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Business at the Speed of Now: A book review by Bob Morris

Business at the Speed of Now: Fire Up Your People, Thrill your Customers, and Crush Your Competition
John M. Bernard
John Wiley & Sons (2012)

Principles and practices to ensure that organizations move faster as well as be more productive and more profitable

As with any other strategy, speed needs to be used selectively rather than impulsively. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) acknowledges the importance of speed but as a strategic option, not an imperative, when striving to achieve peak performance. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, companies should move as fast as appropriate…but no faster. The speed to which John Bernard refers in his book’s title enables an organization to stay ahead of its competitors’ threats as well as its customers’ expectations.

Many (most?) business leaders embrace what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes in one of his books, Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” In a word, “then”: whatever was done until now that has been successful. Marshall Goldsmith observes, “What got you here won’t get you there” to which Bernard responds, “What got you here won’t even keep you here.” At best, “then” is a fond memory and for many (most?) people, “now” is merely a continuation of it.

Bernard offers 12 admonitions. He assigns a separate chapter to each, explaining how to formulate and then implement a plan to achieve high-impact results with sharply-focused initiatives:

1. Prepare for Yes (e.g. empower front-line people with authority)
2. Put an End to Then (i.e. simplify the flow of work)
3. Drive Growth with Yes (i.e. create a culture of contagious affirmation)
4. Gain the Speed You Need (e.g. “travel light” in terms of “baggage”)
5. Create the Context for Speed (e.g. base decisions on verifiable facts)
6. Achieve Critical Breakthroughs  (with a seven phase process)
7. Close the Execution Gap (with seven-step transparency initiative)
8. Equip Everyone with the Core Skill (with seven-step problem-solving process)
9. Banish Fear, Build Trust (e.g. be sensitive to individual needs to earn trust)
10. Stop Bossing, Start Teaching (e.g. remove “no” and “yes” from your vocabulary)
11. Accelerate the Shift [from Then to Now] with five initiatives (Pages 195-196)

Bernard makes skillful use of several reader-friendly devices such as the “Speedometer” self-audit at the end of each chapter than enables the reader to identify areas in greatest need of immediate attention in her or his organization. areas relative to the subject of the given chapter. Then on Pages 215-216, the reader can calculate the NOW score based on net scores from Chapters 1-11. Bernard also explains what each total score means. I also commend Bernard for including a framework for a “Then-to-Now Breakthrough Plan” that each reader completes. There are also dozens of Figures inserted throughout the narrative that either demonstrate transition processes (e.g. Figure 1.2, “Mass Production versus Mass Customization,” Page 8) or summarize key points (e.g. Figure 8.2, “Rules for Total Transparency,” Page 142).

I agree with John Bernard’s concluding thoughts: “The journey from managing in the then to managing in the now does not differ from the hero’s journey [portrayed by Joseph Campbell in his classic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces], and it always includes predictable experiences and struggles. It’s no coincidence that the hero’s seven steps on the path to success parallel the 11 chapters of this book when viewed as 11 steps.” Most change initiatives either fail, or fall far short of original expectations. Business leaders who read and then (preferably) re-read John Bernard’s book will be well-prepared to fire up their people, thrill their customers, and crush their competitors. If that is their vision, and it is certainly an admirable one, I presume to remind them of Thomas Edison’s observation: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”



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