Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter is the Eartha Kitt of change-management gurus. Just when you think the grand dame has taken her final bow, she comes bounding back onto the scene with a new act that's as shrewd and insightful as anything any young kitten has to offer--but benefiting from decades of wisdom and experience that puts the whole litter to shame. Take, for instance, Evolve!
, Kanter's latest in a string of highly influential books on organizational management (including Innovation
, World Class
, When Giants Learn to Dance
, and The Change Masters
). Yes, the ubiquitous dot (as in "com") after the E in "Evolve" on the book's cover may suggest to the cynical that this is another old-school change guru weighing in with the obligatory guide to making it on the Net--and months after e-commerce mania has subsided, to boot! And granted, the thumbnail keys to successful I-preneuring that form the book's structure--namely, a willingness to improvise, a desire to network aggressively with other sites, a readiness to create "integrated communities," and a commitment to creating a workplace culture that attracts and retains the best talent--aren't necessarily breakthrough insights, however cogently presented.
But Evolve! stands out among the vast spate of e-commerce how-tos of the past few years because of the meticulous, rigorous research on the part of Kanter and her legion of Harvard Business associates. Here, coupled with Kanter's always-keen prose, that research translates into perhaps the most vivid, probing, and instructive anthology of e-commerce success (and failure) stories yet to appear in one book. Kanter & Co. conducted over 300 interviews, plus surveys with nearly three times as many companies worldwide, to tease out their conclusions on what works and what doesn't when doing business online--with brash start-ups as well as brick-and-mortar giants. That serious-minded, Harvard-quality sleuthing is reflected in the long narratives that make up the meat of the book, detailing the complete online journeys of some of the world's most high-profile companies, from venerable offliners venturing online (among them, Arrow Electronics, Barnes & Noble, NBC, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, IBM, Williams-Sonoma, and Sun) to the Net-born (Amazon, eBay, Razorfish, EarthWeb, iXL, Renren.com, and Abuzz, which clearly emerges here as Kanter's pet model of how to do it right in entrepreneurial cyberspace). If you've followed the start-up scene with eagle eyes every day for the past five years, you might already be familiar with these companies' twisting, turning story lines. If, more likely, you haven't, you're in for some illuminating object lessons on what works (and what doesn't) on the precarious, often uncharted terrain of e-commerce--not to mention some really good reading.
Shortly before Evolve! went to press, Kanter added two new chapters to address the latest changes in the e-commerce market. That's a valuable update, but even if she'd skipped the postscript, Evolve! is blessedly free of reckless cybermania. And, unlike many such dot-com how-tos, it's wise enough to know that, far from having completely rewritten the rules of good business, the callow world of e-commerce has much to learn from the offline forbears it often scoffs at. For these reasons, the observations and advisories in Evolve! should transcend the inevitable fluctuations of the e-commerce market in the years to come. In other words, this is the real thing: smart, deeply researched advice from a pro whose talents are evident on every page. Well, except for the rap lyrics she's penned for "Evolve!--The Song," which kick off the book, and run along such lines: "You're not alone, so start placing your bet/On finding lots of partners throughout the Net!" Cole Porter she's not. Then again, maybe they wouldn't sound so lame if only we could get that other old pro, Eartha Kitt, to slip into her catsuit and purr her way through them. --Timothy Murphy
In this engaging but uneven book, Kanter (When Giants Learn to Dance; The Change Masters), a Harvard Business School professor and organizational change expert, predicts how the Internet will alter the way we work in the future. Business strategy for Web-dependent companies, she argues, should be like improvisational theater, with the CEO in the director's chair setting a direction for the firm and guiding the action based on market conditions. Kanter argues convincingly that the biggest obstacles to change are management and employee attitudes, not the technological tools they employ, adding that the best employees consider internal change a way of life and see the creative possibilities that can arise from conflict. Unfortunately, Kanter's case rests on anecdotes from well-known companies, such as Sun Microsystems, and draws on old Harvard Business School case studies on well-documented firms such as eBay. Despite her assertion that the book is based on new research, one gets the feeling many of the examples were selected from the obvious specimens she featured while speaking and consulting. But the biggest flaw is that some of Kanter's key observations have been overtaken by events in the market (e.g., it is no longer true that "unprofitable [Internet businesses] get high stock market evaluations"). E-book already available in MS Reader and Glassbook editions. (Mar. 1)Forecasts: Though this effort isn't as deeply insightful as Kanter's best work, which has been pitched to v-ps and senior managers, a first serial excerpt in Inc. magazine, a major advertising campaign in national and niche periodicals and a 15-city author tour may bring it to the attention of middle managers who are new to her thinking.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.