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A Sense of Urgency
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
One of my long term favourite expressions is "set a pace you can maintain forever but sense of urgency wins". Sense of urgency is very much tied to Time Management. People and companies with a sense of urgency win. Its that simple.

Sense of urgency has been one of my secret tricks over the years. Now, John Kotter has written a very simple, fast, easy to read book on the topic called "A Sense of Urgency" that not only explains why we need a sense of urgency but explains strategy and tactics on how to develop it and make it real.

Kotter especially speaks of the need for urgency in times of change.

He also speaks of the dangers of false urgency - how to identify it and deal with it. All appearances of high activity and action are not neccessarily true or positive urgency.

Some text from the book (greatly summarized):

Crucial first step in his framework: creating a sense of urgency by getting people to actually see and feel the need for change.

1. If a sense of urgency is not high enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult.

2. Success easily produces complacency.

3. The opposite of urgency is not only complacency. Itâ(tm)s also a false or misguided sense of urgency that is as prevalent today as complacency itself and even more insidious.

4. Mistaking what you might call false urgency from real urgency is a huge problem today. People constantly see the frenzied action, assume that it represents true urgency.

5. It most certainly is possible to recognize false urgency and complacency and transform each into a true sense of urgency. There is a strategy.

6. Urgency is becoming increasingly important because change is shifting from episodic to continuous.

Put simply a strong sense of urgency is moving from an essential element in big change programs to an essential asset in general.

The number one problem they have is all about creating a sense of urgency - and that's the first step in a series of actions needed to succeed in a changing world.

False urgency is a condition that is very different from complacency. While complacency embraces the status quo, false urgency can be filled with new activities. While complacency often has a sort of sleepy quality, false urgency is filled with energy. False urgency is built on a platform of anxiety and anger.

Anxiety and anger drive behavior that can be highly energetic - which is why people mistake false for true urgency. But the energy from anger and anxiety can easily create activity, not productivity.

The Strategy

Create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each and every day, and constantly purging low value-added activities - all by always focusing on the heart and not just the mind.

The Tactics (you really have to read to book to understand these)

1. Bring the Outside in
2. Behave with Urgency Every Day
3. Find Opportunity in Crises
4. Deal with the NoNos

Speed will only increase. A sense of urgency will only become more essential.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"the number one problem they have is all about creating a sense of urgency"

A Sense Of Urgency by John Kotter is, simply put, a sequel of his previous book; "Our Iceberg is Melting". "Our Iceberg is Melting" is a fictional story of emperor penguins who fight for survival during the threat of change. The eight steps to overcome and embrace change are 1.) A sense of urgency 2.) The guiding team 3.) Visions and strategies 4.) Communication 5.) Empowerment 6.) Short-term wins 7.) Never letting up 8.) Making change stick.

This book is focused on the first step, a sense of urgency. As Kotter wrote "Most organizations handle step 1 poorly". Without a "true" sense of urgency, the following 7 steps to embrace change is a cumbersome task. And more importantly, because "we are moving from episodic to continuous change. With this shift, urgency will move from being an important issue every few years to being a powerful asset all the time."


1. It all starts with a sense of urgency
As I mentioned earlier that a sense of urgency is vital to a process of change. John Kotter also indicated the two most hazardous enemies, complacency and false urgency.

2. Complacency and false urgency
Kotter digged deep into the two enemies, complacency and false urgency. He elaborated the cause of them, how do the complacent (and people with false of urgency) think? What do they feel? How do they behave? He, later, wrote on how to find complacency and false urgency. This chapter is truly alarming and you might not like it!

3. Increasing true urgency
The critical point of the chapter is that true urgency aims for the "heart". A true sense of urgency is "a set of feelings: a compulsive determination to move, and win, now"; not hundreds of PowerPoint slides with graphs, charts, and researches. He concluded the chapter with four tactics (the following four chapters).

