Practically Radical - Book review
1 July 2023
Dr. Moria Levy
The book “Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to transform your company, shake up your industry, and challenge yourself” was written by William Taylor in 2011. Taylor is one of the co-founders of “The Fast Company” magazine and has also written several books, such as “Mavericks at Work”.
Taylor offers a refreshing approach; Tools for excellence that are not technology-based. He should not be suspected of not understanding technology and not recognizing its value; rather, not all the answers to excellence are found in this field. The tools offered are based on an analysis of dozens of outstanding companies and organizations around the globe, many of them of which he visited and learned from a closer view.
Main points of the book:
Where? Opportunities New ideas Moving forward based on the past Excelling in multi-dimensional aspects
Customers What they think of you How much you care about them leadership together
Constant learning in a changing world. The book is written as a collection of stories about different organizations and companies, some old, some new. The summary offers the bottom lines, but there is much to learn from reading the full of its many details. I recommend.
"While past successes are noteworthy, they do not necessarily guarantee a prosperous future. History is replete with societies that seemingly had it all, yet they ultimately lost their leadership or even collapsed. Therefore, it is imperative that we persistently seek new opportunities for progress.
At times, we may feel that new opportunities are scarce. However, as James Surowiecki, who popularized the term 'wisdom of crowds', reminds us, opportunities are always present—especially during times of crisis.
To drive forward, we cannot afford to settle for slight improvements on what we're doing today. Instead, our strategies must undergo continuous re-evaluation and transformation.
Many leaders fall into the 'tunnel vision' trap—constantly looking ahead but failing to consider alternative paths. This occurs when leaders focus on imitating others instead of cultivating their own innovative solutions and exploring new directions.
Remember, it's important to carve your own path and not simply mimic others. As Taylor suggests, true discovery lies not in uncovering new fields, but in our capacity to reinterpret the reality before us. It's about breaking free from entrenched perspectives and seeing familiar realities in novel ways. The SWISS WATCHES brand serves as a prime example, reinventing itself through the creation of the SWATCH brand without abandoning the world of analog watches.
Admittedly, such transformation isn't easy, particularly when an organization or industry is in crisis. However, it is not only possible, but often yields better results. For an organization to successfully innovate and adapt, it must recognize the urgency of change not as a distant inevitability, but as an immediate necessity. This sense of urgency will trigger the quantum leap needed to begin exploring opportunities for renewal.
"There are two types of regeneration: one is based on what already exists within society (discussed in the following chapter), and the other is founded on novel ideas, which we will explore below.
Generating new ideas is not always an easy task. Not everyone considers themselves creative or innovative enough. However, Taylor presents an alternative approach to revolutionary thinking: adopting commonplace ideas and practices from other industries and sectors to innovate and revolutionize one's own market. For instance, Taylor recounts how, in 1912, Henry Ford conceptualized automobile manufacturing by observing meat-cutting practices—a method replicated in countless other instances.
The objective here is not to duplicate ideas verbatim from one context to another, but rather to envision how an existing concept can be repurposed within your own industry.
This process is more feasible when a diverse group collaboratively scrutinizes the concept from different perspectives, thereby facilitating a leap in rethinking. An illustrative example of this is medical teams who periodically travel across the globe to spend two weeks living and working in a highly successful car factory, such as Toyota. By doing so, they manage to transfer methods of excellence from vehicle manufacturing to healthcare, applying these not just to the entire medical center, but also to individual departments and teams within their specific contexts.
Of course, not everyone is receptive to such methods. Taylor outlines a process in which inspiration is ignited, hearts are won over, and mindsets are altered. While not everyone is capable of such change, it may be necessary to part ways with them to allow the organization to continue advancing. Intriguingly, Toyota sent representatives to study service quality in a hotel chain when developing their luxury Lexus model.
The reason why conventional ideas become innovative in different fields is quite simple: they provide an opportunity for us to reassess the assumptions and fixations we've been steeped in.
Moving forward based on the past
"Opportunities, as previously discussed, demand renewal. As outlined in the previous chapter, ideas can originate from external sources, but they can also emerge internally.
Much has been articulated here and in numerous other books and articles about the pursuit of a brighter future. However, this does not imply a disregard for the past. Quite the contrary, reconnecting with the past and building upon existing organizational traditions can cultivate the clarity and confidence required to navigate a changing future with a refreshed value proposition.
Reflecting on the past can be either beneficial or detrimental. The key is to disengage from past actions to adapt to an evolving world while preserving the core values and perspectives that have guided us to our current trajectory. Revisiting the foundational reasons for the organization's establishment, its mission, and its fundamental principles, provides a sturdy basis to explore the new reality—what can be accomplished today under the new circumstances and capabilities.
