The Power of Positive Destruction: A book review by Bob Morris

The Power of Positive Destruction: How to Turn a Business Idea Into a Revolution
Seth Merrin
John Wiley & Sons (2016)

How to break things down to make them better and “improve the lives of all who benefit from those improvements”

I find it curious that Seth Merrin makes no reference to Joseph Schumpeter and his concept of creative destruction in this book, written with Carlye Adler, when explaining how to break things down to make them better and “improve the lives of all who benefit from those improvements.” In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), Schumpeter examines what he characterizes as “a perennial gale of creative destruction.” That is, “the incessant product and process innovation mechanism by which new production units replace outdated ones. This restructuring process permeates major aspects of macroeconomic performance, not only long-run growth but also economic fluctuations, structural adjustment and the functioning of factor markets. Over the long run, the process of creative destruction accounts for over 50 per cent of productivity growth. At business cycle frequency, restructuring typically declines during recessions, and this add a significant cost to downturns. Obstacles to the process of creative destruction can have severe short- and long-run macroeconomic consequences.”

To what does the title of Merrin’s book refer? “You need to employ every transformational strategy in your arsenal. This is not something you think about once a year. You think about [doing things differently to achieve better results] constantly. This is the most difficult work – and where the most creativity comes. Three pieces of advice on how to do it: Dissect your business…Understand this takes time…Live by the 30-second rule.” That is, “your concept must be presented and understood in 30 seconds or less.”

Years ago, Albert Einstein observed, “If you can’t explain a concept to a six-year old, you really do not understand it.”

Merrin provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that can help leaders in almost any organization to achieve strategic objectives such as these:

o. How to come up with the next big idea
o How to create an “unfair competitive advantage”
o How to predict the future by inventing it
o How to give people equity ownership
o How to formulate your unique selling proposition
o How to share up your competitive marketplace
o How to conduct successful meetings
o How to lead through a crisis
o How to know “when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, and when to walk away”
o How to upend an industry and get away with it
o How to hire the right “partners”
o How to incorporate giving back into work

Note the repetition of the word “how.” He identifies what Peter Drucker suggests is the most important question to be asked – “What must be done? – and then explains HOW to do it.

These are among Seth Merrin’s concluding thoughts: “Positive destruction is just what it means. It is breaking things down to put them back together better. It improves productivity, jobs, companies, industries, economies, and the lives of all the people who benefit from these improvements.”

As the Japanese term kaizen correctly suggests, this is a continuous, never-ending process. Not all acorns become oak trees. The same is true of business ideas. That is where the process must begin and often ends. Keep in mind that positive destruction has power only to the extent an idea does.

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