I remember quite clearly the first issue of Fast Company magazine over 15 years ago. The cover read, "Work is Personal. Computing is Social. Knowledge is Power. Break the Rules." It was prescient, and agenda-setting. It was new, different, and better than anything on the news rack -- it was about real-time, in-your-face, up-front game-changing ideas, companies and people. It was radical. And it was co-founded by William C. Taylor, author of the new book Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself.
Big Idea: Taylor's major thesis is that an organization can't be transformed, and an industry can't be shaken up, unless, and until, leaders first challenge and transform themselves. As Taylor writes: "In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special. Today, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking."
Backstory: Taylor spent time with 25 organizations, ranging from the Girl Scouts to Boston Scientific to Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Practically Radical has this technique in common with Taylor's previous book, Mavericks at Work.
Key Takeaways: Three lists of truths, rules, and habits are worth taking note of.
Five Truths of Corporate Transformation
- Most organizations in most fields suffer a kind of tunnel vision, which makes it hard to envision a more positive future.
- Most leaders see things the same way everyone else sees them because they look for ideas in the same places everyone looks for them.
- In troubled organizations rich with tradition and success, history can be a curse -- and a blessing. The challenge is to break from the past without disavowing it.
- The job of the change agent is not just to surface high-minded ideas. It is to summon a sense of urgency inside and outside of the organization, and to turn that urgency into action.
- In a business environment that never stops changing, change agents can never stop learning.
Five New Rules for Starting Something New
- It's not good enough to be "pretty good" at everything. Blank-sheet-of-paper innovators figure out how to become the most, or best, of something.
- Just because you're "the most of something" doesn't mean you can't do lots of different things. Being unique is not about being narrow.
- Long-term success is about more than thinking harder than the competition. It's also about caring more than the competition.
- In a world of endless choice, companies must engage customers emotionally, not just satisfy them rationally. Remember, if your customer can live without you, eventually they will.
- Starting something new doesn't always mean starting a new company. You don't need to be a blank-sheet-of-paper entrepreneur to embrace a blank-sheet-of-paper mindset.
Five Habits of Highly Humbitious [humility + ambition] Leaders
- Real business geniuses don't pretend to know everything.
- The most creative leaders don't just tap the power of hidden genius to attract new ideas. They leverage the virtues of the collective genius to evaluate the ideas they attract.
- Not all new ideas are good ideas. So leaders who ask for lots of ideas have get good at rejecting the bad ones without demoralizing the people who contributed them.
- Leaders who are eager for outsiders to share ideas with them have to be eager to share their ideas with outsiders.
- Humbition can be more than an individual style of leadership. It can be an organizational way of life.
Liked Most: The highlights of the book for me are the writing and reporting. As you might expect from someone with the journalistic chops of Taylor, the stories are like those we like to read in a Fast Company or Wired, and the behind-the-scenes stories are top-notch and engaging. Although many of the 25 companies have been reported on extensively before, Taylor tells many unreported stories, some of which are uniquely personal, and thus intriguing.
Best For: Anyone who wants to hit the answers to these ten questions out of the park: Do you see opportunities the competition doesn't see? Do you have new ideas about where to look for new ideas? Are you the most of anything? If your company went out of business tomorrow, who would miss it and why? Have you figured out how your organization's history can help to shape its future? Do you have customers who can't live without you? Do your people care more than the competition? Are you getting the best contributions from the most people? Are you consistent in your commitment to change? Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?
What Others are Saying: “Practically Radical is packed with big ideas, hands-on advice, and inspiring case studies to help you succeed. It’s a game plan for entrepreneurs and executives who want to change the world for the better.” -- Guy Kawasaki (Featured Expert here on OPEN Forum, The World.)
Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change. You can find him on Facebook here, and you can follow him on Twitter @matthewemay.