At times, it may seem easier to begin afresh as a new organization, as if the baggage carried by established organizations impedes their progress. While this may occasionally hold true, it fundamentally depends on the organization itself. Embrace history and transform it into an asset—it's certainly feasible. IBM is a prime example of this, and they're far from being alone in their success.
Excelling in multi-dimensional aspects
"In an era abundant with opportunities, where almost any company, service, or product can achieve global reach, excellence must be multifaceted. Merely doing what others do offers little reason for us to distinguish ourselves and rise above the rest. Thus, the pursuit of excellence becomes paramount in all aspects.
Don't be mistaken into thinking that if you excel in service, there's no need to strive for excellence in sales. Similarly, a welcoming work environment for employees and customers shouldn't downplay the importance of flexible operating hours. We must endeavor for excellence in all aspects simultaneously. Being unique doesn't necessarily imply a narrow and specific value proposition.
If we fail to attain excellence, it's only a matter of time before someone else steps into our shoes.
So, how do we innovate and excel on multiple fronts concurrently? The answer lies in numerous small, rapid experiments, relentlessly aiming for constant improvement in every possible area. This approach demands not merely imitating others but forging your own best path.
This attitude does more than just create many innovations—it fosters a culture of innovation, a vital element of resilience.
What they think of you "Here's a thought-provoking question: What would happen if your operations ceased tomorrow? Would your customers care? How much would they miss you? Gallup has constructed a hierarchy of customer-organization relationships, with each level representing a deeper connection: Confidence – Consistently delivering on the promised value. Integrity – Treating the customer fairly.
Pride – Inspiring the customer to identify positively with the company. Passion – Convincing the customer that the company is an irreplaceable solution for their needs. An intriguing example is Zappos, a company that has committed to exceptional service. But their dedication extends beyond mere product service; they focus on servicing every aspect that matters to their customers. In today's world, merely offering functional value and intellectually satisfying customers is insufficient. Emotional engagement is significant, and we must strive to differentiate ourselves and become unforgettable—in a positive sense, of course."
How much you care about them
Ensuring that customers genuinely care starts with you and the organization you lead. Today's success goes beyond simply outthinking the competition—it requires a deeper level of care. This includes caring about customers, colleagues, and the overall trajectory of progress in our world.
To foster this environment, a leader must contemplate what binds the employees together within the organization. What is the organization's mission? What purpose does it serve? What values do we aim to further, and how do we contribute to a better world through our actions?
It's about caring for our customers, their lives, and their success—not just our own profit from each transaction and sale.
Employees who find meaning in their work, who feel they are part of its progress, will connect more deeply with the organization. This connection will empower them to provide more value, pushing the organization towards success.
Traditional hierarchical organizations, where decisions, directions, strategy, and guidelines descend from the top, may have suited the old world, but not the new. Enlightened leaders recognize that their individual ideas, wisdom, and even personal brilliance pale compared to the collective intelligence derived from pooling the thoughts and skills of employees, partners, and even customers, irrespective of their role within the organization. This inclusive approach necessitates a leader's mindset characterized by: Unyielding Ambition – to propel themselves and their organization beyond the competition, not merely maintaining current performance but contemplating how to revolutionize the rules of the game and the value provided by the organization. Humble Insight – to realize that individual success is dwarfed by collective accomplishment. A humility that allows others to propose, excel, and contribute, and enables leaders to welcome and share these contributions with all employees at all levels. Why should others participate? There are numerous motivators, including:
A belief in the organization's mission and the desire to participate. Tangible financial rewards for substantial improvement suggestions. The power to influence, such as naming a product they contributed to. The opportunity to learn from the organization's shared knowledge and growth paths. A sense of partnership and fairness in both the process and the outcome.
This collaborative mindset must be supported by an infrastructure that facilitates idea-sharing, feedback, and transparent information regarding contributions and their impact.
A leader who can blend ambition and humility, provide an enabling infrastructure, and motivate participation lays the groundwork for successful collaboration. Sharing not only relieves a leader's isolation at the top but is also the path to excellence in the new age. Recognizing that the collective mind surpasses any individual, including the leader, is the key to breakthroughs and sectoral leadership.
Adaptive learning while adapting to the changing world
In our current reality, we all sense the rapid and constant change of the world. Therefore, along with all previously discussed strategies, leaders must open their hearts to others, their eyes to opportunities, and most importantly, themselves to learning.
Leaders should champion continual learning, first on a personal level, then within the organization. And as previously stated, this learning should also be shared. If you advance others as you move forward, you will progress even further. It's food for thought.