Leap: A book review by Bob Morris

Leap: How to Thrive in a World Where Everything Can Be Copied
Howard Yu
Publich Affairs/Hachette Book Group (June 2018)

How to “move across knowledge disciplines to leverage or create new knowledge in how a product is made or service is delivered”

Howard Yu quotes one of the most important passages in Joseph Schumpeter’s classic, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942): “The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic…illustrate the same process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. The process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.”

I am among those who are convinced that the global marketplace today is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more Ambiguous that any prior time that we can remember. “The only way to prosper under such conditions over long periods of time is to [begin italics] leap: Pioneers must move across knowledge disciplines, to leverage or create new knowledge on how a product is made or delivered. Absent such efforts, latecomers will always catch up.”

Yu suggests that getting ready to leap requires a different way of thinking about and leading the business. The preparation process should be guided and informed by these five fundamental principles:

1. Understand your firm’s foundational knowledge and its trajectory.
2. Acquire and cultivate new knowledge disciplines.
3. Leverage seismic shifts.
4. Experiment to gain evidence.
5. Dive deep into execution.

I commend Yu on his brilliant use of mini-case studies that examine effective initiatives that bring these principles to life. More specifically, he focuses on exemplars that include Community Ground/Breaking Group (154-161), DARPA (Pages 104-118), John Deere (212-217), Novartis (66-78), Procter & Gamble (51-61 and 66-67), and Steinway & Sons (17-39). When to leap?

“Listening to the right signals [while ignoring the noise] requires patience and discipline. Seizing a window of opportunity, which means not necessarily being the first mover but the first to get it right, takes courage and determination. To leap successfully is to master these two seemingly contradictory abilities. The discipline to wait and the determination to drive, in balanced combination, often pay off handsomely. Cultivating this paradoxical ability at the individual and organizational levels” is an ongoing process, not an isolated achievement.

As I worked my way through Howard Yu’s final chapter, I was again reminded of three observations. First, from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” The next from Steven Wright: “The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.” And the third from the Gambler: “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,” etc. All are sensible but not all leaps are sensible. Some are impulsive, others are retaliatory, and still others are dumb as a 100 chickens.

Howard Yu is a staunch and eloquent, indeed compelling advocate of leaps that have a degree of risk, yes, but are rigorously considered to the extent a given situation allows. Keep in mind Sun Tzu’s admonition that all battles are won or lost before they are fought. The key point is that some decisions — albeit less than perfect — must be made in rapid response to an unexpected development. Organizations are only as resilient as their leaders are.

This book is timely and, in my opinion, will prove timeless in a global marketplace in which change really is the only constant. Truly, a brilliant achievement. Bravo!

 

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