BOOKCASE Two Great Ideas

What’s The Big Idea?
By: Thomas H Davenport & Laurence Prusak
Publisher: Harvard
Business School Press
Price: $35

Here’s book for devotees or debunkers of fashionable management ideas. The authors argue, among other things, that there are no faddish ideas – only faddish companies and faddish ways of adopting them. There is, it seems, some merit in most of the concepts gurus and consultants come up with. The key is clarity about what those merits are, and what is involved in realising them.
The important people in the process of idea evaluation and implementation are the little recognised and often even less appreciated “idea practitioners” within an organisation. The management ideas business would, it seems, hardly be business at all if it weren’t for the individuals who “make it their business” to bring in ideas, modify them to suit their organisations and then shepherd them into implementation.
These idea practitioners possess common goals, tactics, vocabularies, methods, stories, myths, legends, and “all the overt and covert activities that make up practice”. But it would, according to Davenport and Prusak, be difficult for them to enact their practice without the rhetoric, structure and legitimisation of the gurus. “Although gurus are well-known commodity in the business world, their work is sometimes disparaged as faddish. We wanted to shed more positive – or at least more objective – light on the gurus and their ideas,” say the authors. The two groups form an “ecology of ideas”, with its own dynamics and which has powerful effects, sometimes good and sometimes bad, on organisations around the world.
What’s the Big Idea is for people who either believe or are open to the suggestion that “ideas” are important to business. Ideas, in this book, are about improving business performance and management approach and not simply new products or services that companies can take to the marketplace. The authors talk about ideas like total quality management, re-engineering, knowledge management, activity-based costing, worker empowerment, balanced scorecards and “a thousand other notions with the potential to get business in better shape”.
Management ideas can inspire, motivate and breathe new energy into both individuals and organisations. People are encouraged to “work harder and try again”. There is, the authors’ concede, no empirical evidence that simply adopting new ideas leads to stronger business performance. Indeed, one University of California study suggests there is no overall relationship between ideas and performance. Davenport and Prusak argue that some organisations do good job of implementing programmes based on new ideas and others do it badly. And that is the crux of the matter.
This is great book idea. It examines host or relationships between ideas, organisations and applications and suggests approaches to filtering and fitting them to an organisation. book about how to avoid the hype and focus on the how of ideas selection and implementation.

Cultural Intelligence: people skills for global business
By: David C Thomas and Kerr Inkson
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler
Price: $42.99

As the authors of this book point out, most of the work on it was accomplished by two individuals who live and work 12,000 kilometres from each other. David Thomas is professor of international management at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Kerr Inkson, meanwhile, is professor of management at the Auckland campus of Massey. Barriers of time and space are almost irrelevant. And that is the point of the book.
Cultural Intelligence is designed to teach managers, global managers in particular but by no means exclusively, how to function effectively in any cultural environment. It is difficult to cut the cliches but, the increasing reality of organisational life is that we need to learn how to manage in cross-cultural world. The book is not, as the dust jacket says, “a laundry list of specific cultural dos and don’ts”. Rather, it is both practical and cleverly constructed attempt to help managers understand people of whatever culture, better.
It is as useful to those who don’t travel as it is to those who do, simply because it explains state of mind and an approach to dealing with difference. And that is at the heart of managing effectively in our increasingly complex and rapidly shrinking world.
But, as the authors put it: “While everyone can learn to be culturally intelligent, certain individual characteristics support the development of cultural intelligence. These are integrity, openness, and hardiness.”

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