Beyond Great — a Book Review

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Beyond Great seeks to pull together the totality of the modern world around three primary trends and nine strategies for success. That is an ambitious goal, one that the book largely succeeds at doing. But there is a price. Reading this book is like hard rock mining. It takes a lot of effort. You get a steady stream of quartzite – nice but not what you are looking for. Then you hit a vein of gold and your efforts are rewarded. Then it back to pounding hard rocks. This is not a casual read, or a heavy theme & light substance business book. This book is dense with details, frameworks, paths, case studies and the like. Highly recommended if you have the time and study rather than skim the text. I got the most out of it, by taking notes on the side and almost reconstructing the major points as the dense prose can get in the way. Here is a summary of some of those notes. The give you an idea what you are working toward when you take on this book. The authors, all BCG senior partners, provide a solid, integrated and self-supporting view on what leaders need to do to thrive in the future. They describe a future driven by three forces: 1. The worsening strain on our natural ecosystem and rising discontent with capitalism and its resulting inequality. 2. The global business environment, its rising economic nationalism and the ongoing erosion of U.S. hegemony. 3. Technology in rewriting of the rules of global business fueled by the exponential growth of global data and digital technologies. Against these forces, the authors could be preachy, policy oriented and This book does the opposite. It delivers detailed analysis, well organized ideas and a thorough integrated argument. It suggests nine strategies that will lead companies to move “beyond great” – which is a little nudge to Jim Collins and his book Good to Great. Here are the chapter reviews: Introduction: Introduces and organizes the book into three themes: Growing Beyond, Operating Beyond, and Organizing Beyond. The nine strategies become the subsequent chapters of the book. Chapter 1: Do Good, Grow Beyond – making Corporate Social Responsibility and Stakeholder returns the core of the business rather than it being an ‘add on’ or ‘bolt on’. Push to achieve Total Societal Impact by following one or more of three paths presented in the chapter. Chapter 2: Stream it, Don’t Ship it – covers the customer centricity, experience and enablement aspects of the future. “Technology is making service the new product.” The authors seek to coin the term ‘servitization’ to describe the impact of information and technology on business. Good chapter with strong discussion of profit pools, the needs of the global consumer and a rehash of design thinking. Chapter 3: Refine your global game – presents a new view on globalization and operating in a new world order defined by two of the three major forces. Here the authors make a compelling argument that the free trade, globalization era is over. Success requires an approach that avoids projecting yourself on the rest of the world and more about how you focus on the overseas markets that matter – not all do – and creating value in-country as well as globally. Chapter 4: Engineer an Ecosystem – offers a different definition of the common view of ecosystem as supply chain on steroids with more collaboration. It is time for a new term “Dynamic Delivery Networks” to introduce new ideas around why, who and how you partner to create value. The five fundamentals of an ecosystem and an overall fresh view is worth the read. Chapter 5: Flex how you make it – a brief discussion about the nature and changing dynamics related to supply chains. The goal is to create more flexible, agile and responsive supply chains. The chapter describes a ‘flex’ approach. It is one of the shorter chapters in the book. Chapter 6: Let the Data Run Through It – presents a view on what it takes to turn data into fuel rather than the common view of data as exhaust. The best of the chapters in my view. Strong advice on the different pathways to creating a ‘data-advantaged operating model.” Chapter 7: Get Focused, Fast and Flat – presents a different organizational model and architecture for organizations that need greater creativity, responsiveness and customer focus. The chapter pays homage to agile, but really shines in its recognition of the need to build ‘horizontal platforms’ within a company. Another strong chapter worth your consideration and thought. Chapter 8: Thrive with Talent – a rather traditional discussion of the need for talent and approaches to attract, retain, build and deploy talent. Nothing wrong with the advice, but one that is one of the most traditional in its outlook. If you are looking for radical organizational advice, consider Humanocracy by Gary Hamel and Michael Zanini Chapter 9: Embrace Always-on Transformation – a recognition and presentation of a framework for continuous change and continuous initiatives. A very solid premise and a good presentation of a more agile and engagement-based approach to change. Missed the mark on the requirements to institutionalize both change and the execution of new – evolving capabilities. Chapter 10: Beyond Great Leadership – pulls the ideas together with imperatives for the books target audience – transformational leaders. Solid conclusion and discussion of six fundamental imperatives for leaders that basically encourage them to lead, but in new ways consistent with the other chapters. At the start of the review I mentioned that reading this book is like hard rock mining. Some chapters are hard work and yield quartzite – chapters 1,3,5,8,10. Others yield gold in the sense of illuminating new ideas and how they work – chapters Introduction, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 9. Overall Thoughts: It is perhaps the most comprehensive book I have read in a long time. The analysis and ideas are deep, complex and complicated – but so are the forces reshaping the future. It’s a good match. A superior illustration of a structured argument and presentation. You can see the authors outline in the chapters and paragraphs, which in this case is a good thing. There are very few ideas introduced in one area that are left hanging in latter chapters. This is perhaps the most complete system of strategies I have ever read. The prose is dense making it a book that you cannot skim or skip over. In many cases the meat is in the middle of paragraphs rather than being in the topic sentences. It is also written by consultants with their own particular style. The authors tried to contextualize the text at the last minute to COVID-19 and the events of 2020. This helps make the book relevant, but you can see where the sentences have been inserted rather than integrated into the argument. Really recommended as it helps you think through and provide concrete advice on handling the future. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it.

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