Introduction: The Missing Element
A single idea, if it is right, saves us the labor of an infinity of experiences.
The fundamental premise of this book is that no matter how successful you and your organization are, you are performing at a modest level compared to the potential you can unleash through adopting the irresistible growth enterprise perspective described herein. If your organization is typical, it's spending a lot of time and resources struggling to offset the negative effects of irresistible forces on its current direction. You should, instead, be changing your strategic orientation to use those forces to your advantage. That idea is the missing element needed for achieving breakthrough gains that will deliver irresistible growth.
To make the irresistible growth adjustment requires a revolutionary shift in focus that is difficult to accomplish. Indeed, the barrier to irresistible growth is not unstoppable, uncontrollable external change, but fixed (and frequently unexamined) ideas of how to respond to those changes. The Irresistible Growth Enterprise is your how-to-change manual. In it you can learn how to build your enterprise faster with an integrated top-to-bottom shift in how you operate that includes an improved leadership style; a powerful vision for the future that every enterprise needs regardless of its mission; a strategy to execute that vision; tactics and an organizational structure to implement that strategy; and a management process for executing the tactics, as well as the best way for everyone in your operation to learn and apply this operating concept.
The Challenging, Changing Environment for Your Organization
John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist, noted that "The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events." And the tide of expected future change in our society is now rapid and breathtaking to most‹whether we consider irresistible forces like the advent of the Knowledge Age (with knowledge doubling in many fields within a few years, months, or even days); the electronic improvements in communication choices (the potential number of ways for you to receive or send a message will continue to grow rapidly for many more years); shifts in work activities (from routine fulfilling of standard tasks to Peter Drucker's knowledge work) and stability (as a result of downsizing and a "free agent" work force); demographic-driven social changes (ever older populations in the developed countries and ever younger ones everywhere else); weather volatility (both in temperatures and storms); the movements of currencies and markets; social mores of the moment (fads get shorter and shorter); or personal styles of the young teenagers (differentiating them from older teenagers, not just from adults).
There is no doubt that today the world has become much more complicated and interconnected. For businesses, globalization means that the number and distance of customers, suppliers, and competitors have grown geometrically. Such interconnectedness also means that what affects one can quickly spread and affect all, like the rapid expansions of computer and human viruses. These connections mean that economic and financial adjustments, especially in prices and currency values, travel faster and further than before. Your irresistible growth enterprise must be agile in adapting to these changes. We believe that making rapid and best use of rapid changes in powerful conditions no one can control is the key to becoming an irresistible growth enterprise.
When asked in the 1950s about how much control they had over their business's success, U.S. CEOs felt they had a great deal. By the start of the 1990s, CEOs often felt that irresistible forces had more impact on the company's success than the employees did. You only have to look at charts measuring events over the past 100 years to see that the volatility of many irresistible forces is also growing. In the past 30 years alone, this volatility has included an unprecedented success by a commodity cartel (the Arab oil embargo); the fall of a major political system around the world (communism); extraordinary growth in U.S. stock prices; fluctuations in interest rates from more than 20 percent to as low as the single digits in North America (and more widely elsewhere); and diversion of the resources of the burgeoning service economy (of stores and local brokerage offices) into creating an information-based economy.
As these examples suggest, the degree and speed of change are both accelerating. At one time, corporate leaders could conduct leisurely studies of such changing phenomena after they began to occur, thoughtfully select the right actions, and then experiment with the best way to proceed. Today, the time involved to deliberately study its choices often costs a company its biggest opportunities and can even lead to failure. Consider Barnes & Noble, the leader in bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Before launching its electronic commerce business, it decided to first watch what happened with Amazon.com as it studied its options. By the time it was ready to act, Amazon.com had built a commanding electronic lead that will be very difficult to overcome.
Naturally, it's nice to be able to find one trend and ride it for a long time, like McDonald's did. The company's premise is based on customers' desires for dependable, inexpensive food, served quickly and effectively in convenient, clean locations. From its beginnings as a single hamburger stand in the 1930s in San Bernardino, California, it has become a global giant today. But even McDonald's has had to learn to adapt to the irresistible force of consumer food preferences as it moved beyond North America. The familiar hamburger, fries and soft drink menu has had to be expanded to offer curry in England and a glass of wine in Paris.
Today's enterprises will find such long-term rides to be the exception to the rule. Consider how Microsoft flirted with disaster in the 1990s by missing the early significance of providing Internet software and services, or how Intel, originally a memory chip manufacturer, shifted into microprocessors as its primary business somewhat by accident. Indeed, the world is full of shuttered stores that failed to meet customer needs. Their boarded-up windows are mute testimony to the necessity of shifting with the changing trends.
