Re-Think, by Ric Merrifield (Softcover, 2009)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
Bob Nardelli, who nearly destroyed Home Depot, is from my home town. My father and I talk about this embarrassing fact, from time to time. How did Nardelli go so wrong? In this book, you'll find the answer. It's not because Nardelli was stupid or ignorant, but because he focused on the wrong things. If you look at what he did, you have a checklist that makes sense. But his efforts bombed spectacularly. Why? This book looks into that.
Merrifield asks business leaders to step back and look at things from the perspective of what they are trying to accomplish rather than how to accomplish it. If you focus on the how before really thinking through the what, you are likely to fail.
Toyota (not an example in this book) has had great success with incremental improvement. Of incremental improvement, Merrifield cautions against paving the cow path. When incremental improvements are your total strategy, you'll reach a limit. Simply being better at doing the wrong things can take you only so far.
In the case of Toyota, re-thinking what its deliverables (I use that word intentionally, see my PMBOK comment later in this review) really are then constantly improving on those has been the core strategy. Companies that copy only part of this strategy can't expect great things to happen because they are essentially still doing what they've been doing.
Suppose you live in Los Angeles and want to say hello to your aunt Ella in New York. Picking up the pace to walk from Los Angeles to New York isn't nearly as effective as changing your transportation mode to Amtrak or a commercial jet flight. Even better, skip transporting your body and pick up the phone.
The business literature undergoes fads and cycles all the time. Unfortunately, this foments myopia and many business leaders latch onto the "new greatest thing" as the only thing or as the one thing to focus on. What Merrifield is talking about really isn't new. It stands out at the moment by being something other than the current fad.
You can find Merrifield's core concept in the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge). Mindconnection has a project management course that brings this same concept down to a level where anyone managing anything can understand and apply it. Stephen R. Covey addressed this same concept in his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People." You may remember his example of machete-wielders in the wrong jungle. The concept is relevant to anything from a small project to a large corporate initiative.
Though the concept isn't new, Merrifield offers something new by putting his particular spin on it, looking at how it applies from a corporate strategy standpoint, and providing case histories to illustrate the value of applying this concept.
The subtitle is wrong. This book is not a manifesto for cutting costs and boosting innovation. It is a reminder that doing either requires looking at strategy and not just tactics. This is a theme in management literature going all the way back to Sun Tzu. This book talks about strategy. It does not address tactics. The best strategy possible is useless without tactics that "make it happen."
This book consists of eleven chapters, an introduction, a "key concepts" appendix, and an index. The introduction seems like a force-fit. It doesn't introduce the book and this text belongs in an appendix. A short preface and an actual introduction would be good, but this book contains neither. So, you kind of just jump right in with the first chapter after reading the "introduction" and wondering what book it really goes in.
The book begins by describing the "How Trap" in Chapter One. This is the problem the book proposes to solve with the "What" focus. The second chapter explains why rethinking from "How" to "What" is important.
The next five chapters each address one of five steps to move rethinking into reality and implementation. The next three chapters after those provide case histories of ING DIRECT, Eclipse, and Cranium. The final chapter basically exhorts the reader to keep rethinking. Merrifield illustrates the concept by looking at Amazon.
The Key Concepts section introduces new material. I didn't follow it very well. The version I reviewed did not have an index, so I can't comment on the quality of the index. There was no bibliography or notes section.
The copy I reviewed was a pre-release version that still hasn't gone through copy-editing. So, I can't evaluate how well the book conforms to Standard Written English. However, the draft I read was better than what is typically published after allegedly being copy-edited. I'm fairly certain the final release won't challenges the reader's cryptography skills.
If you've been smacked off course into the world of details and process, reading this book can help you get back in balance. I think it makes a good addition to the typical business library. If you've recently been immersed in project management studies or Stephen R. Covey materials, you probably would be better off buying this as a gift for a friend, supplier, customer, or client.