One of the most important business books in years is apparently disappearing from the shelves of bookstores as quietly as it arrived. Intelligent Enterprise, by James Brian Quinn (The Free Press, 1992), is the definitive work to date on the dynamics of our service industries. Although Quinn, a professor of management at Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School, looks only at large companies, an attentive reader will glean from the book much of value in running a knowledge-intensive business of any size. The range of useful information is enormous, from the specific (how and why British Airways used videotapes of customers to let managers absorb the full impact of customer grievances) to the general and attitudinal (how managers should view investment in information technology in the absence of increases in white-collar productivity). While the sheer intelligence of Intelligent Enterprise is sufficient to keep it from making the best-seller lists, I suspect it will become an indispensable handbook for forward-thinking managers in every industry.
Practical applications aside, the book also provides the most authoritative assessment I've seen of the role that ser-vices play in the overall economy. Chapter one addresses, and dismisses, the prevailing myths about service businesses, in particular the notion that a service economy cannot provide the kind of prosperity we associate with manufacturing. Quinn shows how services are making vital contributions to the increased productivity of our industrial base, even as they "remanufacture" the economy at large. All of that is very timely, if only to counter the absurd prattling of all those public-policy wonks (many of whom are now descending on Pennsylvania Avenue) who would have us believe that service is nothing more than a thinly disguised euphemism for hamburger slinging at the local fast-food joint.* * *