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I’m not looking for new content. I am looking for your most excellent advice about what I’ve got my hands around here. I want your advice about positioning, characterizing, describing, delineating—saying precisely what this book is, or should be, about.
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I agree that the world is changing but I don’t agree that corporations are what are becoming obsolete. Rather, I would argue that it is nation states that are the problem and that have to change. The evolution you speak of is fronteer, city, state, nation state and now world state. Corporations are far more effective in this evolution than our current set of nation states. Corporations easily cross boundaries to move people and products around the world. nation states fight wars to stop movement, to extend their values, beliefs and economics. If incomes of workers in the US are not increasing while those in Inida and China should we be surprised, should we protect our economies fit for our religions and values? Corporations are not the problem national governments are. Do we in the US have the god given right to put 25% of the worlds carbon into the air with less than 3% of the worlds population? It is corporate leaders who are going to government to ask for carbon regulation not the wonderful government leaders. Our nations need to get smaller and larger at the same time. The UK now has regional governments in Wales, Scotland, etc and is also part of th EC where they are attempting to create a new constitution. We need to create a workable world community and governance process. Corporations are a useful and leading part of this, not a relic of the past.
Thanks for listening
Charlie, Jim’s comment (which makes sense to me) serves to confuse me more as to where the CORE contribution of your book is, or should be.
I don’t THINK it’s just the "company is passe" point, as I think you seem to be wrestling with a number of beliefs that you want to challenge.
Let’s go back to basics, Charlie: who is it you want to write to and for? Are you trying to do a political and social trend commentary like THE WORLD IS FLAT, or are you writing a book for managers? I know you want to challenge B-school thinking, but is that the core or only a part of what you have to say.
I’d like to see you make a "simple" list of the 6-to-10 beliefs that you think need re-engineering. Then you/we can look for the commonality – that will be the core of your book.
You have asked that we respond primarily to what this book is about, based on the proposal, so here’s my take.
In a commercial world, with the intended emphasis on the global implication of that phrase, responsiveness to the often-changing needs and preferences of customers will have to be based on transparent and flexible business relationships among buyer-supplier networks rather on the insular and often, slowly adapting confines of traditional corporate behavior. This premise doesn’t necessarily imply the death of individual companies, but it does imply that companies that take a view of strategic success as dependent on focused, primarily horizontal, competitive strategy and advantage will be increasingly short-sighted and subject to buyer – supplier network shifts that overwhelm enterprise-focused strategies. The strategic implication for companies is to ensure that they stay as close to understanding customers’ current and anticipated needs, regardless of their current vertical position in a buyer-supplier network, and that they build trust and transparency across that network among the individual company/enterprise participants so that rapid adaptation is a shock-absorber type movement across the network rather than a sequential series of tightly contracted and negotiated adjustments. Increasingly in the global economy, by the time those traditional adjustments are made, customers’ tastes and desires are already moving on. Don’t be left behind!
Having attempted to do what you asked, Charlie, I want to support James’ excellent point about the stickiness presented by the often misguided protectionist tendencies of the nation-states that clearly work against the fluidity that is at the core of your network adaptability premise. I also add that, in my view, the brief proposal doesn’t account for the increasingly significant macro-effects of investment funds/private equity flows that are helping to restructure not only individual companies but industries with the ability to commit large amounts of capital quickly and efficiently. James would be better at commenting here than me, but players like Blackstone, Carlyle, and the nation-state of Dubai are having material effects on markets and on companies.
Finally, Charlie, David Maister’s comments are of similar value to his comments on your last book; i.e. to whom are you writing and what are the key beliefs that you are trying to drive home. Always good advice.
(Rob’s comments summarized by Charlie).
Charlie, you are right this needs focus; what are the main points you are trying to make. But you asked for help on that.
What I see is there should be four parts, and you’ve got one. There should be old guiding beliefs and old daily behaviors, matched up to new guiding beliefs and new daily behaviors.
