The New Corporate Facts of Life: A book review by Bob Morris

New CorporateThe New Corporate Facts of Life: Rethink Your Business and Transform Today’s Challenges into Tomorrow’s Profits
Diana Rivenburgh
AMACOM (2013)

“What got you here won’t get you there.” Marshall Goldsmith

The Goldsmith assertion that serves as the title of this review refers to organizations as well as to individuals and, in my opinion, should be extended to suggest that got you here won’t even keep you here, wherever and whatever “here” may be. I agree with Diana Rivenburgh that it is imperative to “rethink” one’s business in order to “transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s profits”…and she wrote this book to explain HOW.

Obviously, the corporate facts of life have changed over the years even as the core issues remain about the same. I am reminded of an incident years ago when a Princeton colleague of Albert Einstein playfully chided him for asking the same questions every year on his final examinations. “Quite true. Every year the answers are different.” I cannot recall a prior time when change occurred faster, more often, and with greater impact than it does now. I agree with Richard Dawkins and presumably so does Rivenburgh: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

As I worked my way through Rivenburgh’s narrative, I was again reminded of the socioeconomic disruptions caused by a series of breakthrough inventions and innovations that include the printing press, harnessing the power of steam, mass production, the telegraph and then the telephone, radio and television, pressurized cabins in airplanes, harnessing the power of nuclear energy, and most recently, the Internet and subsequent worldwide “Web.”

Each of these breakthroughs (to varying degree) resulted in radically new corporate facts of life. Rivenburgh cites several timeless challenges (e.g. disruptive innovation, economic instability, societal upheaval, population shifts) and then devotes a separate chapter to each of seven initiatives that can help business leaders respond effectively to various challenges, all of which are based on the new corporate facts of life. They are:

1. Reset the corporate mindset (My comment: Open the doors and windows of your mind to possibilities)

“Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.” Charles F. Kettering

2. Create a compelling vision (My comment: If it doesn’t excite and inspire people, get another)
3. Map the strategic journey (where have you been, where are you, how to get there, and where is there?)
4. Build a unique and vibrant culture (gardens in which growth thrives require constant nutrition…and protection)
5. Lead on the edge of change (but beware of change for change’s sake; assume nothing)
6. Engage to excel (insist on a shared commitment; otherwise, why bother?
7. Design a resilient organization (values, convictions, and affirmations are reliable shock absorbers)

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

o Seven Interconnected Forces (Pages 8-11)
o Understanding Mindsets (41-46)
o Understanding Vision (67-70)
o Viewing the Future Using the New Corporate Facts of Life (75-82)
o Mapping Your Strategy Using the New Corporate Facts of Life (91-109)
o Creating Your Unique and Vibrant Culture (117-136)
o Seeing the BOLDEST Leaders in Action (145-157)
o Harnessing the Power of Participation (177-182)
o Developing a Stakeholder Engagement Process (182-188)
o Designing a Resilient Organization (193-195)
o Aligning the Organization’s Design with Your Strategy (195-197)
o Ten Strategies for Designing a Resilient Organization (199-214)
o Conclusion: Four Interconnected Forces (217-223)

When concluding her thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Rivenburgh encourages her reader to embark on a journey of personal discovery as well as a process by which to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s profits. Of course, “profits” can be measured by all manner of monetary as well as non-monetary standards. Of greatest value, in my opinion, are the achievements of those such as Norman Borlaug who is widely renowned as “the father of the Green Revolution,” “agriculture’s greatest spokesperson,” and “the man who saved a billion lives.”

As Diana Rivenburgh makes crystal clear in her book, business leaders and their companies can thrive while accommodating the new corporate facts while supporting the efforts of Borlaug and others to improve health and education, reduce hunger, and in countless other ways improve the quality of life for those who now suffer throughout the world. Humanity and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are interdependent and that is among the new facts of life for individuals as well as for corporations.

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