Many of the most significant irresistible forces (such as new technologies, improved communications, the weather, demographics, user preferences, and economic conditions) have grown much more volatile and unpredictable in just the past five to ten years. Analysts suggest that this trend will accelerate due to the "chaos" effects of how a small change in one place in the world can cause an enormous change elsewhere. For example, in computer-based weather simulations, the equivalent of a butterfly's flapping in one continent can produce a killer storm in another. This multiplier effect will increasingly happen with all irresistible forces, and this is the key insight upon which you must act now! While most organizations will react to such forces and their changes only when it is impossible not to (out of self-preservation or fear), the irresistible growth enterprise will see the creation of broad unstoppable change, the accurate anticipation of such changes, and the steady beneficial harnessing of such changes to achieve its purposes as its primary tasks.
Only a relative few have made significant, successful adjustments to changing conditions. Simply consider all of the changes that Jack Welch went through to turn General Electric from a slow-growing industrial goods manufacturer into a financial services powerhouse with high-margin manufacturing specialties. Any one of these changes would have overwhelmed most organizations, yet Welch has succeeded with several. How well the company fares under Welch's successor will reveal a lot about the difficulties of continuing as an irresistible growth enterprise. There is, perhaps, no more interesting example of such success than Berkshire Hathaway, which started as an owner of a failing textile mill that eventually did go out of business. Warren Buffett, Berkshire's founder, has successfully navigated the changing tides of business and financial markets over the years to built one of the most successful companies ever. Unlike Microsoft, and Intel which had relatively few important shifts in irresistible forces, Berkshire Hathaway has weathered several by redirecting its resources and energies into new, more promising directions. After having been primarily a portfolio manager of a handful of common stocks for many years, the company has recently shifted again to emphasize purchasing and operating companies. By utilizing the processes presented in this book, you can learn to catch the full benefit of today's volatile and rapidly changing forces, and spur your enterprise on to greater and more rapid growth than ever before.
Being in the Right Position to Optimize Opportunity
Many businesspeople are fond of saying, "I'd rather be lucky than smart." Anyone who has experienced the exhilaration of an unexpected boost from favorable circumstances certainly would like it to happen more often. Applying the concepts from The Irresistible Growth Enterprise will enable you to create your own good fortune.
When asked why he scored so many goals in hockey, NHL scoring champion Wayne Gretzky replied that he always skated to where he thought the puck would be going. That strategy gave him an important edge because most other skaters go toward where the puck is already. But it isn't enough to just be in the right place at the right time. The tightrope walker working outdoors in the wind prefers that the wind be at her back because a side wind could more easily knock her off balance. Setting up the tight rope to make the breeze's direction favorable can provide the necessary advantage for her. She can further improve security by using a balance pole. To help you achieve irresistible growth, this book shows you how to choose actions that will put in the right place with the right resources to benefit from powerful trends, regardless of their source or direction.
To move your enterprise from its current position to a better one takes hard work. It's like the tightrope walker finding the wind coming from the wrong direction and demanding that the tightrope be repositioned before she performs. Then, the equipment handlers have a lot of hard work to undo and redo. That's the bad news about getting into the right position. The good news is that once your company has reached its ideal position, its subsequent need to change will be less. Like the Olympic wrestler who fights his way to a position securely on top of his opponent, you'll be able to seize advantageous positions no matter how your competitors react and your business environment changes. Most organizations today are, unfortunately, like the winning wrestler's opponent, operating subject to the whims of powerful competitors and the vagaries of circumstances as their noses are ground into the smelly, dirty mat. Is yours one of them?
If your enterprise is like most, it operates according to a plan. Your business now pays attention to executing that plan. When things go wrong, most people in your organization will try to protect their self-interest and their chances for achieving the plan's goals. If things get really bad, they'll be stunned into inaction. These behaviors reflect some of the many faulty thinking patterns you need to abolish and replace in order to achieve a winning position in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable organizational environment.
You need to focus on getting the most benefit from your enterprise's irresistible forces, the powerful factors beyond your control that fundamentally shape your opportunities. Examples of irresistible forces include, but are not limited to, important trends like globalization; fluctuating financial markets and local economies; changes in currency values; commodity price cycles; new technologies such as the downward march of prices for electronic circuits; nature (storms, temperatures, earthquakes, and so on); demographics; and, most importantly, the fundamentals of human nature expressed as changing user, consumer, customer and employee demands. Most people see such forces as random factors or inconveniences, but The Irresistible Growth Enterprise will show you how to use all those forces instead of trying to avoid some of them.
