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The Coughlin Company

Advance review of "The Reinventors"
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Book Review by Dan Coughlin
The Reinventors: how extraordinary companies pursue radical continuous change
(Portfolio Hardcover 2012, 256 pages) by Jason Jennings
by Dan Coughlin
April 22, 2012

Article Link: http://www.thecoughlincompany.com/review_reinventors.php

When it comes to Jason Jennings new book, The Reinventors, I would like to quote Neil Diamond: Now, I’m a believer!

Ten years ago I was serving as an outside consultant for a senior-level executive team in a Fortune 200 company. The person in charge of the group talked about reinvention ad nauseam. He would say to his employees, "You need to reinvent yourself. You need to reinvent the way you do employee performance reviews, the way we serve our customers, the way we look as a business, and the way you dress to work." He would pound on his desk, and whenever employees heard the word reinvention their eyes would start to roll. He was so obsessed with reinvention that he practically reinvented his organization to death. He wanted his company to reinvent everything about itself even when it didn’t make sense to do so. As a result, I developed an adverse feeling toward the word reinvention.

Then I read this magnificent book, The Reinventors, by Jason Jennings. At the foundation of this book are two tremendously important insights:

First, you should always be willing to reinvent every aspect of yourself, your team, and your organization. Nothing should be sacrosanct. You should be willing to consider for reinvention your values, your mission, your vision, your strategy, your tactics, your products and services, your approach to clients and the marketplace and every other aspect of who you are as an individual, a team, and an organization.

Second, you should never reinvent anything about yourself or your organization unless it makes sense to do so. You should never reinvent some aspect of yourself or your organization just for the sake of reinventing it.

The magic of The Reinventors is found in these two critically important concepts. The greatest companies in the world are willing to constantly reinvent themselves, but they only do so when the reinvention makes sense.

Rarely has a business book ever been more timely than this one. Due largely to the world’s dramatic increase in internet activity and the management of data, more people are connected in more ways around the world than ever before to an exponential degree. Change has always been constant, but now there is a constant rate of highly accelerated change. This means every month provides new world opportunities for every enterprise from small to large.

Consequently the ideas in The Reinventors have tremendous practical value right now. Here are some of my favorite ideas from the book:

Build a culture of change and growth. To me, a culture is how people consistently behave. Consequently, if you build an environment where people consistently look to change and grow in meaningful ways, you proactively prepare yourself to deal with changes in the marketplace. Rather than being forced to change, this type of culture is always ready to change when the changes make sense.

One of my favorite stories in the book is in the introduction. Jennings talks about going back to his hometown where he grew up. He finds almost of the businesses he once admired have shut down. In asking long-time residents what had happened, he found the common denominator of failure was an unwillingness to change as the market changed. This is a story so many of us can relate to and makes a powerful point: we can never assume that what worked in the past will work in the future.

Another great example of this in the book is the story of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home on pages 60-67. It’s a great story of how a very traditional business reinvented itself in a declining market and dramatically increased its sustainable, profitable growth.

Kiss a lot of frogs. This is the title of Chapter Four and it makes so many good points about the importance of trying a lot of small ideas to see which ones work and which ones don’t. In this chapter, Jennings uses the famous example of the reinvention of Starbucks to highlight the importance of testing lots and lots of small ideas in order to find the necessary insights to reignite a big brand name. Jennings wrote on page 90, "A culture of small bets is a learning culture in which people discover the right paths to new destinations." I think that idea applies to every type of organization.

Who stays, who leads, who goes. This is the title of Chapter Five and it explores the importance of having the right people in place in order to effectively reinvent an organization on a consistent basis.

Forever frugal. On page 153, Jennings wrote, "The lesson is clear: Having too much money or too many resources can actually get in the way of successful reinvention." His point is a powerful one. It’s not that having money stashed away is a bad thing. The problem occurs when people think they can throw money at a problem in order to make it go away. That kind of undisciplined approach is what creates even bigger problems. Regardless of your resources, the key is to approach reinvention with a very tight handle on your spending. Invest in small ways, but learn from every action you take.

Ask WTGBRFSTM: What’s the Good Business Reason for Spending This Money? This is my favorite question in the book. It is one of the reasons why Jennings has convinced me to be a believer in reinvention. It gets to the very heart of never reinventing just for the sake of reinventing. I encourage you to ask yourself this question every time you are considering to reinvent yourself or your organization.

