Are the follow-up works of big-name authors ever worthwhile?
Best-selling authors and gurus are under real pressure to create follow-up products that build on their franchise. Among business books, there have been few, if any, best-sellers as wildly successful as Stephen Covey's 1989 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Naturally, Covey has produced numerous sequels in an effort to extend the Seven Habits brand, and they have done pretty well, too. The latest in the series is Living the Seven Habits: Stories of Courage and Inspiration.
For this book, Covey has used a brilliant method to prolong the life of his franchise: he lets his readers do it for him. This is a collection of stories from readers of Covey's earlier Seven Habits books, who reveal how the habits have changed their lives. Covey sandwiches most of the anecdotes between brief introductory setups and a few paragraphs of closing commentary. Some of the stories are quite moving: a minister accidentally shoots his pregnant wife, plummets into depression and withdraws, and then uses the Seven Habits to turn himself around. Others are predictable: the hard-driving chief operating officer who experiences a heart attack and uses the Seven Habits to seek better balance.
The newest book is not nearly as strong as the first in the series. Those who are unfamiliar with Covey will be much better off reading the original.
Allan Kennedy and Terrence Deal's 1982 Corporate Cultures had a tremendous influence on a whole generation of business owners and managers. Now, after 17 years, Kennedy and Deal are back with a sequel, The New Corporate Cultures. Business cultures still do exist, the authors argue, but as a result of downsizing, mergers, reengineering, and outsourcing, the predominant one in companies today is built on denial, fear, cynicism, self-interest, and distrust. The only hope is for companies to create a learning environment. A company that embraces "knowledge as its main corporate asset would create a work environment that cherished people eager to acquire knowledge," according to Kennedy and Deal. And it "would be a wonderful place to work, the kind of place every employee would be eager to return to day after day."
But the authors don't really explore ways to create such a place. When Corporate Cultures came out, it was fresh and compelling because the authors were treading new turf. Now they're observing that downsizing can wreak havoc on the employee psyche. That's hardly news.
Peter Senge's The Dance of Change, another follow-up title (to Senge's The Fifth Discipline), succeeds precisely where Kennedy and Deal's new work fails: it provides abundant hands-on advice on creating change within an organization, fostering real learning environments, and sustaining a positive culture. The book is designed as a full-service resource and is chock-full of mini-essays and suggestions for further reading.
The only sequels that work are the ones that are worthwhile even to people who haven't read the original. On that basis, The Dance of Change succeeds nicely.
Dream a little dream
Brace yourselves. the days of the information society are numbered. (What? Was I sleeping? Where'd it go?) Instead, welcome to the dawn of the dream society. It's what the future of business is all about, if we're to believe a growing number of books.
In Selling Dreams, Gian Luigi Longinotti-Buitoni, the head of Ferrari North American Inc., argues that you must appeal to the dreams of your prospective buyers. Businesses, he believes, need to "learn how to create products and services designed and engineered to convey intense emotions." But the products he focuses on in his book are all dream products: Ferragamo shoes, Revlon cosmetics, Elle, his own Ferrari, Harley-Davidson, and Viagra. Try selling a no. 2 pencil with the same pizzazz that you can muster for a Harley.
Rolf Jensen, the director of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, takes the idea of selling to consumers' dreams even further. In The Dream Society: How the Coming Shift from Information to Imagination Will Transform Your Business, he argues that the "story part of the product will become an ever-important part of the decision to buy." It's the companies that are able to attach stories to their products that will capture the dreams of their customers, Jensen writes; companies like Nike. This shift to the dream society is transforming work, he says, into a new concept he calls "hard fun." As evidence of this revolution, he cites the fact that standard job titles are being tossed out in favor of titles like "director, mind and mood"; "director of bringing in the cool people"; and "messaging champion." Sigh.
The problem with Jensen's proposition is that either you believe it, in which case it may be compelling, or you don't, in which case it is not useful. It may not even be that new.
Ladies and gentlemen, dust off your shelves
What books do business-book authors read? In The New Corporate Cultures, Allan Kennedy and Terrence Deal cite John Kotter and James Heskett's Corporate Culture and Performance, which suggests that culture can have a huge impact on a company's long-term financial performance. Of the 207 companies Heskett and Kotter looked at over an 11-year period, those that had strong cultures averaged 571% higher gains in operating earnings than those with weak corporate cultures.
But the most-cited book in the titles in this column is Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Deal and Kennedy credit James Collins (an Inc. columnist) and Jerry Porras for having done much of the statistical work that legitimizes the argument that Corporate Cultures made about how culture affects performance. Rolf Jensen cites Built to Last as a "thought-provoking and stimulating book." That it is. Collins and Porras do a wonderful job of defining what distinguishes enduring visionary companies. If you haven't read Built to Last yet, put it on your list.
HAL F. ROSENBLUTH
Real Options: Managing Strategic Investment in an Uncertain World, by Martha Amram and Nalin Kulatilaka. "What it does is apply modern options pricing theory to the value of options in trading assets. I think it's a brilliant book," says Rosenbluth.
In Search of Excellence, by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. "It really brought out the thrill of business and talked about the importance of passion years ago, before those words were really used in describing business."
ON THE NIGHTSTAND NOW
The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen. "I think an understanding of the principles of creative destruction is critical in today's marketplace."
Rosenbluth's own last book, Good Company, published in 1998. "It got all kinds of accolades in the press, but quite candidly, I didn't think it was as good as they said. Now, my first book--that was terrific. I get all sorts of letters about that one, but I haven't gotten one letter yet about this recent one." Rosenbluth's first book, The Customer Comes Second and Other Secrets of Exceptional Service, was published in 1993. --Mike Hofman