"The more I find out, the less I know."

Tuesday - January 31, 2006 at 12:01 PM in

Business Book Review

This critique of "Good to Great" sounds like it can be applied to almost every popular business book ever written.
And that's the reason I generally avoid the genre. It seems that any time someone tries to distill strategic management wisdom into a form which can be applied to companies across the board, they wind up with vague generalities that don't provide much actionable advice, and that are of questionable accuracy.

At some level, I'm surprised that anyone even thinks there is such a thing as universal rules for running a business. Why should we expect that the right way to run Northwest airlines (a bankrupt service company locked into ruinous union contracts and with a reputation for poor service) would be the same as the right way to run GE (a conglomerate which can't decide if it's a manufacturer or a financial services company) or the same as the right way to run Google (a media/advertising masquerading as a hypergrowth technology company).

Every company has its own unique circumstances and challenges, and so any universal advice will be either so vague as to be useless ("Don't Do Dumb Things") or so full of exceptions that it won't be universal anymore ("Focus on your core business. Or core businesses. Or businesses which have synergies with your core businesses.").

I think it would be much more useful to compile negative advice: a list of things companies shouldn't do, and which will often lead to ruin. For example, don't be creative in your accounting. Don't break the law. Don't fire your best people.

But even that advice will come with caveats and exceptions ("Don't break the law? Does that mean that nobody can get a parking ticket while on company business?"), so I'm not sure how universal it would be.

Posted at 12:01 PM | Permalink | | |

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