Stop Spending, Start Managing: A book review by Bob Morris

Stop SpendingStop Spending, Start Managing: Strategies to Transform Wasteful Habits Hardcover
Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson
Harvard Business Review Press (August 2016)

To paraphrase Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Frugality, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson note that the business school students they teach tend to fall into one of three categories: those who are hungry for more ideas and better information, and, those who are results-driven, primarily focused on solving problems. “This book is dedicated to the third type of executive in our classes — those who combine these [two] approaches. They are interested in ‘ideas with legs’ and want to take the knowledge and put it into action. They’re often exceptionally humble — they’re looking inward at themselves and they know they can do more with their knowledge, talents, and people. Along with introspection, these executives are also looking outward — taking ideas to their teams and experimenting with those ideas to push their own and others’ potential.”

I was intrigued by what they have to say about what they characterize as “wicked problems.” (John C. Camillus examines the same kind of problems in his recently published, eponymous book. Of course, “wicked solutions” are needed to solve them in a situation “that is a rapidly transforming business environment in which established models of profitability and success are undergoing unpredictable threats and sea changes.”) Menon and Thompson identify and discuss four cardinal characteristics by which we can recognize the wicked problems that can ensnare us. Specifically, these problems “lack a neat formula for success…A second key feature is the lack of demonstrable answers…Another feature of wicked problems is that it is often I’m possible to text proposed solutions…Finally, wicked problems contain complex interdependencies to multiple problems.”

In a global marketplace that seems to become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous each day, what must business leaders do? Menon and Thompson created this book in response to this question, providing a wealth of information, insights, and counsel that can help business leaders formulate and the execute strategies that will transform wasteful habits. How? By completing a transition from wicked problems to workable solutions.

By what specific process? Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson devote the final chapter to how to formulate and then execute a strategy to escape from various traps. “The first step is to identify the critical places where the most resources are being invested without yielding the results you desire and expect.” Check out Table 7-1 which identifies the five major spending traps and their solutions. They also explain how to overcome obstacles, locate problems, assess options, tear down silos (which are often disguised as human beings), and sustain momentum.

These are among their concluding thoughts: “When you stop spending and start managing, this doesn’t just save your organization money, it also saves you – and your employees – time, energy, and frustration as you get traction on your hardest problems. And you may just discover new value in yourself and your people that has been hidden this whole time.”

Your move.

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