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The Arc of Ambition : Defining the Leadership Journey Hardcover – January 6, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nearly everyone aspires to something--wealth, fame, happiness. But a few people aspire to changing an entire paradigm, the way the Wright Brothers did when they invented a glider with an engine, the way Nelson Mandela did when he endured decades of imprisonment to see his nation transformed, the way Thomas Jefferson did when he doubled the territory of the young U.S. by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France for less than three cents an acre. All seem like obvious ideas in retrospect, but in fact all appeared quixotic at the time, as wrongheaded as the alchemy that had been attempted for 300 years without ever succeeding in turning a base metal into gold.

In Arc of Ambition, authors James Champy (Reengineering Management, Reengineering the Corporation) and Nitin Nohria see these visionaries as creators, but also recognize two other species of genius: capitalizers, who take great ideas and create great businesses or social movements from them; and consolidators, who lead these businesses or movements into maturity. All three types have the titular "arc of ambition." That is, they start with a great idea, realize it, cope with the success of it (the chapter on overreaching and squandering opportunity includes the cautionary tales of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton), and decide when and how to turn the product of their imagination over to others. Ultimately, The Arc of Ambition is the entire history of the modern world, of its politics and technology and art. Everything we know and either cherish or loathe starts as someone's ambition, and ends when the product of someone else's ambition becomes the dominant model. It's an interesting and entertaining way to organize the world, to look at the facts with new eyes. In that sense, the authors display the fruits of ambition even as they explain them. --Lou Schuler

From Publishers Weekly

In their quest to identify the particular traits of effective leaders, Champy (coauthor of Reengineering the Corporation) and Nohria, a professor at the Harvard Business School, elbowed aside the constraints of the leadership genre, which typically relies on secondhand sources, and actually interviewed many of the people they use as examples. In addition to some of the usual suspects--such as IBM's Louis Gerstner and computer entrepreneur Michael Dell--they canvass such lesser-known figures as Domain's Judy George and Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance Industries, making an effort to span all industries. Beyond reporting on the traits that they believe have contributed to these leaders' successes (these executives "never violate values"; they "keep control by giving it up"; they "change or die"), Champy and Nohria show how readers can emulate those they've singled out, offering such advice as "return to ideas that have worked in the past" and "include specific targets to make sure you remain focused." While neither the traits nor the advice are particularly groundbreaking, the authors' well-honed and accessible presentation and fresh thumbnail profiles are surprisingly engaging. Agent, Helen Rees. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: British Commonwealth, United States, United Nations, 1993
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (January 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738201030
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738201030
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #283,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jim Champy is one of the leading thinkers in business. His first book, Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution, a New York Times Bestseller with more than 3 million copies sold, helped transform the corporate world. His global bestsellers also include X-Engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age; Reengineering Management; and The Arc of Ambition. Champy's most recent books, OUTSMART! and INSPIRE!, examine the future of business in the digital age. Champy is an advisor to multiple health care organizations on issues of strategy and operations. He continues to work in the corporate world and serves on the boards of several public and private institutions.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By David E. Reynolds on January 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Humans have a natural distaste for experiences of tension. We tend to want to resolve the tension by giving into one of the forces. The topic of ambition, particularly in America, is one fascinating tension: we believe deeply in the power of the individual to rise above humble means and yet, we tend to resent those who have achieved great wealth, e.g. Bill Gates.

Ambition has its seemy side and its positive side. Ambition implies that there is competition and in that competition, there will be some who come out on top. This is the tension of ambition in a capitalistic society and economy. As a result, any author who dealt with ambition would be tempted to slide toward either extreme: ambition is good or ambition is evil.

Champy and Nohria successfully fail to resolve the tension for the reader. They lift up the amazing trait of ambition with biographical examples and describe the occasionally ambiguous trait with other essential traits without questioning the motives or ethics of ambitious people.

Their thesis is that ambition is the driver for success in the world. Fortunately, they use a broad definition of success by profiling artists, businessmen, social activists, religious leaders, etc. They describe the three phases of the arc of ambition: the upward incline with its accompanying struggles, the peak of success and the inevitable decline that eventually occurs in each ambitious person's life. Their profiles help the reader understand each phase, the supporting experiences and traits and the opportunities and risks of each one.

The authors have written a business book that is not written with common, stale prose. While it is not as exciting to read as a Tom Peters book, it is definitely far from a Peter Senge anesthetic.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Generally,a healthy sceptic of management philosophies - especially when it comes to implementing them in real life -I found the book provocative and eye-opening.
Champy and Nohria have managed to effectively pinpoint that "ineffable quality", possessed by leaders, across time and chosen paths. The creativity of ideation, the pioneering courage to follow it through and also, importantly, the ability to let go.
Teaching, demonstrating and implementing leadership principles is at best an elusive, challenging process. The book coalesces similarities possessed by leaders(fleshed out by invorating examples from the political, business and social spheres), and lays them out in a crisp, easy to understand fashion.
The title says it all. The reader after having read the book, is strongly tempted to pick it up and read it again.
Some day more management books will be written this way.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "hfrix" on February 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Nohria and Champy do an admirable job of examining the power and potential of ambition. Not easy ground as ours is a culture that is almost embarrassed by the word. Ambition is negative. Ambition consumes. Ambition is selfish.
History shows otherwise and Nohria and Champy use historical case studies to dramatic effect. Yes, ambition has been at the core of some figures we could have done without. But, so too did it burn in many who made massive contributions to mankind.
It was downright merciful of the authors not to bury us in the typical motivational pap that usually greets us when matters of business and character meet.
Overall, a clever treatment of a tough subject that manages to both educate and entertain.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Arc of Ambition is 'a handbook of lessons derived from the lives of great achievers past and present.' Think of it as today's version of The Prince for the ambitious in all fields of public endeavor. The authors tell us, 'This book is aimed at all those who dream of achieving greatness in any field.'
This book is rich, elegant, graceful and stylish . . . as befits a Wordworks product (based the note in the acknowledgments). That's the book's strength. The weakness is looking at the outward circumstances of achieving the desires of ambition while leaving most of the psychological wellsprings and ethical considerations alone.
The consideration of ambition begins with an insight into how things can be different. You are then advised to temper your pursuit of that insight with both optimism and perserverance for the unpredictable nature and length of your journey. Beyond that, you must act when circumstances make progress possible -- seize the moment, then! As you make progress, you must temper your ambition to create a balance of ambitious goals and disciplined execution. Then, inspire others with a vision of significance combined with shared benefits from greater victories. Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to violate your values. If you make this mistake, quickly acknowledge your error and make appropriate amends. To create greater results, establish autonomy for others so they can be inspired to take action and benefit from their close perception of what needs to be done. As time passes, you will need to make changes or your leadership will cause your efforts to shrivel in effectiveness. Finally, when your time is past, leave the field gracefully.
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