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4.0 out of 5 stars
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on 26 November 2002
Rather than calling it a business management book, I would prefer to call that book as a collection of surprising business successes, together with a odd failure, compiled by a university professor. The idea that Rob Sutton wants to convey is that the holy grail of business success is a steady stream of new ideas that sell. But you never know where they'll come from, only that it probably won't be from people who feel secure and happy with the status quo. So, says Rob, dig them out of their trenches, foster insecurity and throw out established order. Forget the past, ignore advice, mistrust your instincts and defy authority. In short, break all the rules.
Sutton says that companies should aim to fail more, and faster. How else will they know what works and what don't? Surprisingly, a lot of big name firms like General Motors, Xerox, Procter & Gamble; McDonalds use his ideas and hire him as a consultant.
As I mentioned earlier, the book is full of real life business examples of what he recommends. He says that companies should reward failure as well as success and punish only inaction and cites a former head of IBM, who refused to accept the resignation of a manager who made a mistake that cost the company $10 million. The Manager was told, "You can't be serious. We just spent $10 million educating you".
Says Sutton in the book that Procter & Gamble, invited & consulted him saying they wanted to fail more. They told him they wanted more new products to make it to the supermarket shelves and flop there, rather than dying in the laboratory. But why don't they want their products to succeed? Well, they do, but the research shows that nine out of ten new ideas fail and the key to finding a workable one is to maximise creative output, then weed out the duds as quickly and cheaply as possible. So, expect a new & strange shampoo from P&G next time around. Could be a result of following Rob's ideas. :-)
The book is definitely an interesting read, littered with a good number of business tips here and there, over all, the contents require a big elbowroom for them to be implemented. As obvious, the ideas in the book present a lot of risk and perhaps the reader should look for another book from Rob Sutton to manage those risks. Read it, but don't get weird!! ;-)
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on 18 June 2002
I think the book's title does it a disservice. I had assumed that it was about wild and wacky ideas for stimulating creativity in individuals and teams. In fact, it is a serious book which focuses on the need for all organisations to promote and foster some innovation - 'in the long run, no company can survive by relying only on established and proven actions'.
Robert Sutton differentiates between what he calls 'exploitation' - repeating proven and successful procedures, and 'exploration' - generating and exploring new ideas and new ways forward. He suggests that even organisations like Intel and McDonalds, which rely heavily on duplication of a successful formula, need to foster some innovation. It is really a question of what percentage of time and resourcing should be allocated to each area of the business.
Sutton argues that the innovative parts of organisations should be managed differently and that one of the major factors undermining innovation is organisational culture. The pressure to conform to organisational norms, including ways of managing and evaluating people, all too often stifles creativity and true innovation. The 'weird ideas' are ways of breaking out of this mould.
Among the weird ideas, Sutton adovates changing the approach to recruitment - instead of selecting 'clones', deliberately bringing in misfits - people who will resist or be slow to conform, who may be uncomfortable to manage or to work with, or even people who are surplus to requirements. One, to my mind ethically dubious, technique he suggests is using recruitment interviews to poach ideas from job applicants. Other of the weird ideas focus on encouraging employees to challenge their managers and the status quo, to push the boundaries and do their own thing. Managers should either stand back and allow people to explore, rewarding failure as well as success, or step in to provoke creative conflict or throw in provocative or 'weird' ideas, or to encourage people to ignore past history and reinvent the wheel.
All the ideas carry a strong element of risk. Although Sutton recognises this, I do not think he gives enough weight to finding ways of mitigating and managing these risks. It is, nevertheless, an interesting and thought-provoking book which I would strongly recommend to anyone whose organisation needs a higher degree of innovation.
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A couple of years ago, innovation equalled total revolution. Now that most of the ultra-radicals have gone the way of the brontosaurus, there's a need for a wiser, more balanced approach. This book provides it, perfectly.
The 11 and a half ideas in it are certainly weird - have you ever seriously considered hiring people you didn't need or encouraging staff to defy superiors? But once the author explains them, they make practical sense. They are not a random selection of contrarian bright thoughts, but real tips. The book itself evolved over a number of years as the author, a Professor at Stanford, discussed them, tried them out, weeded out the 'weird ideas that don't work', and mastered when to apply - and when not to apply - them.
There is also an evolutionary philosophy behind the ideas. Not the old 'struggle for survival' stuff, but the importance of variation (Darwin himself considered this the most important part of his theory).
Unlike so many business books, where you have to wade though stodgy managementese and diagrams that put Hampton Court Maze to shame, Sutton tells his story in attractive, clear English. There is also a very healthy dose of deadpan humour - how can you not relish a business book that recommends at one point: 'be boring!'. This last piece of advice is not one the author takes himself.
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VINE VOICEon 25 May 2004
Choose your favourite weird (or not so weird) idea. I found about 20 in the end.
My favourites include :
- reward success & failure - punish inaction;
- forget the past, especially your successes;
- encourage people to ignore/defy superiors;
- hire people who are stubborn;
- focus on abandoning failing ideas more quickly, rather than try to reduce the failure rate.
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VINE VOICEon 13 February 2003
This is an interesting and unusual book. The author has a direct way of writing that gets straight to the point. The book covers of wide range of work practices including hiring, motivation, risk taking and research. He sets out to challenge management orthodoxy - and certainly succeeds. Some of the advice is radical and challenging (such as his warning about "homosocial reproduction" - which happens when managers employ a team of clones); and some of the advice is silly and dangerous ("make veterans obey newcomers"). But overall it's an interesting and worthwhile read - especially if you work in a creative or research role. Just don't take it too literally - and pray that the next time you're under the surgeon's knife that he wasn't trained in the "weird ideas" school of management!
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