Striving for excellence or building to last is one thing. Sustaining superior performance over the long haul is another matter entirely, as longtime McKinsey & Company executives Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan persuasively point out in Creative Destruction
. Based on a concept first advanced some 70 years ago by economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter, Foster and Kaplan propose that corporations can outperform capital markets and maintain their leadership positions only if they creatively and continuously reconstruct themselves. In doing so, they can stay ahead of the upstart challengers constantly waiting in the wings. The decidedly radical paradigm that they champion has been urged in one form or another by others since Schumpeter, but this effort is particularly convincing because of the massive research the authors cite to back it up: McKinsey studies of more than 1,000 corporations in 15 industries over 36 years.
Citing the specific reasons behind ups and downs at firms such as Storage Technology, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and Corning, Foster and Kaplan claim that the process of creative destruction must become an integral part of today's corporations from top to bottom if they truly hope to attain lasting excellence (and beat Wall Street's primary indices for more than a few fleeting years). Firms that have mastered elements of this practice have done so by innovatively shedding detrimental processes and operations while cleverly spotting and appending those that add new value. The authors write that the "key to their success is the balance they have struck between creativity and destruction--between continuity and change." Their book offers impressive insight into the acts of both breaking down and building up. If its analyses of past performance mean anything, it should prove very interesting to savvy managers as well as long-term investors. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
In this painstakingly researched, well-documented work, Foster (Innovation: The Attacker's Advantage, 1986) and Kaplan argue that one of the fundamental tenets of American business that a company must be designed to stand the test of time is seriously flawed. Building off the ideas of economist Joseph Schumpeter, who argued in the 1930s and 1940s that capital markets weed out underperformers so that new firms can take their place, Foster and Kaplan contend that once they are successful, companies tend to institutionalize the thinking that allowed them to thrive. However, they say, markets now change too quickly for traditional management structures to keep up. Rather than aiming for continuity, companies should embrace discontinuity, they argue, constructively destroying and re-creating themselves as needed. Aspects of this idea have been proposed for nearly 15 years by authors like Tom Peters and Andy Grove, but Foster and Kaplan's extensive research, drawing on analysis of more than 1,000 companies over four decades, have moved the argument beyond rhetoric. Their prescriptions for forward-looking management increase the pace of change within organizations, open up the decision-making process and relax conventional notions of control are not as fresh as the rest of their argument. But there is no doubt that Foster, a senior partner and director at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and Kaplan, a former McKinsey employee who is now a doctoral student at M.I.T., have raised significant questions about how organizations should define long-term success. (May)Forecast: A four-city author tour and print advertising campaign may help attract attention to this book, but it's more likely to be talked about than bought or read.
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