Appearing in In The Black, February 2020
That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea
By Marc Randolph
Netflix has become a fixture of the cultural landscape but it was a long haul to get there, according to Randolph, and founder and first CEO of the company. In this rollicking account he describes the many false starts and reversals, as the home entertainment business went digital and the technology that made streaming possible developed. There were plenty of sceptics (including Randolph’s wife, from whom the book’s title comes) but Randolph and some key investors persisted, constantly revising the business model and the product mix. At one point they pitched Blockbuster to acquire them; Blockbuster’s refusal stands as one of the worst business decisions ever made.
Randolph was wise enough to know that his strength was entrepreneurial energy and eccentric visions rather than the steady management that was needed as the company grew. He was willing to step back from an executive role but he saw the successful IPO, and the figure of 150 million subscribers, as vindication. The concluding section of the book sets out the lessons he distilled from the experience, and its makes for inspiring reading. The story of Netflix is also one of new technology driving industry disruption, which makes it useful as an extended case study of how modern business works.
The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation
By Gerald Kane, Anh Phillips, Jonathan Copulsky and Garth Andrus
MIT Press, $67
For those CEOs who think that digital transformation can be achieved simply by writing out a big cheque to the IT division, this book makes clear that it does not work that way. Slogans like ‘our people are our most important asset’ won’t take you very far either, unless matched by solid attempts to upskill the workforce, remake the culture, and recruit the right people for the right jobs.
After four years of research, with a survey of 16,000 people overseen by Deloittes, the authors find that very few companies have got it right. Significantly, 68 per cent of respondents said that transformation would require new leadership, both to guide the process itself and then to lead the company along the digitisation road.
In this connection, the book introduces a concept called digital maturity, meaning the ability to take advantage of opportunities offered by the new technology. It is about cultivating a digital environment, enabling collaboration, and encouraging an experimental mindset. Kane, Phillips, Copulsky and Andrus provide a useful road-map, with a list of essential leadership capabilities.
It adds up to a useful package for senior leaders, mid-level executives, and HR managers. Some people might not like being told how far they have to go, but it is the sort of thing you have to know.
Quality Management: Tools, Methods, and Standards
Edited by Marco Sartor and Guido Orzes
Emerald Publishing, $85
In the globalised, Net-driven, hyper-competitive marketplace of 2020, the factor that differentiates winning companies from also-rans is quality. This book is written by a group of European academics specialising in the field, although they have a wealth of business experience as well. They recognise how the quality debate has changed in the past decade, and they devote important chapters to ensuring quality for stakeholders both inside and outside the company. Moving from theory to practice, they examine and update critical concepts such as the balanced scorecard and the Kano model, as well as new developments in Six Sigma and lean manufacturing.
Management accountants and finance professionals are likely to find the most valuable chapters to be those focusing on statistical tools for quality oversight and process mapping. The section on methods of customer satisfaction analysis is also useful.
The second half of the book is devoted mainly to ISO standards such as ISO 9000, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001. The concluding chapter looks at SA 8000, the international standard linked to corporate social responsibility. Along the way, the book provides tools to ensure standards compliance and certification, making it a valuable addition to a critical field.