InReview – Issue 67

book-keganImmunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009. xvii, 340 pp.

Robert Kegan is a professor in Harvard Graduate School of Education. Lahey is associate director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group. Together they also wrote How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work.

We live in a world that is changing. We work at businesses that are changing. Our tools are changing. Our customers are changing. All of this suggests that we also need to change. And how do we do that? This book focuses on the research done by the authors to uncover what it takes for us to change.

Most of us know by both experience and observation of others that we don’t change just because we say we want to. Nor do we change because others want us to. The authors create a model to identify steps needed for change, whether personal (I want to lose weight) or professional (if I am going to advance to the next level in the company I will need to make these changes). The book offers insight for the person wanting to make changes personally, or for the organizational leader wanting to develop new strengths in others.

The model starts with commitment. Usually, commitment alone is not enough. So the authors develop a process to look beneath commitment to tangible activity: What we are doing and not doing? They then look at competing commitments to examine the priority of the proposed change. Finally they show ways to uncover hidden assumptions that drive behavior at a deeper level. It is not until we uncover the hidden assumptions that we are able to make the changes needed, they argue. The book is filled with illustrations from diverse business settings to personal examples.

I found the big idea of the book to be a helpful contribution to the area of change management. It did not, however, address the part of the problem that drew me to the book in the first place: How does an organization respond to major change (merger, major technological change) and identify those commitments that are needed for success? In this case, identifying the commitments is at the root of the issue, and the authors assumed the commitments were identified. So I look elsewhere.

Beyond this, I found the book a bit ponderous. The big idea could well have been explained in an article. The constant referral by the authors to their long experience in this area, and the restatement that this is the result of 25 years of research and never was going to be a book, became tiring.

Any business leader, or person, desiring to make changes should read the first few chapters of the book. Staying with it to the end in search of further insight was not rewarding, at least for me.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

book-prahaladThe New Age of Innovation: Driving Cocreated Value Through Global Networks by C.K. Prahalad and M.S. Krishnan. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. viii, 278 pp.

C.K. Prahalad is the Paul and Ruth McKraken distinguished professor of strategy at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. M.S. Kirshnan [LINK] is a Hallman Fellow and professor of business and technology at the same school. Prahalad was identified by Business Week as the most influential business thinker of our time, and is the co-author of three other best-selling business books.

Technology has been used to automate businesses over the past 50 years. But Prahalad and Krishnan see new opportunity for business coming from technology. First, it enables the creation of individualized products and services for the same price (or less) than those that are mass-produced. The authors refer to this as N=1, personalized, co-created experiences. Second, technology enables a business to create this value drawing on resources from all around the globe. They refer to this as R=G, global access to resources and talents. This is not outsourcing in the usual sense, but co-creation of value.

This changes everything about a business. How it does its marketing, its recruiting, its sales, and its manufacturing is vastly different from any traditional business. And though they believe we are not there yet, they forecast this as a journey that will be largely accomplished over the next 15 years. Those businesses that start the journey now will be ahead.

A fundamental underpinning of this vision is a strong technical architecture for innovation. This is rooted in tension: an architecture that is standard and efficient as well as flexible and adaptable. To accomplish this goal, they lay out levels of architecture, identifying what must be managed strategically and what can be outsourced. The book has many illustrations showing companies, many in India, that are well down the road toward this vision.

Two criticisms of the book: The author’s go further in level of detail than some will appreciate, but not far enough for implementation. They also draw on some work done in the early ‘90s on reengineering and in efficient mass production for small lot sizes that should have been referenced.

But this packages today’s technology with today’s business practice into a readable and challenging vision for what technology could do to business. They rightfully poke fun at Nicolas Carr’s book IT Doesn’t Matter along the way. Technology savvy business leaders should read this carefully. Leaders with less technology background should capture the big ideas here, to understand why ignorance is not bliss. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊


Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford. New York: The Penguin Group, 2009. 246 pp.

Matthew Crawford has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Chicago, is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies and Culture at University of Virginia, and owns and operates an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.

Much has been written about the move from the industrial age to the information age. The general wisdom is that all jobs involved in building physical things are going overseas to follow cheap labor. The only jobs that will remain for people in the U.S. are the “knowledge work” jobs requiring advanced degree training. Mechanically inclined people with good manual skills will simply not have much opportunity. The good thing about this is that knowledge-based jobs are more interesting and challenging.

Wrong, says Crawford. In fact, he argues, many manual jobs remain in the West. You can’t outsource the pounding of a nail on your deck or fixing a carburetor. Further, manual jobs can be very intellectually challenging. Fixing something that is broken requires the diagnostic skills of a detective, while at the same time much so called knowledge work has become mechanized by “process standardization.” Crawford uses his own experiences fixing motorcycles to illustrate the intellectual satisfaction that comes from this work. In fact, the intellectual challenge he found far greater than his leadership role at a think tank. He goes on to argue that pushing all students toward college is a big mistake, when there are great opportunities for satisfying work that don’t need the advanced education. And he mourns the closing of so many shop classes that are not a part of the advanced education focus.

The book is beautifully written.

I also found much in the book that misses the mark. The author doesn’t acknowledge that his insights on the nature of work were strongly influenced not just by his work at the shop but also by his education. Nor does he comment on why he took the position as a fellow at a university institute rather than simply running his motorcycle shop. Nor does he acknowledge that an education is more than vocational training, but rather is life shaping. Thus the flaw in the book is that he generalizes about jobs from his own experience (he likes his motorcycle job and hated his think tank job). Rather than pitting manual labor against knowledge work, it would be better had he simply espoused the virtues of some kinds of manual labor. Sweeping all knowledge work into the structured, controlled category was too much.

In spite of these concerns, this is a book worth reading. We seldom hear his key point made so persuasively. And we can fill in the balancing points that he has missed.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

book-itadventuresAdventures of an IT Leader by Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan, and Shannon O’Donnell. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009. vi, 314 pp.

Robert Austin is a visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School and emeritus professor at Harvard Business School. Richard Nolan is professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and the Phillip Condit endowed chair of business administration at University of Washington Foster School of Business. Shannon O’Donnell is a consultant and Ph.D. fellow at Copenhagen University.

A veteran business leader with no background in technology is asked by his new CEO to take over the chief information officer (CIO) role. Why would he be asked to take on such an assignment? And if he were to accept, what does he need to know to succeed?

Written as a novel with a compelling style and page-turner qualities, this book offers valuable insight into to role of the CIO. It covers the range of concerns faced by the CIO, including strategic development and immediate fire fighting. It was realistic enough that I found myself back at The Boeing Company where I was a member of the CIO council for my last five years there. The joys of creative development, the challenges of resistance to change, and the nightmares of endless meetings involving difficult and expensive issues all came rushing back. The book does a great job of capturing the true linkage between technology and the business — not a “you call, we haul” mentality, but a strategic partner in creating and reshaping the business.

This book is very creative and very well written. It provides an easy way to shadow a CIO over the course of a steep learning curve, gaining the insight and understanding of the true role of technology in business. This is not what I expected from Harvard Business Press, but a welcome addition to any executive’s library.

Reviewed by Al Erisman