I encourage you to study The Reinventors very closely. This is a book for the ages, but particularly for this age.

Interview with Jason Jennings

DAN COUGHLIN: You’ve taken on one of the really big business topics in The Reinventors. How do you define reinvention? Does that definition differ when you’re talking about an organization reinventing itself as opposed to an individual person or a group of people reinventing themselves?

JASON JENNINGS: Reinvention isn’t about a last ditch effort to go from Point A to point B because your business was on the edge of the cliff waiting to fall over. Reinvention is about embracing constant radical change in order to stay in front of the constantly changing needs of your workforce, customers and investors.

COUGHLIN: You talk about the need for an organization to constantly reinvent itself. How often do you think an organization should step back and think about how it can reinvent itself?

JENNINGS: Reinvention isn’t a conscious act where you step back and ponder remaining relevant. Yoda said, "In the motion is the future," and I agree. It’s continuously challenging yourself and the organization to stay ahead of your customers. But because customers frequently don’t know what their next need or want will be, the job of the reinventor to is constantly put totally new and unexpected products and services in front of the customer and have the ability to quickly scale those that work.

COUGHLIN: Is there a point where organizations can fall into a bad habit of reinventing themselves so often that they dilute their brand in the marketplace?

JENNINGS: First, lets’ define the word ‘brand’. A brand makes a promise, is aspirational, consistent and relevant. Apple is constantly reinventing their products and rather than diminishing the brand it only serves to make it better and more valuable.

COUGHLIN: Is there a framework that you feel executives should keep in mind when they are considering to reinvent their organizations?

JENNINGS: Reinventing has nothing to do with reorganization. There are a firm set of guiding principles that must be adhered to in order to become a successful reinventor. If these principles are followed, the ‘reorganization’ of any organization becomes obvious. Here are a few of the guiding principles.

  • * Be committed to double-digit

  • * Be committed to double-digit performance growth every year. This solves the people problem because organizations that are growing attract and keep the brightest and best people; workers don’t have a need to look elsewhere or change jobs in order to challenge themselves, grow and improve their financial performance. A commitment to double digit growth also forces the business to stay in front of customers.

  • * Master the art of letting go. More organizations die from clinging on to legacy brands, products and services than any other reason. Yesterday’s breadwinners, ego, holding on to same old-same old and only practicing convention wisdom will eventually destroy any organization.

  • * Have a destination. A company must know what business they’re in, why they’re in that business, who their customers are and who they want them to be. Then, they take the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of what they do and package it as a noble purpose and destination that will excite and motivate a workforce and its customers. Google’s destination is to organize all the information in the world. How cool is that? And, in order to reach that destination they’ve been buying an average of two companies a week for the past two years. Maybe that’s why last year when Google announced they’d be hiring 5,000 in the coming twelve months they received 200,000 applications…in two weeks. Who wouldn’t want to work for Google? Ditto for Apple. Ditto for Southwest and ditto for all the other companies we write about in the book. By comparison look at Yahoo. They don’t have a destination, they don’t know what business they’re in, they don’t know where they’re headed and they’re firing thousands of people. Would you want to risk your family’s welfare by taking a job there?

  • * Make a lot of small bets. Not everything you do is going to work. You truly have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a Prince. When Howard Schultz came back and took over the reins as CEO of Starbucks, the company had fallen on tough times. The share price had been halved and revenues were crashing. He took 10,000 workers to New Orleans to build houses for a week and while there, told them that the company existed for them and their futures and in order for that to happen they had to grow.
    During the next eighteen months the company made more than 200 small bets including; new store designs, wine and beer testing, scores of new products, mobile payments, a big push in digital media, Via instant coffee, a new logo, rewards on Starbuck’s cards, new consumer products business for grocery stores, free Wi-Fi, real time Twitter feed on huge screens in corporate headquarters, oatmeal, which became a huge hit, a desert line called Starbucks Petites, a new emphasis on tea which is growing 30% annually and dramatic growth in China.

    Within two years, the lost revenues were back (directly as a result of the small bets having been made), the share price was at an all time high and he was named Fortune’s CEO of the year.

  • * Figure out who goes and who stays. In order to be a fun, dynamic, hard charging company committed to customers, growth and reinvention, you have to root out the CAVE people (citizens against virtually everything), quickly lose any turtles perched on poles (people who were placed in positions where they contribute little or nothing to the cause), and fill the company with people who are proven life-long learners, enjoy taking risks, don’t need to take all the credit and exist to exceed the expectations of the customer.

