Q: Completing your first book together must feel satisfying. Can you discuss some of the joys and challenges of this experience?
A: This is the first time we’ve written a book together, and it has been a gratifying experience to say the least. Our styles are complementary, as are our overall skill sets. When we initially came together, we made a quick decision to swing for the fence—to make our own little dent in the universe by being bold and writ- ing to, and serving, a global audience. We took our three favorite authors—Covey, Collins, and Gladwell—and tried to impart a little of their style in our writing: principles, metaphors, and eclectic examples.
Q: What made you choose the importance of reinvention for this book?
A: The topic seemed to pick us for two reasons. First, we have extensive experience in individual and organizational change. And second, it seems the overwhelming concern right now with global leaders is, “Does my company have leaders that can lead in this tumultuous 21st century?” Being a master change agent and having the ability to pivot rapidly, proactively, and in quantum ways is becoming a competency that leaders today and tomorrow must master.
Q: What makes your book different from other books on the same topic?
A: There are a lot of great books on the subject of individual and organizational change. In fact, our colleagues have written some of these. It seems new ideas build on the ideas of others. We do think, however, that our book is the only business book that prescribes a powerful yet basic formula for quantum and rapid change that works equally well for both individuals and organizations. The notion that 21st-century competitiveness will be based largely upon the degree to which internal change exceeds the rate of external change seems to be something that hasn’t been fully articulated on a large scale. We believe that our book is the first to identify the fundamental global shockwaves that have created the business environment we all work in—the Age of Disruption.
Q: In your work as business consultants, you see clients with a range of needs and challenges—in the United States and around the world. What is something you feel a book can do to help clients, and when do you believe those clients would be better served by working directly with you?
A: Our sense is that well-written books with new and groundbreaking perspectives help shift paradigms—the worldviews of people reading them. These types of books provide answers for the problems being faced by individuals and organizations. In terms of working with clients, one of us spent a significant portion of our career at FranklinCovey. Stephen R. Covey used to talk about “the knowing-doing gap.” When we help clients implement the material in our books, we help close that gap. We help clients translate our ideas into actual behaviors. Often this results in a systemic approach; clients not only acquire new skills and knowledge, but they experience more aligned processes, systems, and structures along with more directionally correct strategies.
Q: Speaking of international clients, can you speak to the differences you’ve seen in businesses around the globe?
A: The only differences between geographical regions of the world and their need for reinvention are scale, scope, and points of emphasis. We are learning that all parts of the globe need the competency to sense incoming global shockwaves, and then to reinvent themselves in a way that accelerates remarkable results and a sustainable competitive advantage. We were recently in Egypt and Kuwait with a banking client. Before we arrived, we wondered to what degree our reinvention material would be relevant to the Middle East, and particularly in Kuwait, where government intervention is strong. To our surprise, the leaders in these countries deeply embraced the idea of reinvention, and were using the metaphors and models immediately, proclaiming, “This is exactly what we need!”
Q: Many people owe their career successes to moments of serendipity, or being in the right place at the right time. Others credit their determination. How have you two arrived at this point in your careers?
A: Three things: hard work, mentors, and relationships. We cannot overstress the importance of mentors in their ability to teach you the tools of the trade and guide you throughout the winding path of your career. And, of course, in the management consulting and training space it is all about relationships of trust and assisting one another.
Q: The tone of your book is one of urgency: if companies don’t get busy with reinvention, if they don’t work on being flexible and adaptable, they may find themselves trailing in the dust. If you’d written this book five years ago, what might you have said the most important trait was? What has changed between then and now?
A: The need to be flexible, adaptable, humble, and actively engaged in changing the organization has been firmly in place since the Age of Disruption was launched in the early 1980s. The difference now is the degree, intensity, and scale to which these attributes need to be modeled. As we noted in our introductory chapter, it seems the key word in the ’80s was “CHANGE.” Organizations needed to be able to adapt and change to meet global competitive threats. Then in the ’90s, thanks to Hammer’s book Reengineering the Corporation, the key word seemed to be “REENGINEER”— completely rethinking business and manufacturing processes. The 2000–2010 decade seemed to push the notion of change even further by stressing the need to “TRANSFORM” your organization—to rethink every piece of the enterprise. We’re suggest- ing that the key word in the 21st century will be “REINVENT,” or the need to not only rethink every piece of the organization, but to do so in rapid, quantum, and proactive ways. We remember our client projects in the 1990s and early 2000s being six- to twelve-month endeavors. Today, you wouldn’t even be in the discussion if you stuck to those timeframes; instead, consultants must be able to facilitate major change for their clients within three to four months.
