Appearing in In The Black magazine, December 2018
Detonate: Why – And How – Corporations Must Blow Up Best Practices (And Bring a Beginner’s Mind) to Survive
By Jeff Tuff and Steven Goldbach
Wiley, $42, 224 pages,
Tuff and Goldbach, senior figures in Deloitte Consulting, have seen many established companies flounder when trying to deal with change, and they have reached the conclusion that ‘best practices’ are part of the problem more than part of the solution. In an earlier era, the idea of doing what had succeeded before made sense but in a time of constant disruption it is the path to failure. Even more, they say, the relatively slow speed of marketplace change allowed wasteful habits to continue without consequence. No longer.
There is an intuitive logic to this, but the issue with this analysis is what comes after the demolition of the old way of doing things. This is where the real value of the book lies, as Tuff and Goldbach set out a road-map for a new method of operations. In particular, managers have to look less at organisational charts and more at psychology, both of employees and of customers. Equally, they must develop a “beginner’s mind” which is open to radical ideas and concepts, and be willing to experiment.
Tuff and Goldbach write with contagious enthusiasm, and offer good case studies and examples. Interesting stuff, presented in an interesting way.
Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, And Succeed with Any Type of Boss
By Mary Abbajay
Wiley, $40, 224 pages
In a society obsessed by leadership Abbajay takes the view that the ability to effectively follow is an under-rated skill. Moreover, she says in this short but pithy book, it is a skill that can and should be learned. The point of Managing Up is not about manipulating your boss – although Abbajay provides an interesting analysis of the different types of bosses – but about building collaborative relationships. Working with a boss is a partnership, albeit an unequal one, and a little empathy and understanding can go a long way.
Abbajay provides a series of lessons on how to communicate with a boss, and how to adapt to their style. These skills will be valuable when you move into a position of leadership yourself, she says, so put effort into developing them.
She acknowledges that some bosses will try to take credit for the work of their reports but in most cases the leading people in the organisation will know who is really responsible. Abbajay offers plenty of stories to illustrate her points and there are useful checklists and summaries in the book as well. In the end, it is about taking control of your workplace life – a lesson that is well worth learning.
Chasing Digital: A Playbook for the New Economy
By Anthony Stevens and Louis Strauss
Wiley, $33, 204 pages
For many corporations the prospect of digitisation is daunting. It need not be, say Stevens and Strauss, consultants in this field; in fact, it can open a whole new range of possibilities. In Chasing Digital they provide a five-step plan for the transition, and they avoid techno-babble in favour of a real-world perspective.
They realise that most companies, even as they make the transition, still need to turn a daily profit, so they recommend a two-track approach of using technology to improve operations in the legacy company (“Engine A”) while creating a digital version (“Engine B”). Eventually, many functions of Engine A can be folded into Engine B but there needs to a clear understanding of the value chain. Getting the software right is critical, and Stevens and Strauss emphasise that having a platform appropriate to customer demand is more important than bells and whistles. Investing in external advice can help, even as the Engine B team is being built. They recommend having a Digital Director to supervise the transition, with part of their job being to explain the process to the board. Digitisation requires a new mindset as much as new tech – not easy, but necessary in the long run.
How To Speak Human
By Dougal Jackson and Jen Jackson
Wiley, $30, 192 pages, ISBN 9780730359548
The Jacksons are founders of Jaxzyn, which they describe as an “employment experience” company. This fits with the chatty, conversational style of this book, although the authors clearly have a deep belief in the importance of positive communication in a busy, noisy world. Whether you are marketing a product or marketing yourself there is useful advice here, especially in the sections on building a narrative, using curiosity and surprise, and matching images to words.
They have a special interest in transforming complexity into clarity by finding the issues of most interest to the audience and using an appropriate level of language. But they emphasise that communicating simplicity requires a thorough understanding of the source material. They also explain the importance of choosing words carefully, favouring the active and the concrete over fuzzy abstractions and time-worn clichés. The key to good communication is personal engagement, not showing how many big words or Latin phrases you know.
One of the most significant sections of the book is the concluding chapter, where the Jacksons examine common excuses for not communicating clearly. They dispel reasons such as legal compliance, cost and technical complication. The risks associated with poor communication, they say, are even greater.