4. Tactic One: bring the outside in
"Tactic One is based on the observation that organizations of any size or age tend to be too internally oriented." He suggested us seven useful ways to "bring the outside in" to create a sense of urgency in the organization.

5. Tactic Two: behave with urgency everyday
To make sure any action is not just a flavour of a month, we need to behave urgently everyday. Behaving urgently does not mean panicking and Kotter tells you how. I personally like the term "urgent patience" because "behaving urgently does not mean constantly running around, screaming "Faster-faster". Urgent patience means acting each day with a sense of urgency but having a realistic view of time.

6. Tactic Three: find opportunity in crises
There are two camps of people amid crisis, one always looks for crisis avoidance, crisis management, damage control, budgets, budget reviews, and financial control system. The other looks for a burning platform; they view crises as not necessary bad. With fire spreading, they move, status quo eliminated and new beginning is possible. Which one is correct? Yes, neither. Kotter wrote on the pitfalls of the two and how to balance and how to make the most out of crises.

7. Tactic Four: deal with NoNos
NoNo is a character in "Our Iceberg is Melting" who always say, as the name suggests, "No no". They are resistant to change, slow down movement, and kill urgency. NoNos are not skeptics, they are worse. And Kotter wrote on how NOT to deal with them and how to deal with them effectively.

8. Keeping urgency up
True urgency leads to success with leads to complacency. This chapter tells you how to avoid this problem.

9. The future: begin today


Next, I'll try to briefly rate this book on a scale of ideal business book or a book that is "easy to understand, distinct, practical, credible, insightful, and provides great reading experience"

Ease of Understanding: 8/10: This book is focused on a single issue which helps you understand the subject thoroughly. The drawback is that the (real or unreal) supporting stories or examples are written lightly or fiction-like with no reference or supporting data. They do not support the contents well enough.

Distinction: 8/10: With hundreds (if not thousands) of books already on the topic of change, this small book gives you a more elaborated and detailed view on the sub-topic of change. There are also far too many titles about the rate of change in business but most of them focus on technological side of change. This is a book on a fast pace business environment with very little mention on the Internet and not a single word (I believe) on Google, My Space, Twitter, etc.

Practicality: 7/10: Although there is no step-by-step instruction to create a true sense of urgency, the book sufficiently provides you with valuable and practical guidelines.

Reliability: 5/10: There are many stories supporting the subjects but they are not truly convincing. They are (I hate to say) a bit too short and too fictional with no data or reference as I mentioned. Moreover, the one strategy (aim at the heart) and four tactics are mainly from the words and experience of the author. Simple said, the only reliable factor of the book is the author himself. I wish there were more concrete facts.

Insight: 5/10: I feel that the author wanted this book to be easy to read and easy to grasp the essence of it. Kotter believes that to create a sense of urgency in an organization, we need to communicate to the heart not to the mind with too much data and analysis (two hundred slides PowerPoint presentation, for instance). However, that is suitable for communication in the business setting with very little time to spare and to comprehend the message. Intellectual readers (not me) might expect more.

Reading Experience: 6/10: The two most important words in the book are "urgent" and "now". This book will put you in the state of emergency. One point of this book that made me feel uncomfortable is that it is, from my judgement, 80% pessimistic and 20% optimistic.

Overall: 6.5/10: If you have read "Our Iceberg is Melting" and had a problem with the first step (like I did), you should definitely buy the book. If you have not but feel that your organisation is either stagnant and slow (complacent), or chaotic with no result (false urgency) and your organisation does not respond to change well enough, this book is a good start.
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on March 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I first heard about John Kotter when one of my professors in college made constant references to another one of his books: Leading Change.

In Leading Change, Kotter laid out the 8 stages of how to lead change. The connection between this book, A Sense of Urgency, and that book is that the first stage in the change process is, "Establishing a sense of urgency."

Establishing this sense of urgency - which Kotter defines as, "a gut-level determination to move and win, now" - is important enough to warrant a book all on its own because change efforts most often fail because change leaders "did not create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap in some new direction" (p. viii).

