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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must-read for leaders/managers/coaches, business and non-profit, January 3, 2010
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This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
I rarely say "must read", but this is a rare book.

Nilofer Merchant has accomplished what few business writers have:
- Implementing the ideas in this book will substantially transform organizations.
- These transformations will make the organizations simultaneously more competitive AND better places to work.
- Leaders at all levels can apply these learnings, although I most want this book to get into the hands of C-levels (the world hasn't changed yet!) and those that advise them.
- The book is so well-written that there's a good chance that readers will actually stay with it, remember it, refer back, and work toward the changes recommended.

Nilofer, former star performer at Apple and Autodesk, now strategy consultant to high-tech CEOs, has one foot grounded in the top-down reality of today's large organizations and another stepping forward into the more networked, collaborative, far more agile world of tomorrow's successful companies.

As an executive coach with roots in corporate strategy, I applaud Nilofer's theme that people at all levels in your organization have knowledge, insight, and solution-finding smarts that go largely untapped as companies currently set strategy and navigate fast-moving markets to deliver. For all the talk of "talent management" people at mid and front-line levels are seldom engaged in the decisions that matter most. This has to change, and here is your roadmap.

I rate this book, along with Heifetz & Lansky's "Practice of Adaptive Leadership", as highest-value reading that give me, at the opening of this perilous decade, the most optimism that people in big organizations can get their acts together and thrive.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incorporating collaboration into the company's dynamic, January 3, 2010
This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
Nilofer Merchant addresses a difficult topic: the common discrepancy between what is called "strategy" in the one hand, and what is labeled "execution," on the other. In between, you have what she calls the "air sandwich." The gap is not new whatsoever. Most companies reproduce a multi-millenarian dichotomy between the people who think in the stratosphere and the rest of the humans, bound to deal with the day-to-day weather in the troposphere. Too bad, because that's what is killing them from the inside!

This book offers an extensive description of a devastating disease - but even better, a solid methodology to stop it. Most strategies are doomed to fail from the start because of how they were formed. They are positioned as visions disconnected from implementation considerations - and therefore foster ad hoc measures and improvisation. The book shows how to rebuild and realign the connective pieces and synergies that drive successful businesses, i.e.:
* How people can engage with one another and create value together.
* How collaborative planning must rely on an efficient framework.
* How small acts rather than big announcements transform company cultures for the best.

"Incorporating collaboration into the company's dynamic" is not a pompous motto that comes from the top and fades away as you get lower into the hierarchy, but each employee's personal responsibility: "Think about your work not in terms of what you do, but in terms of the role you play. Your role is not just your title, but includes sets of behaviors, tools, and approaches to create value for and with your organization." By becoming aware of their roles, people are able to create strategies collaboratively and move faster towards creating meaningful business solutions and improving business performance.

Each page has a show and tell feel that will prod you to want to enact the "new how" and evolve. You may be inclined to brag about your innumerable "personal accomplishments." But are you really a leader, able to "facilitate as much as you decide, catalyze as much as you act, and coach as much as you direct?" Maybe not... Building Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy" relies upon the ability of individuals to rethink their personal development: this book gives the practical recommendations that enable employees to reinvent themselves and find purpose at work.

A must read. A very serious book with a lot of humor. Abundant and excellent illustrations by business cartoonist Hugh MacLeod!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't just talk about transparency, do it!, January 2, 2010
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This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
Transparency has always been an important management topic (how much, with whom, about what). But I think we're entering an era where transparency may have a chance of going mainstream. Nilofer Merchant relays vivid examples (often personal ones based on her rich career) of the flaws of top-down thinking and how this approach threatens strategy development and implementation. Her "Air Sandwich" is a clear and memorable way to describe the problem (p. 13):

"An Air Sandwich is, in effect, a strategy that has clear vision and future direction on the top layer, day-to-day action on the bottom, and virtually nothing in the middle -- no meaty key decisions that connect the two layers, no rich chewy center filling to align the new direction with new actions within the company."

I've assigned the introduction of The New How to my MBA class on Organizational Analysis and Design. I expect they will appreciate the clear voice and examples.
(Longer review available at: [....]
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A candid, credible, collaborative approach for implementing strategies., May 5, 2010
A Kid's Review
This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
This is a terrific management book that every MBA, strategic planner and manager should read. It is highly practical, focusing on how to make plans as a team. Brutally honest, it says what does and doesn't work, based on years of experience by author Nilofer Merchant.

Nilofer's experience comes mainly from high tech Silicon Valley style companies. In that culture, for many Strategic Planning is an ugly term. Nilofer tells you how to overcome anti-strategy stigma.

This is a book for any company that wants employees pulling together like a well-coached team. This is not a book for authoritarian cultures where workers blindly follow executive orders. Traditional strategic planning just doesn't work when you need to be agile and you have many bright people questioning their leaders.