Every change in irresistible forces provides new opportunities to those who have learned to see them that way. For very cyclical businesses, when demand is strong, you can sell high-cost facilities and obtain long-term relationships with attractive customers. When demand is weak, you can buy low-cost facilities, repurchase your own stock, negotiate lower prices from suppliers and get complementary competitors interested in merging with you. Optimal opportunities for gaining important advantages from your business's environment always exist; you just have to be able to recognize them.
Once an opportunity is recognized, you need to be properly prepared to take the right actions at the right time. You have to have the flexibility to take advantage of rapid and extreme changes in irresistible forces. Such flexibility can be developed through the use of planning extreme scenarios‹what we refer to in this book as Nth-degree searches‹that greatly exaggerate the future impact of forces to clarify opportunities. This requires using an improved kind of scenario planning for possible future circumstances, most of which will never occur. You'll learn how to understand more about what causes your irresistible forces so you can better appreciate their potential. Your enterprise will then locate and be ready to implement its "Always-Win, No-Lose" opportunities, that minimize the down side, while leaving the up side open-ended, regardless of the irresistible forces.
The Irresistible Growth Enterprise also shows you a breakthrough way to focus and simplify your company's implementation of its best opportunities. This new paradigm replaces the costs and delays that arise from learning primarily through broad-scale trial and error (as Maritain's quotation at the beginning of the Introduction suggests). As a result, you'll be able to make best use of your opportunities to be in the right place, with the right resources, and taking the right actions in a timely manner.
A more flexible and proactive approach for your organization will usually serve your purposes better. Nature provides an intriguing example of how individual adaptability expands success chances for larger groups of individuals in an organization. According to John Tyler Bonner in the December 1984 issue of Science '84, a type of amoebas, known as cellular slime molds, displays some very valuable characteristics in the face of daunting circumstances that affect their survival, their irresistible forces.
Normally these amoebas live individually on the forest floor and are limited in their potential to grow and prosper by the local supply of food they can reach in a fixed position. The size and location of the food supply serves as an irresistible force for the amoebas. For most organisms that are essentially stationary, high death rates follow the exhaustion of food sources.
When food sources are scarce, these particular amoebas have the capability to group together as slime molds to move to where there is more food. These temporary clumps of amoebas creep across the forest floor to warmer, sunnier areas where food supplies are more plentiful‹something they cannot do individually.
In time, some of these clumps will undergo additional physical changes and create a multicelled stalk culminating in a spore sac filled with dormant amoebae spores. When animals and people brush against the sac, the dormant spores attach themselves and are carried to other new locations beyond the range of movement for the clump. By the cooperation they employ, organized slime molds are much more successful as a species in survival and growth than individual amoebas are. Imagine how your organization would have to change in order to have the same ability to adapt successfully to irresistible forces, and how much more would be accomplished if that were the case.
Human beings can do better than slime molds because we have the physiological and psychological agility to take advantage of even unpredictable change. We are far ahead of all but a few of the most sophisticated biological adaptations. For centuries, people have relied on windmills to generate power. Originally, windmills were built to face in only one direction. If the wind blew in right direction, great results occurred. If not, either little or no power was generated. That's the way it is with many organizations: If things do not go just as planned, we simply get no benefit from our resources, time and effort.
Windmill inventors got the message about the benefits of planning for perfect, timely use of the unpredictable and went on to develop the pivoting windmill. This wonderful invention serves to turn the face of the windmill into the wind so that the greatest amount of power is produced, regardless of which direction brings that wind. We now want to you make a similar adjustment to give your organization the same ability to generate and use power from shifting winds.
How to Get the Most Out of This Book
The Irresistible Growth Enterprise has a serious and important purpose: to make you and your organization much more successful by having you ask and answer new and better questions than you've been using to analyze and plan your activities. For example, consider the following questions that are crucial for your company's future, which you will learn to answer by reading this book:
1. Do you understand what irresistible forces are affecting organizations?
The contents of this book will help you understand the importance of such questions. You will also discover how to achieve 2,000 percent solutions (getting 20 times better or faster results from the same or fewer resources) for harnessing irresistible forces that can propel your organization to greater growth and success.
What You'll Find in This Book
Unlike many business books, in The Irresistible Growth Enterprise we focus on what new things to do rather than on how to improve existing practices. This book will not tell you about chaos theory, complexity science, data mining, learning facilitation, and other important cutting-edge analytical concepts per se that you may or may not be using now. Instead, this book shows you how to harness the key lessons of these and other useful concepts and tools in one integrated process that will improve your performance across a broad range of activities from creating a vision, to leadership, to implementation.
