TayPrac 11-04-037

Practically Radical - Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself


William C. Taylor

Harper Collins, 2011, 291 pp.  ISBN 978-0-06-173461-8



Taylor, the cofounder of Fast Company Magazine, offers a collection of case studies that illustrate radical ideas and practical suggestions to help leaders "transform their companies, shake up their industries, and challenge themselves." 



Warren Buffet warns that good ideas go badly wrong in three steps.  The innovators see the new opportunities.  The imitators copy the innovators.  And the idiots undermine the innovations through their avarice. (xiii)


Organizations tend to fly too high during boom times and shoot too low during tough times.  But design tends to thrive in hard times.   Economic turmoil provides opportunities for challengers.


The opposing risks are sinking the boat or missing the boat.  But the opportunities lie in rocking the boat - "searching for big ideas and small wrinkles, inside and outside the organization, that help you make waves and change course." (xix)


"The challenge for leaders in every field is to emerge from turbulent times with closer connections to their customers, with more energy and creativity from their people, and with greater distance between them and their rivals." (xix)


Part I.  Transforming Your Company

1.  What You See Shapes How You Change - The Virtues of Vuja De    

"We are living in the age of disruption.  You can't do big things anymore if you are content with doing things a little better than everyone else….   The most effective executives … redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking." (13)


"Vuja de is looking at a familiar situation as if you've never seen it before, … developing a distinctive point of view on the future."  (13) Clarity and confidence may come from rediscovering and reinterpreting the past and uncovering virtues or long-forgotten principles that deserve to be reborn.  The past can become prologue as you see the future with fresh eyes.


"I believe the attributes that made you great once can make you great again--if you summon the 'brilliance of your predecessors' as a call to action rather than a cause for complacency." (36)  Look into your roots.  Reclaim the past. 


2.  Where You Look Shapes What You See--Of Big Dots, Pit Stops, and Hot Spots

Reach beyond the walls of your organization and your industry.  Look at a wide array of fields for ideas that are working elsewhere.


"'In 1912, a curious Henry Ford watched men cut meat during a tour of a Chicago slaughterhouse. The carcasses were hanging on hooks mounted on a monorail.  After each man performed his job, he would push the carcass to the next station.  When the tour was over, the guide said, 'Well, sir, what do you think?'  Mr. Ford turned to the man and said, 'Thanks, son, I think you may have given me a real good idea.'  Less than six months later, the world's first assembly line started producing magnetos in the Ford Highland Park Plant."  (53, quoting Benchmarking for Best Practices, Christopher Bogan and Michael English)


The new logic of innovation is "lift and shift."  "Search for great ideas in unrelated fields, lift them out of the context in which they took shape, and shift them into your company." (54, citing Indra Nooyi)


Exposure to other fields can inspire a whole new mind-set, the ability to reimagine what is possible in your own industry.  If you search where others don't look, you may find opportunities others don't see.  "Ideas that are routine in one industry can be downright revolutionary when they migrate to another industry…"  (72)     


3.  Radically Practical (I) -- Five Truths of Corporate Transformation

1.  Most organizations suffer from tunnel vision.  The challenge is to see the organization with new eyes, to develop a distinctive point of view, to see a different game that will produce new results.  Rethink and reinvent how you operate.  We kill too many good ideas by rejecting them without thinking about them.


2. Most leaders see the same way as everyone else because they look in the same places.  Learn from innovators outside your industry.  Apply what is working elsewhere.  Reimagine what's possible. 


3.  History can be a curse.  Break from the past without disowning it. "The essence of creativity…is figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you already think." (87-88, quoting Jerome Bruner)  The most rewarding path may be to return to first principles.


4.  Summon a sense of urgency and turn it into action.  Stories of possible scenarios - both positive and negative possibilities - can be very persuasive. 


5.  Change agents can never stop learning. 


Part II.  Shaking Up Your Industry

4.  Are You the Most of Anything?  Why Being Different Makes All the Difference

Zappos is the example here.  If Zappos is out of stock, the rep will search competitors' web sites and tell the customer where he can get it!  They lose the sale but serve the customer.  Zappos wants to talk to customers.  They encourage customers to call.  [Wouldn't that be a welcome change? DLM]


"If you do things the same way everyone else in your field does things, why would you expect to do any better?"    Think about banks.  When asked why someone should choose their bank over the competition, bank employees have no answer.  Here is an opportunity to do something distinctive. 


"It's not good enough to be 'pretty good' at everything anymore.  You have to be the most of something: the most elegant, the most colorful, the most responsive, the most focused." (107)  There's no more room in the middle of the road.  Most companies have tunnel vision, chasing the same opportunities that every other company is chasing, missing opportunities hiding in plain sight.


"Idea brands" offer something that is rare, reflect a commitment to a big idea, and are intensely human.  They are not perfect: they are polarizing, lopsided, skewed.  But they can be very attractive to many. 