Q: Many business books focus on success stories; but your book includes a handful of company failures. Do you think business leaders can learn more from one or the other—failures or successes? Why did you include failures in this book?
A: We have found that when you look at both success and failure examples side-by-side, a complete picture seems to appear. The “what not to do” seems to translate straight across to the “what must we do.” It validates your initial hypothesis in powerful ways. One interesting thing about our proposed methodologies, mod- els, and principles is that they are industry and geographically agnostic. We feel they are true principles of individual and organizational change that apply in any circumstance.
Q: What is some of the most surprising insight you’ve gained over the years as you’ve worked with clients?
A: In almost every case, leaders and employees generally want to do the right thing when they come to work. They want to make a difference. But a company’s strategy, culture, processes, systems, and structures play tremendous roles in what kind of behaviors, attitudes, and feelings you get from leaders and employees. The whole idea that organizations are perfectly designed to get the results that they get might be the most powerful organizational principle there is. Organizations truly get what they design for; if you want different results, you’ve got to change your design of strategies, culture, processes, systems, and structures—as we discuss in the book.
Q: What do you think the “Insights” from experts add to your book?
A: So many business books stay in the US-centric perspective. This means our international friends have to try to translate the message to their unique culture. Our big thought was this: why write chapter summaries and regurgitate our own medicine? Why not have experts from different regions of the world, from different industries, in different roles, shed light on our reinvention principles and give a global perspective after each chapter? We think readers will not only learn from this, but they will get the message that we truly tried to write a global business book.
Q: It’s often said that business values trickle down from the top—that beliefs and values held among those in the C-suite will influence the company’s entire culture. Have you ever seen this not hold true? Have you, for example, seen an instance in which a CEO has been open to change, while others in the company have resisted?
A: We have always said that unless the vast majority within an organization is feeling strong dissatisfaction with the current state, don’t even bother to launch a reinvention effort. CEOs and executive teams can initiate a change effort, but they cannot control the day-to-day actions of front line employees, even if those employees have agreed to make changes. We believe they are only going to sign up for a new way of doing things if: 1) they have a strong dissatisfaction with the current state; and 2) they are clear about what’s in it for them. We do, however, have strategies that we often suggest to executive teams that will help create a sufficient feeling of dissatisfaction within the employee base so that a reinvention effort can proceed.
Q: Is there a question you wish companies would ask you—one that is less obvious but will yield greater results?
A: Many leaders still believe “restructuring” is the answer to their performance problems. They think simply moving people around into different boxes, changing reporting relationships, and eliminating positions will make huge differences in results. That is tantamount to moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. As we mentioned before, the idea that organizations are perfectly designed to get the results that they get suggests that it is about “systemic change” and not just about changing one component, such as structure. It is about making choices in strategies, processes, systems, structure, and culture—and tightly aligning them—to get difference results. We would like to see this idea take hold among leaders, rather than seeing them rely on quick structural fixes to make quarterly earnings.
Q: There are a lot of management consultants out there with unique ways of perceiving and solving problems. What defines your style?
A: We try to stick with espousing principles that seem to be universal and unchanging, along with our viewpoint that everything must be approached systemically. And when we do client engagements, we know that the solutions must come, and must be owned, by the client; and that it is simply our role to help them discover the right things to do.
Q: Is there anything you didn’t have space to explore in this book?
A: We would have liked to have provided a lot more detail on the eleven exercises someone goes through for reinvention, but recognize that would have turned the book into more of an academic field guide. So those exercises are now on our www .ageofdisruption.com website. We also would have liked to talk more about our vision of leadership as it pertains to Leader- Accelerators, but we will take that up in our next book.
Q: Finally, if you could name the single most significant concept or piece of information you hope your readers will take away after reading Reinvention, what would it be and why?
A: Probably that it’s better to change before you have to than because you have to, and it’s important to use a formula that creates designed change rather than random change.