The challenges to true urgency are complacency and false urgency.
Kotter observes that "Complacency is almost always the product of success or perceived success" (p. 20). And the success doesn't even need to have been achieved recently. "An organization's many years of prosperity could have ended a decade ago, and yet the complacency created by that prosperity can live on, often because the people involved don't see it" (p. ix). The complacency remains mostly because "the complacent do not alertly look for new opportunities or hazards facing their organizations" (p. 21).

While complacency is demonstrated by acceptance of the status quo, false urgency is seen in the frenzy of activity that keeps busy with activities of low-importance. "With a false sense of urgency, the action is much more activity than productivity. It is frenetic. It is more mindless running to protect themselves or attack others than purposive focus on critical opportunities" (p. 25).

Ultimately, Kotter wants reads to recognize that "both the business-as-usual behavior associated with complacency and the running-in-circles behavior associated with a false sense of urgency are increasingly dangerous" (p. 7).

His term "increasingly dangerous" stands out to me. Either of these two mindsets have the potential to kill your organization. They are deadly. That simple acknowledgment, alone, can increase your urgency. If we don't act, and act in high-impact ways on high-importance projects/tasks, then there will be no future for us.

After explaining what true urgency is not, Kotter begins to unpack what it is and how to create it. He says, "The winning strategy combines analytically sound, ambitious, but logical goals with methods that help people experience new, often very ambitious goals, as exciting, meaningful, and uplifting - creating a deeply felt determination to move, make it happen, and win, now" (p. 47).

He offers four tactics, which serve to elaborate on the "methods" he mentioned in the quote above. Those tactics are:
1) Bring the Outside In.
2) Behave with Urgency Every Day.
3) Find Opportunities in Crises.
4) Deal with the NoNos.

Each of these tactics are matched with case studies that illustrate their importance, as well as practical suggestions (and cautions) for how to use them well.

In the end, Kotter counsels a kind of "urgent patience." With this term, he means to suggest, "acting each day with a sense of urgency but having a realistic view of time" (p. 118).

I recommend this book for anyone who is involved in the hard work of leading change. Change takes time, but if you create a true sense of urgency at the start then the time it takes and the challenges you face will be significantly less than if you don't.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Whenever I meet CEOs, they invariably tell me that they wish their people had more "fire in the belly" or more of a sense of urgency. What are they talking about? Their organizations go about saving someone's life in such a slow methodical fashion, that no life would ever be saved. It's as though a fire truck arrived at a fire and never unrolled any hoses or attached them to any fire hydrants. Instead, they are checking the equipment before getting started.

I have seen this in my own organizations. Hire a new marketing person, and you can be sure that not much more will be accomplished in the first six months than to have the company stationery, business cards, and promotional material redesigned.

What the leaders often don't realize is that their behavior facilitates this "business as usual" slow-motion sleep walk. If you want to get beyond that frustration into effectiveness, this book can help you.

Professor John Kotter knows all this. In his excellent books on change management such as Leading Change and The Heart of Change, he documented that change requires these characteristics be present:

1. A sense of urgency
2. An effective guiding team
3. Appropriate visions and strategies
4. Communications that cause the right messages to be understood by all
5. Allowing people to make necessary changes
6. Making regular progress that inspires people
7. Keeping at making useful changes
8. Not letting the helpful changes unravel

As you can see, it all starts with a sense of urgency. In this book, Professor Kotter gives us his most in-depth look at how a leader can instill and take advantage of a sense of urgency to overcome complacency and bad habits.

He proposes that leaders engage a strategy of continual action based on sensing changes outside the organization that provide opportunities or present threats while eliminating activities that don't add much value. Such a strategy should be implemented in a way that appeals to your organization both rationally and emotionally.

