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Book Review of: Re-Think

Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation

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Review of Re-Think, by Ric Merrifield (Softcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Bob Nardelli, who nearly destroyed Home Depot, is from my home town. My father and I talk about this embarrassing fact, from time to time. How did Nardelli go so wrong? In this book, you'll find the answer. It's not because Nardelli was stupid or ignorant, but because he focused on the wrong things. If you look at what he did, you have a checklist that makes sense. But his efforts bombed spectacularly. Why? This book looks into that.

Merrifield asks business leaders to step back and look at things from the perspective of what they are trying to accomplish rather than how to accomplish it. If you focus on the how before really thinking through the what, you are likely to fail.

Toyota (not an example in this book) has had great success with incremental improvement. Of incremental improvement, Merrifield cautions against paving the cow path. When incremental improvements are your total strategy, you'll reach a limit. Simply being better at doing the wrong things can take you only so far.

In the case of Toyota, re-thinking what its deliverables (I use that word intentionally, see my PMBOK comment later in this review) really are then constantly improving on those has been the core strategy. Companies that copy only part of this strategy can't expect great things to happen because they are essentially still doing what they've been doing.

Suppose you live in Los Angeles and want to say hello to your aunt Ella in New York. Picking up the pace to walk from Los Angeles to New York isn't nearly as effective as changing your transportation mode to Amtrak or a commercial jet flight. Even better, skip transporting your body and pick up the phone.

The business literature undergoes fads and cycles all the time. Unfortunately, this foments myopia and many business leaders latch onto the "new greatest thing" as the only thing or as the one thing to focus on. What Merrifield is talking about really isn't new. It stands out at the moment by being something other than the current fad.

You can find Merrifield's core concept in the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge). Mindconnection has a project management course that brings this same concept down to a level where anyone managing anything can understand and apply it. Stephen R. Covey addressed this same concept in his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People." You may remember his example of machete-wielders in the wrong jungle. The concept is relevant to anything from a small project to a large corporate initiative.

Though the concept isn't new, Merrifield offers something new by putting his particular spin on it, looking at how it applies from a corporate strategy standpoint, and providing case histories to illustrate the value of applying this concept.

The subtitle is wrong. This book is not a manifesto for cutting costs and boosting innovation. It is a reminder that doing either requires looking at strategy and not just tactics. This is a theme in management literature going all the way back to Sun Tzu. This book talks about strategy. It does not address tactics. The best strategy possible is useless without tactics that "make it happen."

Book outline

This book consists of eleven chapters, an introduction, a "key concepts" appendix, and an index. The introduction seems like a force-fit. It doesn't introduce the book and this text belongs in an appendix. A short preface and an actual introduction would be good, but this book contains neither. So, you kind of just jump right in with the first chapter after reading the "introduction" and wondering what book it really goes in.

The book begins by describing the "How Trap" in Chapter One. This is the problem the book proposes to solve with the "What" focus. The second chapter explains why rethinking from "How" to "What" is important.

The next five chapters each address one of five steps to move rethinking into reality and implementation. The next three chapters after those provide case histories of ING DIRECT, Eclipse, and Cranium. The final chapter basically exhorts the reader to keep rethinking. Merrifield illustrates the concept by looking at Amazon.

The Key Concepts section introduces new material. I didn't follow it very well. The version I reviewed did not have an index, so I can't comment on the quality of the index. There was no bibliography or notes section.

The copy I reviewed was a pre-release version that still hasn't gone through copy-editing. So, I can't evaluate how well the book conforms to Standard Written English. However, the draft I read was better than what is typically published after allegedly being copy-edited. I'm fairly certain the final release won't challenges the reader's cryptography skills.

If you've been smacked off course into the world of details and process, reading this book can help you get back in balance. I think it makes a good addition to the typical business library. If you've recently been immersed in project management studies or Stephen R. Covey materials, you probably would be better off buying this as a gift for a friend, supplier, customer, or client.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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