Kill the Company: A book review by Bob Morris

Kill the CompanyKill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution
Lisa Bodell
Bibliomotion (2012)

How to envision the future you want to create, make the necessary connections, and meanwhile engage in assumption reversal

Obviously, it would be idiotic to kill an entire company or eliminate all of its status quo. If Lisa Bodell knows of one — in which there are literally no efforts to improve, none occurs, and there is a total commitment to what James O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom” throughout the given enterprise — I would very much like to know about it. For companies annually ranked the most highly admired and best to work for, [begin italics] that [end italics] is their status quo. The challenge for all companies is to sustain constant and continuous improvement. Not all are willing and/or able to do that.

Bodell has a rock-solid thesis and I think it is best explained with a metaphor. Think of a company as a garden, as a living organism, and think of its leaders as gardeners. The healthiest gardens receive proper nourishment and relentless, skillful pruning by leaders who have a green thumb for “growing” people as well as vegetation.

As I read her brilliant book, I was again reminded of what was then described (in 1980) as a “killer frost.” My wife said that, to save our young crepe myrtles, we would have to trim them back severely, almost to ground level. We did and they survived the single-digit temperatures and eventually flourished. In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), Joseph Schumpeter introduced his concept of “creative destruction.” That is what then GE chairman and CEO, Reggie Jones, had in mind when he selected Jack Welch to succeed him and urged him to “blow up GE.”

Bodell helps those who read her book to envision the future they want to create, to make the necessary connections that requires, and meanwhile to engage in assumption reversal. She believes (and I agree) that almost all of human limits are self-imposed. Many of our assumptions when making decisions are either wrong or inappropriate. Henry Ford was right: “Whether you think you can or think you can ‘t, you’re probably right.” I can almost see Bodell nodding in agreement.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Bodell’s coverage.

o Traditional Paths to Success Hold Great Companies Back Pages (5-6)
o Futurethink INNOVATION DIAGNOSTIC (10-12)
o An Unhealthy Obsession (28-31)
o Culture Killers (33)
o Positive vs. Negative vs. Complacent Cultures (44-46)
o As Killer Queries (56-60)
o Kill a Stupid Rule (71-74)
Comment: I say kill all of them.
o Kill Rules, Question/Challenge Assumptions (83-85)
o How to Build Strategic Imagination (96-98)
o Creative Problem Solving (102-104)
o Ink Inc. Behaviors (116-119)
o Your Innovation Toolkit (169-174)
o Assumption Reversal (193-195)
o Start Your Innovation Revolution (210-212)

Readers will appreciate Bodell’s insightful examination of dozens of real-world situations in real companies (e.g. American Express, Best Buy, CitiGroup, Pfizer, Pixar, Procter & Gamble, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and Tata Group), situations that involve real people who struggle with real business threats and perils as well as opportunities with which most readers can identify. Given the size and complexity of the aforementioned companies, I hasten to add that the core concepts of the change initiative methodology that Bodell recommends will work with almost any company, whatever its size and nature may be.

When concluding her book, Lisa Bodell observes, “Ultimately, it’s never too late. Your journey toward positive change and greater innovation started when you opened this book and read the first sentence. [And I presume to add that it may end if you never reach Page 219.] Creating a better future starts now.”

Meanwhile, tick, tock, tick, tock….

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