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Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done Hardcover – December 8, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422181146
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422181140
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ron Ashkenas is a Managing Partner of Robert H. Schaffer & Associates, where he consults to CEOs and senior executives on leadership, organizational transformation, and postmerger integration. He has served on the faculty of executive education programs at Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Kellogg School of Management, University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and Weatherhead School of Management. He is the coauthor of The Boundaryless Organization, The GE Work-Out, and Rapid Results.

More About the Author

Ron Ashkenas is a Senior Partner of Schaffer Consulting, a management consulting firm based in Stamford, Connecticut. The firm specializes in organizational transformation, leadership development, and post-merger integration.

Ron's clients have included many of the Fortune 500 companies, as well as prominent financial, governmental, and non-profit organizations such as Cisco Systems, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Pfizer, The World Bank, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Zurich Financial Services, and ConAgra Foods. Ron was part of the original team that collaborated with then-CEO Jack Welch to develop GE's WorkOut approach for creating a faster, simpler, and more nimble organization. He also helped to develop GE Capital's approach to acquisition integration.

Ron is the author of "Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done" (Harvard Business School Press, 2010), as well as the co-author of "Rapid Results!" (Jossey-Bass, 2005), "The GE Work-Out" (McGraw-Hill, 2002), "The Boundaryless Organization" (Jossey-Bass, 1995 and 2002), and "The Boundaryless Organization Field Guide" (Jossey-Bass, 1999). In addition to his books, Ron's publications include dozens of articles. Five were published by the Harvard Business Review, including 'Making the Deal Real: How GE Capital Integrates Acquisitions' and 'Why Good Projects Fail Anyway'. Ron also writes his own weekly blog for Harvard Business Review On-Line.

Ron received his BA from Wesleyan University, his EdM from Harvard University, and his PhD in Organizational Behavior from Case Western Reserve University, where he has also held several teaching assignments.

Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Walter H. Bock on March 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Albert Einstein said that "Everything should be made as simple as possible and no simpler."

Peter Drucker said that "Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective."

I don't know if those quotes inspired Ron Ashkenas, the author of Simply Effective, but they could have. If you're looking for ways to understand unnecessary complexity in your business and root it out, you should read this book.

The key to the value of this book is clearly stated in the Preface: The author says that the tools he refers to will probably be familiar to you. Then he says this:

"My intent is not to rehash these tools, but rather to put them in the context of how they can be used either singly or in combination to tackle different aspects of complexity--or to be woven together into a more comprehensive strategy."

What makes this a great book is the simple structure. It provides a lens you can use to spot and analyze needless or destructive complexity. And it provides guidance on what to do next.

The book begins with an introductory chapter titled: "Unmasking organizational complexity." Ashkenas says something that many of us have thought: "much of the day-to-day complexity that bogs down our ability to get results is self-inflicted." Pogo could not have said it better.

The introductory chapter describes how we create complexity without ever meaning to do so. It also describes the competitive advantage available to companies who can cauterize the complexity that degrades performance.

Ashkenas identifies four causes of complexity. Each one gets its own chapter. Each chapter describes particular causes of complexity and then discusses ways to increase simplicity.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mick Yates on December 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Ron Ashkenas is the co-author of The Boundaryless Organization and The GE Work-Out - both fascinating reviews of how major Companies make things happen in an increasingly complicated world. In the new book, published December 2009, Ashkenas sets out a set of diagnostics, tools and processes to help us deal with complexity on a day-to-day basis.

He identifies 4 major causes of complexity:

1. Structural Mitosis - constant change in the way organizations are structured
2. Management Behaviour - which wastes time and which confuses the issues
3. Product & Service Proliferation - which makes focusing and thus managing the whole ever more difficult
4. Process Evolution - as businesses use new and varying approaches to solve problems - processes need streamlining

By his own admission, Ashkenas does not set out to create lots of new tools. Rather, he is focused on ensuring that we have the context for simplicity clearly understood so that we start to create effective response strategies - and then applying the most proven approaches to help get results. The book is liberally laced with good case studies, from GE, Conagra, Cisco, J&J and others. And at the end of each chapter there is a helpful checklist of actions that can be taken.

For example, in the chapter on "Product and Service Proliferation", Ashkenas encourages us to use effective Portfolio Analysis to identify where to focus, rationalise our brand SKU's, and use Customer Design Partnering to be sure we are meeting the most important needs. And in "Streamlining Processes", Ashkenas urges us to use Best Practice, Process Mapping (to make explicit what is implicit or taken for granted in an organization) and, of course, proven techniques such as Six Sigma and Lean.
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Format: Hardcover
Ron Ashkenas is one of my intellectual heroes. I have read, reviewed, and highly-admire his previous books, notably The Boundaryless Organization, The GE Work-Out, and Rapid Results, and thus was eager to read his latest which, he explains, "is meant as a resource for managers, consultants, and others who want to engage in [an] ongoing and never-ending quest [to] engage their colleagues in an ongoing dialogue about the sources of complexity and their implications, and experiment with different approaches until they figure out what works"...or at least what will probably work for them and their organization.

Others have their reasons for praising this book. Here are three of mine. First, Ashkenas follows Einstein's admonition (quoted in the title of this review) by explaining how to complete the immensely difficult transition to what Oliver Wendell Holmes once characterized as "the other side of complexity." For example, he provides Assessment 1-1 (Pages 21-25) so that his reader can complete a self-audit by which to determine the major sources of complexity in her or his organization. He also identifies the four sources of complexity (i.e. structure, products, processes, and management behavior) and the major complexity-traps and explains how to avoid or escape from them.

I also admire how skillfully Ashkenas inserts statements throughout his narrative from those who have extensive first-hand experience with simplicity initiatives. For example, here is what a former vice chairman of GE, Floyd Trotter, has to say about the thought process that can be built into an entire culture. "We teach managers that they need to start with the `answer,' which is that their business needs double-digit earnings improvement every quarter and every year.
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