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How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things: Breaking the 8 Hidden Barriers that Plague Even the Best Businesses Hardcover – June 5, 2012

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Neil Smith has helped create incalculable shareholder value and customer loyalty for companies across America and around the world with one 'radical' idea: Our own employees know where the barriers to success are, and they know how to break them down so the CEO and the management teams can drive the vision and strategy we set for our companies.” ―Brian T. Moynihan, chief executive officer, Bank of America Corporation

“This exciting book, How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things, provides an in-depth look at the structural and behavioral barriers that keep organizations from outstanding performance, and offers a clear set of principles to get on track. Neil Smith's brilliant insights into removing these barriers and empowering employees to produce creative ideas are a must-read for managers everywhere.” ―Bill George, professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School, former chairman & CEO of Medtronic, Inc. and author of True North

“Neil Smith makes 'A Promise' for transforming your organization, and I can attest from his work with us at NYSE Euronext that he delivers. In this book, he outlines the process by which any company can become more efficient and profitable while reducing complexity. It is a must-read for any company that wants to improve its performance and for any manager who is serious about adding value to their organization.” ―Duncan Niederauer, chief executive officer, NYSE Euronext

“This book provides a practical, common sense guide to the main stumbling blocks facing business leaders and how to deal with them.” ―John Quelch, dean of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Shanghai

“A top-notch consultant reveals his secret sauce! Crisply reasoned and crisply written, this book is a virtual how-to-do-it manual for improving your company. If it doesn't give you dozens of good ideas, you haven't read it.” ―Alan Blinder, Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University and co-author of Economics: Principles and Policy

“This book is a great gift to leaders facing the 8 barriers because it underscores how critical it is to engage employees across the entire organization. Dumb things, goodbye!” ―Frances Hesselbein, president and chief executive officer of Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, former chief executive officer, Girl Scouts of the USA and author of My Life in Leadership

“A helpful reminder on how lack of oversight on even commonplace issues can interfere with an enterprise's productivity and success, this work will appeal to managers and leaders alike.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Neil Smith provides brilliant insights and great practical advice, based on his global expertise in helping excellent companies challenge the status quo and improve performance. Move this book to the top of your inbox.” ―Martin Sullivan, deputy chairman of Willis Group Holdings PLC and chairman and CEO of Willis Global Solutions

About the Author

Neil Smith, CEO of Promontory Growth and Innovation (PGI), has for the last 20 years focused on helping large corporations dramatically improve performance and profitability by growing revenues and innovatively reducing costs. Smith has led initiatives across a number of industries with some of the strongest companies in the U.S. including, Mellon Bank, Willis, and North American Van Lines. He recently spearheaded the highly visable initiative across Bank of America, and a firm he co-founded was responsible for projects at Heinz, Detroit Edison and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. His efforts have helped increase profits at top companies by 20 percent or more.

Patricia O'Connell, former Management Editor at, brings more than 20 years of writing and editing in a variety of subjects, including business, leadership, and strategy.

With contributions from Dr. Richard Levak, a nationally recognized personality expert who has been in private practice for over thirty years and has a growing practice in organizational consulting, assisting businesses with executive hiring, development and teambuilding.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137003065
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137003065
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neil Smith, a graduate of Harvard Business School and Keele University in England, and CEO of Promontory Growth and Innovation (PGI), has over 20 years' experience helping large corporations dramatically improve performance and profitability by growing revenues and innovatively reducing costs. Smith has led initiatives across a number of industries with some of the best known companies in the U.S. and internationally including, Bank of America, Willis, and North American Van Lines.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
With Patricia O'Connell, Neil Smith has written an exceptionally thoughtful and thought-provoking book. Whereas in Sydney Finkelstein's book, Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes, the focus is on the performance of individuals, Smith focuses on lessons to be learned from excellent companies whose employees generally (but not always) avoid or overcome hidden (albeit "natural") barriers. These barriers, "individually and collectively, can prevent employees from taking actions that are in the best interests if the given company. In short, the barriers are the reason the company does dumb things, not the employees themselves."

