Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: 'Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World' by John P. Kotter



How to move quickly enough to stay ahead of the competition “in an age of tumultuous change and growing uncertainties”

I have read all of John Kotter’s books and reviewed most of them. In my opinion, no other business thinker in recent years has made a greater contribution to our understanding of what continues to be a highly competitive, tumultuous global marketplace. In his latest book, Accelerate, he explains how almost any organization can move quickly enough to stay ahead in “an age of tumultuous change and growing uncertainties.” His focus is on how to handle strategic challenges fast enough, “with agility and creativity, to take advantage of windows of opportunity which open and shut more quickly.”

What Kotter proposes is an appropriate, integrated, and coordinated balance of two quite different approaches to both perils and opportunities: the traditional management-driven hierarchy and the entrepreneurial innovation-driven network. As he explains, “What we need today is a powerful new element to address the challenges posed by mounting complexity and rapid change. The solution, which I have seen work astonishingly well, is a second system that is organized as a network – more like a start-up’s solar system than a mature organization’s Giza pyramid – that can create agility and speed. It powerfully complements rather than overburdens a more mature organization’s hierarchy, thus freeing the latter to do what it’s optimized to do.”

Of special interest to me is his assertion that the best results of business initiatives are achieved with a “dual system.” That is, one whose structure effectively coordinates traditional, stable hierarchy with an entrepreneurial, dynamic network. He believes – and I agree – that, with effective leadership, they are interdependent. Order, structure, and stability do not preclude experimentation, creativity, and innovation. Only with a dual system such as the one that Kotter proposes can an organization reinvent itself, even transform itself, without disrupting the continuity of its essential relationships and sources of revenue.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Kotter’s coverage.

o From Networks to Hierarchies (Pages 5-8)
o The Limits of Management — Driven Hierarchies (8-12)
o A Dual Operating System’s Principles (23-27)
o The Eight Accelerators (27-34)
Note: Kotter discusses them in detail on Pages 82-103)
o Reality Versus Beliefs (52-56)
o Management Is Not Leadership (59-64)
o The Life Cycle of Corporations (65-72)
Note: For different perspectives, I suggest you check out Ichak Adzes’ Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It.
o The Five Principles: (78-81)
o The Secret Sauce for Kick-Starting Acceleration (111)
o Looking Outward, Open Minded (117-121)
o The Place to Start: Possibilities and Opportunity (132-138)
o Creating the “Big Opportunity” Statement (139-142)
o Answers to some of the most common questions about the dual structure (154-172)

Readers will appreciate Kotter’s provision of two appendices: The first is a self-assessment in response to the question, “Can Your ‘Best Practices’ Save You?” and the second, also a self-assessment, is in response to the question, “Do You Need to Take Action Now?” Kotter creates a context, a frame of reference, for each Q&A. I urge those who complete these assessments to respond candidly. I also presume to suggest having a lined notebook near at hand when reading this book. I always do, recording notes with page references to supplement highlighting passages. Responses to the two assessments can be recorded in the notebook, also. Just a thought….


Obviously no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the wealth of information, insights, and counsel provided in this volume. However, I hope I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it and of its author. It remains for each reader to determine which of the material responds most directly to the needs, interests, goals, objectives, and resources of the given enterprise. The dual system that John Kotter proposes requires an appropriate, integrated balance of two systems: traditional, stable hierarchy with an innovative, dynamic network. However, they share the same strategic objective: being able to respond effectively challenges fast enough, “with agility and creativity, to take advantage of windows of opportunity which open and shut more quickly.”


Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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