  • * Get and keep everyone on the same page. Recently a company was bragging to me that they’d achieved 91% employee engagement on their most recent survey. Digging deeper, it was revealed that only 15% said they knew the company’s strategy. My question is; "What in the hell were they engaged in?" Having a job, getting a paycheck, having someplace to go or hanging out with their friends? The Gallup Q12 Survey shows that as many as 73% of American workers say they have no emotional attachment to their jobs. That’s because they don’t know what the company is trying to do and how what they do is connected to the achievement of the big strategic objective. The responsibility of the reinventor is make 100% certain that everyone knows the destination, the roadmap to getting there and understanding how what they do moves the organization toward the goal.

When you make these things the guiding principles of the organization, the structure of the company becomes obvious; it’s a moot point.

COUGHLIN: Are there parts of an organization that should not be reinvented or is everything up for consideration?

JENNINGS: Everyone in a company committed to constant radical change and reinvention should be taught how what they do creates economic value; that’s how people start to think and act like the owner. Any job that doesn’t create economic value should be eliminated; there’s no need for it.

The question that should be asked constantly is, "How can we make this better for the workers, the customers, the suppliers and the shareholders?" Yes, everything is fair game. Remember, there mustn’t be any turtles on poles and if you see one, someone put them there. They didn’t get there by themselves.

COUGHLIN: I’ve often felt that your writing style reminds me of Peter Drucker in that you both use a wide range of stories to make your points. Did Peter Drucker have an effect on you earlier in your career, and if so, what was that effect?

JENNINGS: I’ve read all the Drucker books and yes, he was a big influence on me. One of the most noteworthy observations he made is that while not for profits can learn much from for profit businesses, the for profit companies could learn much from the not for profits and cited examples like the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army and wondering why people will work so hard and so long for little personal reward. The answer of course is that the not for profits have a big noble purpose or cause and he challenged for profit companies to do the same.

COUGHLIN: You bring a richness of detail in describing the executives in your books that humanizes the points you are making for the reader. Once you’ve carefully narrowed down the organizations that you want to study, what is the process you use in learning about the individuals you are going to interview and the way you go about crafting and conducting the interview?

JENNINGS: Once we’ve spent eighteen months screening tens of thousands of companies for a specific topic area like speed, productivity, growth or reinvention we gain access and go inside and generate hundreds of thousands of pages of interview transcripts. I only ask three questions of anyone; what do you do here and what are you responsible for, tell me your story and tell me the story of the company through your eyes. Those three questions (with a little prompting and a few ah-ha’s) can keep anyone talking for hours. Most people are so busy trying to be interesting that they forget to be interested. When I sit down with someone I want to know about them, their story, their view of life, their take on things. I figure they’re a lot more fascinating than I am. It’s compassionate listening and there’s too little of it.

COUGHLIN: What was your single biggest surprise or major learning as you researched and wrote The Reinventors?

JENNINGS: I thought reinvention was about moving a company from Point A to Point B. That, of course, is hogwash. Reinvention is about embracing constant radical change with a passion in order to improve the fortunes of all the stakeholders.

COUGHLIN: You have studied organizations from a wide range of perspectives over the past twelve years as you’ve written your five books. As you think about your research into such a diverse group of industries, what do you believe now is the level of importance for executives to be willing to reinvent themselves and their organizations in terms of generating sustainable, profitable growth for their organizations?

JENNINGS: No organization or business model is sustainable without embracing constant radical change; period! Of the original Fortune 500 fewer than five remain. Any business that falls into a rut will die and the only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.

COUGHLIN: As you look back on your own career, what role has reinvention played for you?

JENNINGS: At age thirteen I started my career as a disc jockey on my hometown radio station playing Top 40 rock and roll. One Saturday afternoon, when the boss was out of town, I got bored playing records and turned it into a talk show. I guess that was my first reinvention and it almost got me fired.

From disc jockey to being a radio talk show host led to being a TV newscaster and to becoming the radio station’s general manager while attending college. That all led to running a large group of radio stations and then owning my own group. That led to the creation of a large consulting company and eventually to researching and writing books and teaching and speaking.

The common themes have been creating content and communication. At risk of appearing immodest I’d give myself an A at reinvention and can’t wait to see how content will be created and delivered in the years ahead.


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