To implement that strategy he suggests these tactics (see pp. 60-61):

1. Bring the outside in with engaging information so that the outside is acknowledged, understood, and acted on.

2. Demonstrate urgency every day as a leader and expect everyone else to do the same.

3. Find appropriate opportunities to change and improve from crises that threaten the organization.

4. Wall off, neutralize, or eliminate those who oppose or slow down change for no good reason.

The book goes on to provide lists of questions, examples of good and bad behavior, and check lists to help you follow Professor Kotter's advice.

I found a few flaws in the ointment that concerned me about the book that I think you should be aware of:

1. In the book's beginning, there's a lot of attention paid to what is described as a "false sense of urgency." He characterizes people with this attitude as feeling that change must be made but whose actions aren't very helpful (like the new marketing people who spend a lot of effort redesigning the stationery). I don't think that's the only syndrome that you have to deal with. I also see people who have a real sense of urgency, but who don't have the management skills to know how to fix whatever it is that needs to be fixed. I would characterize that as incompetent management. Professor Kotter fails to address what to do about incompetent change management.

2. The sections on the tactics don't contain many examples, and many of the examples are ones that he has shared in earlier books such as The Heart of Change. I would have liked to see more examples and more details about how to pursue these tactics in organizations with different kinds of cultures. As a result, I didn't feel like I gained very much information about the tactics beyond what the description of the tactic provides.

3. Can leadership be defined and parsed like management is? To some extent. I think that Professor Kotter doesn't feel comfortable trying to do so. As a result, the book is a little on the superficial side for a reader who hasn't seen an effective change leader in operation.

4. There are many other tactics for leading successful change that require the use of new business models and those ideas are totally missing from the book.

But I don't know of a better book on the challenges of creating a sense of urgency in leading change. So do read this one and make the best use of it you can.
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VINE VOICEon September 2, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Critical to change management and change initiation is the need to both intellectually as well as emotionally inspire change in an organization. John Kotter captures the essence of that critical challenge in this easy to read and useful little management tome. In approximately 200 pages, Kotter takes the reader through both theory and practice (or strategy and tactics) on how and what to do to instill, promote and maintain a sense of urgency in an organization.

Focusing on changing an organization's perspective outward, instilling and behaving with urgency at all times, finding opportunity in crisis and dealing with the negative nellies in any organization, Kotter takes the reader through a fairly well written and well organized set of approaches to combat complacency and instill urgency. His approaches range from light psychology to outright firing people, and after reading the book, you will be presented with a fairly large if not well discussed tool set for managing complacency and instilling urgency in an organization.

If you are a manager, you need to at least be aware of the elements of psychology that Kotter discusses in the book - particularity being able to separate skeptics from naysayers and overcoming organizational inertia in our self and others. Worth the quick read.
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on December 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a very good book pin pointing a lot of companies having a problem of complacency yet owners, CEOs or senior executives are either not realize or decide to ignore.

Most companies having fundamental management problems. They simply keep dragging on making decisions / taking actions to rectify obvious issues the enterprise is encountering. Thus facing high risk of either losing out or eventually out of business.

I highly recommend this book to those who are serious and determined to do the right thing at the right time. Action now before it is too late. However do the right thing calls for a lot of courage and sense.

Good luck.
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on March 16, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Urgency focuses on the future. This book offers thoughtful ideas and experiences that give skills for developing and maintaining urgency. A very good read.
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on April 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I had always learned that urgency is bad, and that finding "important" things to do was key. In fact, I now realise that there is true urgency - which bolsters and supports important things so that they become essential, critical and attention-seeking - and there is false urgency, which is merely based on anger and anxiety. Formatting on kindle edition was very bad, as was the editing, hence not five stars. However, the ideas were worth the read
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on December 17, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is an excellent book talking about the lack of common sense in the industry and government alike.
I found it very true in general. However, this book is not specific on citing any research data to support
his claim. It would be helpful that he has some data to back it up.
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on January 23, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I appreciated the book as a resource to help identify and avoid complacency and a false sense of urgency. The four tactics also provide good perspective.
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