could have been is discouraging, even painful.
According to Stephen Shapiro’s new book, this kind of result occurs because companies rely on following the predictable route: hire a bunch of people you like, and try to get them to think outside the box, when all you have presented them with is the box. Best Practices are Stupid offers alternative practices.
“Hire people you don’t like.” According to Shapiro, different perspectives fuel innovation. Right brainers need left brainers and vice versa. “Recognize people for challenging the status quo,” implying that honoring people for doing their jobs simply asks for, “more of the same, please!” And finally, “give employees a better box,” meaning, instead of asking them to think outside of the box (a clean, empty slate), leaders should provide employees interesting new boxes to work within, be inspired by, and develop into totally new ideas, products, and services.
From process to strategy to measures to people to creativity, Shapiro covers the entire equation. Using great case studies and his intelligent and logical insight, this book is filled with ideas that can create a sustainable, innovative culture and personal philosophy that can be relied upon repeatedly.
His previous book, Personality Poker, made clear that Shapiro understands how people work, both personally, and together. Best Practices Are Stupid now focuses on how leadership can develop teams of highly innovative people, and how employees can find ways to stand out from the herd and achieve greatness within their organization.