The Real World

Columns From: 7/1/1998 Automotive Design & Production, , Editor-in-Chief from Gardner Business Media, Inc.


One of the problems with management books written by consultants is that nowadays, they tend to create a new vocabulary which, one suspects, they hope will create some additional buzz for the book. This is clearly evident in The Power of Corporate Kinetics: Create the Self-Adapting, Self-Renewing, Instant Action Enterprise by Michael Fradette and Steve Michaud (Simon & Schuster; $25.00). Both are partners with Deloitte Consulting. There is an additional issue, as well, which is that consultants, by their very nature, tend to be like hired guns who come in, work a project, and then leave, with either (1) the job done or (2) replacements taking over. Either way, they are in and out. Most people don't have that opportunity. Ideally, one's job lasts a long time. The consultant's view can, therefore, be somewhat skewed; there can be a disconnect between what is preached and what is practiced.

Let's start with the vocabulary. As an example of a "market event," which is defined as "the work of the enterprise immediately and profitably performed to seize an unexpected market opportunity," Fradette and Michaud reference a case at Intel. Intel, of course, is described a "kinetic enterprise." That is defined as "an instant-action machine, constantly changing its work and evolving its operations to address the unpredictable. What's more, it ignores traditional hierarchies and boundaries. Workers initiate and manage its activi-ties...The kinetic enterprise is organized around workers who initiate and execute individual, discrete, and unpredictable projects that we call events." Clearly, a kinetic enterprise is where you want to work—assuming that you're someone who likes to get things done.

In addition to the market event, there is the "customer event," which is fundamentally the response to an indi-vidual customer demand. That's it: market events and customer events. And the organization that's best suited to addressing them is the outfit that will survive and thrive while the others, which are operating in a "this-is-what-made-us-successful-and-damn-it-we're-going-to-keep-doing-it" mode, are going to oxidize into oblivion.

Anyway, back to the Intel example. The authors explain that a group of scientists there figured that the company would benefit from the development of a communications bus that would really allow the Pentium, which was then being developed, to perform to its potential. So, because they needed resources to do this, they went to CEO Andy Grove. "Grove turned the scientists down flat." Which seems odd, doesn't it? Isn't Intel more enlightened than that? Fradette and Michaud explain that kinetic enterprises enable "inventive workers—which means anyone from receptionist to chief executive—to act as opportunity champions, turning their ideas into new products, new services, and even new businesses." Presumably scientists fit into that category. Now, the outcome is that the scientists kept at it and finally convinced Grove. And a year later, Grove stood on a stage, demonstrating the bus, which "was hailed by all major computer manufacturers, and their representatives stood with Grove onstage." There's no mention where the scientists were.

Which brings us to the disconnection between consultants and the rest of us. This little story actually is extremely telling about organizations in the real world, where there is serious entrenchment of the status quo. No matter how enlightened one might imagine the managers are, there is likely to be stiff resistance. The good news for the Intel scientists—at least so far as we can discern from the vignette in the book—is that their persistence didn't get them bounced out the door.

Imagine this scenario...

"What are you doing home in the middle of the day?"

"Ah, remember that bus idea that a bunch of us had?"

"Yes. As I recall, Andy Grove told all of you, in no uncertain terms, to forget it and to get back to work on Project XYZ."

"That's right. But, well, umm, ah, we figured that it was really a good idea and so we kept after Grove about it and, well...Where'd you put the San Jose Mercury? I need to look at the want ads."

"Are you nuts!?! You lost your job at Intel!?!?"

How many people do you know are likely to not take "no" for an answer? How about you?

Chances are, most of the places where people can get away with behavior like that are (1) countable on the fingers of one hand and (2) located in Silicon Valley. The reason that these scientists probably got their way was because there was a recognition that the company depends on their brains and abilities, which means that these folks are really good—and that management is really bright to recognize it.

Which is not to say that The Power of Corporate Kinetics should be ignored due to the lingo and slight interaction with "the real world," actual examples notwithstanding.

There is one recommendation in the book that makes the price to buy it and the effort to read it well invested: "Think big and learn fast. Time is running out." If you don't understand—right down to your fingertips—what that means, that's where these consultants can help. And you'd better know it.