Achieving Longevity: A book review by Bob Morris

Achieving LongevityAchieving Longevity: How Great Firms Prosper Through Entrepreneurial Thinking
Jim Dewald
University of Toronto Press (June 2016)

Improvement that is not continuous is merely a gesture of no enduring value

Years ago at a GE annual meeting, its then chairman and CEO — Jack Welch — was asked to explain why he admired small companies and wanted GE to be more like them. His response:

“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they can only do the important things. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”

W. Brett Wilson may have had this perspective in mind when observing in the Foreword: “Entrepreneurship is something everyone should study for life…Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. It’s about innovation. And if there is one lesson I’ve learned from my career, it’s that anyone, anywhere, can have/develop/enjoy an entrepreneurial mindset.”

I agree with Welch and Wilson as well as with Jim Dewald who is convinced that organizations really do prosper if they establish and then nourish an entrepreneurial mindset at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Their people are constantly asking this question: “How can we make things better and do so faster at a lower cost?” In this book, Dewald responds to these questions:

1. “What is driving the renewed interest in entrepreneurship — specifically, corporate entrepreneurship? Are we entering a new era in which corporate entrepreneurship will become essential, even for short-term success?”
Comment: Welch thought that it was essential for GE thirty years ago. That’s good enough for me.

2. “How can existing business firms best prepare themselves to be entrepreneurial?”
Comment: Leaders in many (if not most) organizations think they are entrepreneurial and most are, to varying degree. My opinion is that organizations tend to reward what they value.

3. “What are the pitfalls or barriers, and how can firms and managers best prepare for these unexpected concerns?”
Comment: “Unexpected”? In Art of War, Sun Tzu asserts that every battle is won or lost before it is fought.

When responding to these key questions, Jim Dewald draws upon a wide and deep background in all dimensions of the business world. He shares an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel to leaders who face, each day, challenges in a business world that has become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember.

His concluding thoughts: “The ability of our corporate sector it adapt to paradigm-shifting innovation is unproven at best, and horribly immature at worst (based on the bubble). The path to longevity and firm sustainability is paved with the skill of entrepreneurial thinking, embracing an entrepreneurial culture, opportunity identification, bricolage, and effectual reasoning. I hope this book will help you find [or reignite] the entrepreneurial spirit and the source for longevity for your organization.”

I share that hope.

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