You’ve built the proposal around old guiding beliefs, and maybe some old daily behaviors. You say others have written about new daily behaviors, but it wouldn’t hurt to reprise them.
But mainly, you’re missing the new guiding beliefs. It’s unsatisfying to read about how wrong the old thinking was without contrasting it to what the new thinking should be.
I will buy this book. The critical question is how to help others see its quality: What is its core – its “leadâ€? If I had to choose a central fact – the fulcrum of all the other arguments here – I would emphasize your August 2007 Business Week quotation: “something much more fluid, with a classic corporation at the center of an evershifting network of suppliers and outsourcers, some of whom only join the team for the duration of a single project …â€
I don’t know if this characterization can, ultimately, be proved true or false. It resonates, however, with my recent work at Microsoft and many other firms – including my current post in a group of ten international, private B2B media companies. Your triple emphasis on fluidity, network configurations, and project management – all these resonate strongly.
So here are potential “working titlesâ€ (working only) which could help shape this book. I suggest you experiment with ordering these titles, to help clarify a hierarchy of priorities:
Which titles could be accurate titles for your whole book – versus titles of chapters only?
I suggest you devote the first part of your book to a short, “wowâ€ history of corporate and other entities. The middle of the book then specifies new behaviors. The final portion of the book then comprises the wonderful “rethinkingâ€ questions you outline: Each of these can become a “research questionâ€ you propose for your next books, others’ research, etc.
Ah hah – I finally can see that you are writing a philosophy of business book. You are not forwarding a particularly new analysis of the marketplace; you are writing about ‘critical thinking’ for academicians and strategy consulting practice leaders, generically -thinkers/intellectuals in the area of business.
In many ways you are doing something that struck me in Chris Argyris’ work, Knowledge for Action You are telling the professionals to not get caught in the frame of the client. As I recall, Argyris warned of the inherent difficulty involved with organizational consultants accepting fees for their work. Without even trying, there is a huge risk (if not a fait accompli) of becoming ensnared in, and perhaps even propagating the organizational dysfunction.
So just for the record, and to emphasize the point, you are writing a book about how business leaders need to think – and perhaps you are forwarding a view that they need to think more rigorously, like philosophers.
In this particular proposal you are telling the academicians and strategy practice leaders to transcend the corporate form in their thinking – – to remember the game is commerce, not the container of commerce, if you will – the current form it shows up in–commerce in a corporate body.
You are reminding folks that commerce is something other than the corporate form. Further, focusing on the form as opposed to the substance is tantamount to a false premise. You are saying it is time that they returned to the examination of commerce in order to truly address the challenges of modern business.
The substance of commerce should be enabled by the form (the corporation), but in order to even begin to evaluate effectiveness, the lens must be properly focused to see the distinction, and to identify the proper use (and transcendence) of the corporate form to serve the substance (commerce).
The call to action is that the constructs created by the intelligentsia, its concepts, lexicon, models, ideology, are no longer serving to explain the phenomena, much less provide insight or guidance to business practitioners. (We humans once believed the sun revolved around the earth too!) This is a defining moment for strategic thinkers in the area of business. In fact, many (amazing that Business Week is releasing its grip on the holy grail) have noticed the ‘network’ phenomena. But it has not permeated the basis construct of business/business intellectual life because the intelligentsia is stuck on “corporate”.
New insights are unnaturally constrained by ‘company- thinking’. Rather than thinking about collaboration (1 1 = 3), we think about co-opetition (1 1=2) – We cannot stop seeing the fundamental construct as a company, with all of its purportedly inherent drives to survive.
If I were a cynic, I might suggest that business thinkers are stuck on corporate because that is the entity that pays the bills, issues the stock, has Boards of Directors, throws parties and the like. Or perhaps it is as simple as acknowledging the humanity of business intellectuals. They, too, are susceptible to the phenomena Dr. Argyris reported. But your book is not about that.
