The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Create Lasting Success

The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Create Lasting Success

by Rich Karlgaard

It is noteworthy that a prominent business journalist from Silicon Valley—where technology and IPOs dominate headlines—wrote a book about the human factors of business success. “The yin and yang of effective management has always been about the search for the right spot between data truth and human truth.”

“Hard-edge execution is all about managing exactly to the numbers. The people who live on the hard edge of business are good at making the trains run on time. They focus on profit. Their language is time, money, and numbers. Every company in the world needs these employees.”

“Soft-edge excellence—in trust, smarts, teams, taste, and story—tends to attract loyal customers and committed employees.” Karlgaard says the soft edge is “the heart and soul” of your company. Continue reading “The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Create Lasting Success”

The Responsible Company

The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years

by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley

We hear a lot about sustainability, but the authors contend “no human economic activity is yet sustainable… Responsible seems to us the apt, more modest, word to use… The term itself is necessary shorthand; there is no responsible company, only responsible companies of varying degrees, who act strategically to do less harm while improving, not sacrificing, the health of the business.”

Doing good and seeking profit are not incompatible. Wal-Mart’s initial environmental efforts were motivated by reputation management, “but removing excess packaging from deodorant sticks, concentrating laundry detergent in small bottles, and installing auxiliary power units in their trucks to reduce idling time turned out to save them millions of dollars.”

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Humble Inquiry

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

by Edgar H. Schein

Retired MIT Sloan School of Management professor Edgar Schein asserts, “Without good upward communication, organizations can be neither effective nor safe… Your organization may be underperforming because various employees or groups do not recognize the degree to which they are, in fact, interdependent.” The gist of this book is about creating a trusting environment with open communication across hierarchical boundaries. This entails less telling, more asking, and better listening.

“The U.S. culture is strongly built on the tacit assumptions of pragmatism, individualism, and status through achievement… Given those cultural biases, doing and telling are inevitably valued more than asking and relationship building. However, as tasks become more complex and interdependent, collaboration, teamwork, and relationship building will become more necessary. That, in turn, will require leaders to become more skilled in humble inquiry.”

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Simple Complexity: a Management Book for the Rest of Us, a Guide to Systems Thinking

Simple Complexity: a Management Book for the Rest of Us, a Guide to Systems Thinking

by William Donaldson

This book provides the cure for myopic management. It is about applying the principles of complexity and systems thinking to management. “Every organization is a system—in fact, a system of systems, perfectly designed to get the results it is getting today… Systems thinking is the unifying discipline that brings clarity to all of the other disciplines at work in your enterprise… The key, defining concept of systems thinking to remember is that nothing in the system is ever unconnected.”

Donaldson emphasizes the importance of context. “You have to ensure everyone has shared mental models of the enterprise and its management system… Remembering that context can enhance learning and comprehension by 50-100 percent, you must give employees context for both the part of the system they play a role in and the whole system.”

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The Halo Effect and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers

The Halo Effect and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers

by Phil Rosenzweig

Many business books and articles have been written about what Phil Rosenzweig calls “the mother of all business questions… What leads to high performance?” This book explains why much of this analysis is “riddled with errors.”

Using the examples of Cisco, ABB, and others, the author demonstrates the phenomenon. When times were good—strong revenue growth and a soaring stock price—these companies were praised for their exemplary strategy, culture, and CEO. When financial performance fell, the same strategy, culture, and CEO were ripped apart as severely flawed.

Why does this happen? Because we love stories. “As long as Cisco was growing and profitable and setting records for its share price, managers and journalists and professors inferred that it had a wonderful ability to listen to its customers, a cohesive culture, and a brilliant strategy. And when the bubble burst, observers were quick to make the opposite attribution. It all made sense. It told a coherent story.”

“Yet there’s a bit more to it. Our desire to tell stories, to provide a coherent direction to events, may also cause us to see trends that do not exist or infer causes incorrectly. We may ignore facts because they don’t fit into our story.”

How does this happen? Introducing the Halo Effect.  Continue reading “The Halo Effect and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers”

The Excellence Dividend

The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work That Wows and Jobs That Last

by Tom Peters

Tom Peters makes a renewed call to excellence in the context of an increasingly data-driven and dehumanized world. His “putting people first” mantra is even more on point than it was when his seminal work In Search of Excellence was published in 1982.

“The primary defenses against AI-driven job destruction are widespread, relatively unconstrained creativity and novel organizational arrangements designed to produce products and services that will stand out in an automated world. I unequivocally believe that such creativity is antithetical to algorithmic optimization of human affairs.”

“So what is this Excellence Dividend? In short, businesses that are committed to excellence in every aspect of their internal and external dealings are likely to be survivors. They are better and more spirited places to work. Their employees are engaged and growing and preparing for tomorrow. Their customers are happier and inclined to spread tales of their excellence far and wide. Their communities welcome them as good neighbors. Their vendors welcome them as reliable partners. That in turn translates directly into bottom-line results and growth. And, AI and robotics notwithstanding, it translates into jobs that last and the likely creation of new jobs as well.” Continue reading “The Excellence Dividend”

Tom Peters Reads A LOT

I have posted a review of The Excellence Dividend with some key points, but in this post I wanted to call attention to the vast number of books that Tom Peters refers to. The guy has read A LOT of books. I’ve compiled a list of 137 books mentioned throughout the text. I’ve read a few of them. The bold listings link to my review on The Key Point; the others link to Amazon.com.

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