Smith devotes a separate chapter to each of the barriers (Chapters 1-8) and then shifts his attention in Chapter 9 to "Twelve Principles for Breaking Barriers" and provides "A 100-Day Process for Breaking Barriers" in Chapter 11. I commend Smith on his skillful use of two reader-friendly devices at the conclusion of each of the first eight chapters: "Barrier in Brief" (Takeaway and Solution) and "Look at Your Organization" (Inaccurate Information and Bad Assumptions). Also, throughout his narrative, Smith also provides five mini-commentaries contributed by Richard Levak: "Why People Avoid Controversy" (Pages 22-25), "Why People Procrastinate" (38-40), "Why People Are Reluctant to Change" (50-52), "What's Behind Management Blockers?" (85-87), and "How to Change Corporate Culture" (209-212).

As I worked my way through this book, I was reminded of passages from two recently published books.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lionslurking on June 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
If you were running a company of say 5,000 employees and someone offered to work with some of your senior managers over the next 100 days and at the end of that time, your company's net income would be increased by 20% of more, and your employees felt empowered and you eliminated silos and bureaucracy, would you be interested??

Read the book---Neil Smith lays out very clear examples of what makes his process work---it's amazingly simple and compelling.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Manager from New Jersey on June 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
With businesses constantly making the headlines with stupid actions its amazing companies survives. And these faux paus and mistakes continue year after year. Finally an author with a lot of experience discusses how even simple changes to a system (yes, even complex multinationals) can make a serious and significant impact. Who among us has not run in the silo problem, or the "that's not how our process works" administrative wall. Neil Smith here describes these restrictions and show how to break down the walls and make changes that have a real impact to business. Buy it... for just over $17 bucks just one change in your division will make it worth your while. It's an easy read, filled with examples. You'll be able to put some of the advice to use right away.
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Format: Hardcover
As usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review. This time it was from LibraryThing but I will give my scrupulously honest review below.

The nutshell view of this book is pretty simple. It outlines 8 ways that companies screw up and cost themselves money. Each of the sections is laid out in more or less this format:

1. Some personal anecdote from the author about this problem as he's seen it in the field.

2. Examples of the problem at companies the author has worked for.

3. Specifics on how to determine if you have this problem

4. What to do about the problem once you find it

5. A summary

The book outlines 8 problems ("barriers") but really they boil down to a handful of core problems

1. Poor communication between managers/managed or between departments

2. Failure to think properly about the scale of problems when coming to a resolution or do proper analysis.

3. Unwillingness to change the status quo, "we've always done it THIS way"

Every "barrier" described is a corollary of one of those three things.

On the positive side, the text is very readable and the author brings things to light in a detailed and relatable way. He doesn't just preach from the hilltop, he gives candid examples of these problems as he's seen them in the field. Having worked in a few companies over the years I've seen every one of them in action and he's spot on with his descriptions.

To the negative, it does seem things are rather padded. As I noted the book numbers '8' barriers but really they're pretty closely related to each other. None of this is ground-breaking new material either.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By PencilStubs on March 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Encouraging and implementing ideas in businesses can lead to all kinds of good changes, such as increasing simplicity, efficiency, and profitability or decreasing wastes of time, funds and products. So how come all businesses aren't constantly churning out ideas for improvements and eagerly implementing these ideas? Neil Smith's book explores the structural and behavioral barriers that stifle the idea generation and implementation process, leaving businesses to stagnate instead of thrive.

Eight distinct barriers to ideas and change are discussed, with three real life mini case studies used to illustrate each, as well as twelve ways to break down these barriers. Each chapter on the eight barriers ends with a helpful summary and questions businesses should be asking themselves to probe for where change is needed. A 100-day plan for businesses to initiate an overhaul and permanently transform their culture into a dynamic, idea-friendly one is also covered in-depth.

The many examples, clear and detailed writing, and psychology-based explanations for the barriers make this book easy to understand and compelling. It's inspiring to learn that hundreds to thousands of ideas come up in the businesses Smith has worked with once ideas are requested and a process for making changes is in place.

I've seen reviews that complained everything in this book is "obvious." Well, it's really easy to complain that something's obvious *after* you've just read it--but could these reviewers have listed the eight barriers and the twelve ways to unblock them *before* reading the book?
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