Just Start: A book review by Bob Morris

Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, and Create the Future
Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer with Paul B. Brown
Harvard Business Review Press (2012)

Why and how serial entrepreneurs thrive best in uncertain environments…and what lessons can be learned from them

Although there is much to be said for the value of Steven Wright’s observation, “Early birds may get the worm but the second mouse always gets the cheese,” the fact remains that competition in today’s global business world has become more intense and less certain that at any prior time of which I am aware. Hence the appropriateness of the reference in this book’s subtitle to taking action, embracing uncertainty, and creating the future. With the assistance of Paul Brown, Leonard Schlesinger and Charles Kiefer introduce “a step-by-step proven journey [by which business leaders can] navigate through uncertain environments.” And as the results of recent research conducted by reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson clearly indicate, an organization’s workplace is one of them: On average, less than 30% of the employees in a U.S. workplace are actively and positively engaged. The others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undercutting efforts to achieve the given objectives.

Throughout the course of their lively and eloquent narrative, Schlesinger and Kiefer their achieve their own objectives which include explaining how to

o Use predictive reasoning to prepare for an uncertain future
o Use initiatives to determine what works, what doesn’t, and why
o Why desire has “overwhelming importance”
o Determine what is – and isn’t – an acceptable loss
o Build on what you learn from both successes and (especially) setbacks
o View the future as a continuum
o What “creaction” is and how to maximize and leverage its advantages

Most of the best business books are research-driven and that is certainly true of this one. As Schlesinger and Kiefer explain, they share in this book was revealed during decades of refining a method that is much easier to describe than to execute: Summon sufficient determination to achieve the given results (whatever they may be) and then (1) act quickly with the means at hand, (2) stay within the range of acceptable loss, (3) get others actively and productively involved, and (4) evaluate the results and build on what has been learned from them. This is almost the same method followed by Thomas Edison and his colleagues in their research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

As for the term creaction, it is a word Schlesinger and Kiefer created (creacted?) by combining “creation” and “action.” That is, “it boils down to this: the future may or may not be like the past, but you don’t have to a spend a lot of time wondering how it will play out if you plan to shape (i.e. create) it.”

I commend Schlesinger and Kiefer for their skillful use of several reader-friendly devices in Chapters 1-9, notably the “Just Start” exercises and the end-of-chapter “Takeaways” sections. These will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points in weeks and months to come. In the Epilogue, they provide FAQ material and I presume to suggest that it be read first, even before the Introduction, before diving into the abundance of information, insights, and counsel. Why? It provides a brilliant overview of why and how results-driven, serial entrepreneurs thrive best in uncertain environments…and what lessons can be learned from them.


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