To do this, we draw your attention to important questions and actions that your enterprise should be, but is probably not, addressing now. To that end, we've made the book easy and fun to read, with many more anecdotes and stories than most business books to trigger your own thinking about how to improve your own future.
When you read the examples, you may be surprised sometimes to see different conclusions reached and new details provided than have been reported in the business press. The authors have drawn on their access to top executives over many years to provide you with an inside and more accurate view of what happened. Where the company is unnamed, the experience probably comes from a consulting assignment with a client to whom confidentiality is owed. Where the organization is named, the information may have come from publicly available sources, a competitor, industry expert, or a current or former executive of that organization.
Throughout the book, we will stress the importance of establishing more effective bonds of mutual cooperation within and outside your organization‹with employees, customers, suppliers, partners, shareholders, and the communities in which you operate‹as a key element of irresistible forces management. You'll learn a totally new way of thinking about how a company should relate to its operating environment, a way of thinking that can be applied to just about any issue that arises in your organization. The lessons found in The Irresistible Growth Enterprise should be practiced at every level of your enterprise. These principles should guide all of your organization's thinking and communications systems if you are to achieve the potential growth from unstoppable change.
How to Use This Book
In the first part of the book, you can learn about habits that cause organizations to make the mistake of resisting irresistible forces rather than embracing them. We call these harmful habits "stalls." Stalls are the downside of our memories. We learn to do things in a certain way that works reasonably well. Pretty soon this repeated action becomes such a confirmed habit that we aren't even aware of our patterns of behavior and thinking. An example of this kind of routine thinking is the reaction that some have in hiding problems. They hope that no one will find out that they are having poor results because of an irresistible force before conditions improve. Those who supervise rogue commodity and securities traders often seem to operate on this assumption, appearing to look the other way as the traders report gains while actually pile up ever-larger losses. They may smell a deception, but they'll hold their noses. The supervisors are comfortable with this approach because of the great results the traders are sending to the bookkeepers.
Although the accounting alarms may be signaling a problem, the phony "profits" that are being booked provide for handsome promotions and bonuses all around. If the problem stays hidden long enough, the supervisors believe that all negative consequences disappear. However, the end results is often that losses are magnified beyond what would have otherwise occurred, simply because the tide is running against the traders.
Each chapter in Part One presents personal and organizational examples of stalls (thinking habits that delay progress), sample solutions (stall erasers), and questions (or stallbusting action guides) to help you become a stallbuster. Chapter 1 defines the key concepts employed in The Irresistible Growth Enterprise. Chapters 2 through 10 cover the stall mind-set and the stalls most commonly experienced that harm an organization's ability to adapt to changing irresistible forces.
Read each chapter in Part One as an individual lesson in dealing with a specific stall. You may want to first read the chapters that seem related to your most important issues. But be sure to read the other chapters as well because they may describe stalls that you're experiencing but haven't understood as such. Overcoming stalls that you don't yet recognize you have is one of the primary benefits of reading this book.
Having eliminated or reduced harmful thinking, you can learn in the second part of the book a new set of thinking habits and questions that will steer you safely down the path you need to follow to relate well to your irresistible forces. Part Two (chapters 11 through 18) covers an eight-step process that describes how to identify and align yourself with irresistible forces to maximum advantage.
The Epilogue rounds out the discussion and explains how you can start creating your irresistible force organization. It also includes instructions for getting a handy copy of the key ideas covered in this book that you should keep nearby to share with others and reinforce your new learning. You'll also find out how to keep in touch with our new research about working with irresistible forces, and how to contact us to discuss applying these principles to your organization's irresistible forces.
Appendix One addresses how irresistible force management applies to your personal life and family circumstances. And because many see the Internet's development as a monumental irresistible force, we've included Appendix Two that will help you reframe your thoughts about that form of electronic communication as an example of the book's concepts.
To emphasize the key points of each chapter, you'll find a few sentences printed in italics at the beginning of each chapter. You can quickly get an overview of the entire book by taking a few minutes to read just those summaries. By doing that, you'll have a context for a more detailed reading of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise.
You can use this book to change your life in positive ways. Teaching others what you learn will help you be sure you understand what you have read. In addition, you'll help your organization make much faster progress as you increase the number of people thinking about and acting on the issues. If you expand this new understanding to your customers, partners, distributors, suppliers, shareholders and the communities you serve, even greater benefits will occur. Ultimately, when many companies begin to use the ideas found in this book, you'll receive even more benefit because the overall effectiveness of the business community you operate in will greatly improve as well.
And be sure to have fun using this book. You'll learn faster, and come up with better answers and more benefits!