In an ideal world, I’d like to see you develop a body of work that ‘pulls back the covers’ on other false assumptions, fault-lines, false premises, intellectual defining moments in business thinking. Perhaps a new section in the library called Business Philosophy is needed to house all that you will have to say on the matter? Or is there already such a section now, beyond the Business Ethics stuff? However, I am not sure it will even get a sub-category in the business sections of Borders or Barnes and Noble – worthy of more than a passing thought.
This is the end of what I believe you requested.
But wait, there’s more!!
As it stands now, this proposal seems to be a container for all of the ideas you have that are a bit frustrating to you.
However, I do think you’ve got to tackle these ideas one at a time with clarity. I’m thinking that you need to create an outline that disciplines your ideas for impact as well as understanding. Perhaps something like this is a start:
Current False Premises of Intellectuals – e.g., corporations are the most effective form of commerce
Truth – the Reality – e.g., networks are much more effective and they are the super-ordinate organizing principle
Impact of Holding the False Belief – e.g., the governance structures of the corporate make only mild versions of cooperation possible when collaboration is needed.
What’s to be Done – e.g., if we see the network as the dynamically created set of partnerships for specific purpose, then clearly corporate strategy becomes understanding what my One Thing you Do Best is.
What’s Possible – what can be achieved or avoided with this new truth at the helm? (the “So What?”)
Your introduction of “trust”, albeit “social trust”, which may be a term of art with which I am unfamiliar, seems self-serving and unsubstantiated. In fact, this layperson can only guess that “scale” was made possible by legal contracts coming into vogue – – which eliminated the need for “trust” by replacing a handshake with codified adjudicable consequences. Not sure if I have that right at all, and perhaps for your own commercial purposes you want to sell trust. But I think it is, well, let’s say, not so great.
Secondly, “Since modem business to date has been largely an American story, and American metaphor is appropriate”. Whew!!! In this ‘flat world’ which is ‘global’, ‘networked’, etc. you sure are provincial. Again, I think, well, let’s say not so great.
OK– that is my best shot. I hope it is useful to you.
I think this work has the potential to be fabulous, and really really nourishing in a wasteland of business bullshit.
(these comments are notes taken by Charlie from a phone conversation with Howard).
My first reaction Charlie was kind of annoyance. I don’t think it’s clear what you’re trying to do.
I think that co-opetition has been around for a couple decades now, and you’re long from the first to comment on networks. So I’m not sure the thoughts are all that radical.
Also, you run the risk of being perceived as Pollyana-ish; China is growing massively and a lot of it’s being run by ex-Peoples’ Liberation Army people; the old Robber Baron model. Competition in the old form is very much alive and well in the world.
However (as we kept talking), you can position much of this as an evolution in the world that requires a shifting of thought. The concept of "sustainable competitive advantage" is still very much what the world’s about, but you can’t achieve it in the same ways. You’ve got to cooperate, you’ve got to join networks, soften the edges, all that stuff.
Another model of thinking about this might be structural functionalism, the idea that institutions evolve for form certain constant functions–driven by things like technology and regulation, their appearances change, but the basic functions are stable over time and must get accomplished. Have a look at Dwight Crane et al’s book "The Global Financial System: A Functional Perspective" as an example of this. The idea is basic functions that must be served; driving forces that act upon the world; and evolving institutions that continue to deliver the functions, but in different ways as the driving forces act on them.
Not sure I buy these eras, but some era idea is right. Maybe the robber baron era (which had a lot of co-opetition or collaboration, and which resulted in antitrust laws), followed by the bureaucratic era (where companies got stabilized), and now the current era. The ideologies that went with each era could be identified. The reigning ideology for the bureaucratic era was Porter and BCG/Henderson, which was as you say very much about separate corporate entities competing.
I think a lot of the value of your work Charlie is that it is grounded, practical. You don’t want to go off and write just a theory book; your value is you connect it to implications, things people need to do. That’s what made Trust-based Selling so powerful, Trusted Advisor too; you don’t want to stray too far from that.