Limitless: Leadership that Endures Hardcover – 1 Oct 2015
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About the Author
Ajaz Ahmed is the CEO of AKQA, the ideas and innovation company he founded aged 21. AKQA today employs over 1,500 people in 15 offices around the world. In 2014 AKQA won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Innovation. Ajaz co-authored Velocity: The Seven New Laws for a World Gone Digital. For essays and thoughts visit http://www.akqa.com/ajaz.
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On the hit television show a group of self-aggrandising business-types compete for the same goal. Each series the tasks remain the same but the contestants get louder, meaner and more ruthless than the year before. While this is not to be taken seriously, it’s sad that this image of business permeates through wider culture and makes the impression it has.
Ahmed shatters this image with Limitless. A collection of learnings and observations he’s made of exceptional leaders that has inspired/helped him in leading the accolade-hoarding AKQA for the last 20 years.
On the contrary of business seen as some sort of weird real-life reality drama, he sees it as vital and basic to civiliastiaon as language or marriage. Solving problems, making things and getting those things to others, is something humans just do. We always have.
He cites five major tenets he’s harnessed to help him lead for the long-term; they are Democratise, Revolutionise, Simplify, Organise and Author - a style of leadership he’s called Limitless. In each chapter he delineates examples from luminaries from the digital world going from Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Reed Hastings of Netflix to pioneers that came before like Coco Chanel, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
Unlike in Ahmed’s first book; Velocity which he co-authored with Nike’s Stefan Olander, gone is the fast-paced conversational style, instead in each chapter he’s used a more prosaic [and formulaic] statement-evidence-conclusion sandwich we’ve seen in more traditional books. While a bit of a shame, the book is still very readable as he’s picked intriguing case-studies all solving interesting business problems in unique ways.
AKQA is renown worldwide for being the best in the business at crafting, nurturing and evolving amazing brands. So it’s easy see why Ahmed has picked the stories of the Nikes, Apples and Chanels of this world, to tell. The exception was in Simplify when he extolled the virtues of ‘shokunin’ - the practice of the highest dedication of the repetition of tasks essential to hone one’s craft - where he included much lesser known people like Alex Hutton, an IT expert, Miles O’Brien a veteran space and science journalist and Jiro Ono the Japanese sushi master-chef. Even though the stories of these people are less often told I still found their lessons equally compelling, I thought it would of been cool if Ahmed added one or two more examples like this in other chapters.
While all the solutions and leaders are unique; they are all tied together by following Ahmed’s un-Apprentice-like Limitless philosophy. But to further hammer the nail in the coffin of this image of business, a principle that flows through every chapter and every leader’s story is the somewhat counter-intuitive lesson of humility:
In Democratise, Henry Ford’s humility was needed to envisage and work tirelessly to create a carriage for the everyman.
In Revolutionise, it was Steve Job’s humility that led him to understand people on a deeper level to humanise every Apple product so they all served the user and never the other way round.
In Simplify, Jiro Ono’s humility leads him to selflessly dedicate his life to making the perfect meal for others to enjoy.
In Organise he mentions Samsung’s leadership’s approach of ‘muhantamgu’ or ‘constantly striving or infinite quest’ leaving past successes behind to reach further and work harder than before to achieve more.
And in Author he talks about Jeff Bezos' humble aim of straining every fibre of the company just to ensure the happiness of the customer.
This is an important book as it exploded some preconceived and ill-informed ideas of what today’s good leader looks like by bestowing this message for potential and practising leaders in an ever-changing world: Be brave enough to challenge the status quo. Be humble enough to have a real reason to.
Disclosure: I happen to know the author, and I think he’s a cool dude. This hasn’t affected my view of the book though.
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