Winning organizations are driven by clear, simple, and original defining ideas that describe the impact they seek and the legacy they will leave.  "Mental models are what separate organizations that are the most of something…" (119)  "They transform the sense of what's possible in their fields."  (119)  "They are successful precisely because they don't look, talk, behave, or compete like other companies in their fields.  They are outliers, extremists, game changers." (126) 


5.  Different on Purpose -- Motivation, Inspiration, and The Heart of Innovation

"The companies with the strongest emotions win." (144)  How much time did you spend this month checking on your values and creating a sense of empathy among your leaders?  Do senior executives spend any time on the front lines?  It is easy to lose touch with what happens in the trenches, to disconnect from the day-to-day struggles. 


"Sustaining performance…is as much about cultivating a spirit of grassroots energy, enthusiasm, and engagement as unleashing a set of game-changing ideas." (146)  Caring more about your customers than your competitors do is a key factor in long-term success.  It also holds you together in the workplace.  And the tougher the times, the more important the emotions.  Workers committed to the customers are committed to their work. 


Behind every great brand is a clear statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world.  You can evaluate your current and proposed practices by whether it is the right thing for your purpose.  "Marketing is a tax you pay for being unremarkable." (155, quoting Robert Stephens)


"Companies continue to behave in ways that drive their customers crazy: outlandish baggage fees from airlines, rigged overdraft charges from banks…. Many companies depend on their most dissatisfied customers for so much of their profits. … Sometimes all it takes to drive mass defection is the appearance of a customer-friendly competitor." (158-59)


"The critical variable…was neither the lowest price nor the highest quality, but the depth and consistency of the human interactions between a company and its customers." (165)  How would your customers describe their feelings about your organization: confidence? integrity? pride? passion?  Can your customers imagine a world without your organization?  London Drugs is "more concerned with being part of people's lives than with maximizing each transaction."  (168) 


6.  Radically Practical (II) -- Five New Rules for Starting Something New

1.  Become the most of something.  Be the driving force for transformation in your field, rather than a lagging indicator. 


2.  Be unique.  This does not mean that you cannot do lots of different things.  Zappos is about the very best customer service and customer experience. 


3.  Care more than the competition does.  "You cannot provide this [outstanding] level of service without people deeply committed to the organization."  (178) 


4.  Engage customers emotionally. 


5.  You don't have to start from scratch to embrace a blank-sheet-of-paper mind-set.  "Challenge middle-of-the-road thinking and develop strongly felt opinions that respond to fast-changing markets, fast-moving technologies, and fickle customers."  


Part III.  Challenging Yourself

7.  Leadership Without All The Answers--Ambition, Humbition, and the Power of Hidden Genius

"Innovation emerges from the bottom up, unpredictably and improvisationally, and it's often only after the innovation has occurred that everyone realizes what's happened.  The paradox is that innovation can't be planned, it can't be predicted; it has to be allowed to emerge." (198, quoting Keith Sawyer)


"The most effective leaders…recognize that the most powerful ideas can come from the most unexpected places: the quiet genius buried deep inside the organization; the collective genius that surrounds the organization; the hidden genius of customers, suppliers, and other constituencies who would be eager to share what they know if only they were asked.  That's the difference between success and failure today…."  "Motivate people by your passion, by your insights, and most importantly, by your willingness to listen to them." (199) 


"The most successful leaders are the ones who make it their business to get the best ideas from the most people, whatever their background, job title, or position in the hierarchy." (200)


"Creativity at most organizations is a blip when it needs to be a heartbeat."  (214)


8.  Hidden Genius at Work--From Shared Minds to Helping Hands

"Most companies are surrounded by customers, suppliers, fans, advocates, and interested parties of all kinds who are passionate about what they do, bursting with ideas, and eager to be more involved.  Why not invite them to demonstrate their creativity to you, share their best ideas with you, and collaborate to solve your toughest problems or deliver on your most promising opportunities?" (223)


"The best way to work on hard-to-solve challenges is to challenge conventional ideas about what kinds of people can work with you to solve them." (227) 


9.  Radically Practical (III)--Five Habits of Highly Humbitious Leaders

[Humbitious means a balance of humility and ambition.]

1.  Don't pretend to know everything.  The most powerful ideas often come from the most unexpected places. 


2.  Leverage the virtues of collective genius to evaluate the ideas they attract.  Someone has to pick the best ideas.  Give others a voice in the decision-making process. 


3.  Get good at rejecting the bad ideas without demoralizing the people who submitted them.  Demonstrate that everyone's ideas get a fair hearing. 


4.  Share your ideas with outsiders just as you desire outsiders to share their ideas with you.  Those most eager to learn often become the best teachers. 


5.  Go beyond personal leadership and make this an organizational way of life.  Allow as many participants as possible to emerge as leaders. 


Appendix.  Ten Game Changer Questions

  1. Do you see opportunities others don't see?
  2. Do you have ideas about where to look for ideas?
  3. Are you the most of anything?
  4. If your company went out of business would anyone miss you and why?
  5. How can your history help shape your future?
  6. Do you have customers who can't live without you?
  7. Do your people care more than your competitors care?
  8. Are you getting the best contributions from the most people?
  9. Are you consistent in commitment to change?
  10. Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?