The book starts by going straight to the heart of why many strategies fail. "Blaming people only works for so long." It will wake up managers who only want to hear good news and can't take a debate. Debate and openness is encouraged. How often have professionals, particularly women in my experience, been told they are too tactical by managers who can't be bothered to go into the details? This book claims that strategies tend to fail when they don't get down to the nitty gritty of actionable tasks. Nilofer writes "...in my operating view of the world, most "how best to compete" decisions are not tactical." The "Air Sandwich" is delightfully sketched to emphasize the gap between traditional top-down edicts and actual implementation. "Organizational rules of engagement can product pernicious problems for doing strategy collaboratively." The language is precise, vivid and credible.

The next section tells us how and why we need to collaborate. Nilofer's 7-point MINDSET leadership style challenges leaders to motivate collaborators.

The middle section is about process. It has great advice for tempering unproductive organizational power struggles and channeling energies into productive contributions. Nilofer encourages people to surface problems early and speak up when something seems unlikely to work. She gives the phrases to say in a meeting if you have to bring up bad news. She also tells how to focus and kill bad ideas through MurderBoarding. There's a great discussion on Tacit Beliefs - something that is often assumed or overlooked. "It takes courage to rethink ideas you may have already invested in."

The final section makes strategies become real - the foundation of success.

The book is beautifully printed and designed. The bullet lists, simple diagrams and outlined text boxes drive home key themes. Above all I recommend this to people who have moved from a hierarchical organization to a more dynamic collaborative culture - it will save much grief!

DISCLAIMER - I was sent a complementary copy of the book from Rubicon Consulting - I was not asked to review it - I reviewed it because I believe it's a book that should be widely adopted and read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strategy Is Everyone's Business, May 6, 2011
By 
This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
When it comes to strategy, the typical company has a big problem. According to Nilofer Merchant, the author of The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy, only 5% of workers at most firms understand the strategy. When the primary challenge facing businesses in the early 21st century is managing at the speed of complex change, having a workforce that is essentially clueless about the company's strategy is a recipe for disaster.

If you were to ask the first ten people you run into today at your company "What's our strategy?" would you get the same answer from all ten people or ten different answers? If your organization is a top-down hierarchy, chances are that you will get ten different answers. When those who are responsible for execution don't understand the strategy, how can any business reasonably expect to succeed in the marketplace?

Merchant correctly observes that, "a strategy is legitimate only when it is ready to get results." In other words, the only strategies that matter are those that can be readily executed. Business cultures that insist that major decisions are made in the executive suite and that execution can be simply delegated to workers without their involvement are blind to the new business realities of a post-digital world. This blindness leads to an "enormous gap between the vision at the top and the understanding and alignment of those in the organization that must turn that vision into a ground-level reality." Also, this blindness fails to recognize that, in today's workforce, the millennials outnumber the baby boomers and the numbers of these digital natives will only continue to grow. This new generation, who were reared in the interconnected world of Twitter and Facebook, are defining a new workforce where workers expect to participate and will only produce results when they are given the freedom to be fully engaged.

Merchant makes a convincing argument that our longstanding preference for hierarchical structures has outlasted its value. In today's faster moving markets, continued reliance on top-down decision-making is a formula for failure. Successful strategies in times of great change are only possible if we change the rules. According to Merchant, this means creating a new system where everyone is able to contribute, where insights can come from anywhere in the organization, and where executives and workers learn from and collaborate with each other as they build a powerful shared understanding that integrates strategy and execution to produce extraordinary results.

Merchant asserts that managing at today's accelerating pace of change requires a high level of cross-silo collaboration. She astutely observes that collaboration is more a function of systems and processes than it is about behaviors and attitudes. Thus, collaborative enterprises have practical methodologies for bringing many people together, regardless of title or position, to engage in defining the strategic direction. These inherently messy processes recognize that oftentimes the best strategic thinking comes from the collective wisdom of the group rather than from the best thinking of a single individual. Thus, Merchant points out, "Somewhat like jazz, collaborative strategy is a structured yet improvisational performance."

Equally important, the incentive systems in collaborative organizations are structured to reward common success. Thus, the rewards are based more on cross-silo success and less on the accomplishment of individual tasks. Another important dimension of integrating strategy and execution is to continually track and communicate the progress of key measures that correlate with organizational success so that individuals have the tools to quickly coordinate their efforts to assure reliable results.

If you want the first ten people that you encounter in your company to give that same answer when you ask them what the strategy is, consider embracing the new rules of The New How. The processes and tools outlined in this book will assure that your company is ready to reliably produce results in a continually fast-changing world.

Rod Collins,
Author, Leadership in a Wiki World: Leveraging Collective Knowledge to Make the Leap to Extraordinary Performance
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Introducing "a different approach that gets everyone to collaborate and create winning strategies", April 22, 2011
This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
Why do so many strategies fail? Usually the fault lies with the strategy itself and/or how it was formulated, and/or how it was executed. In this book Nilofer Merchant offers what she characterizes as "a different approach that gets everyone to collaborate and create winning strategies." More specifically, this approach requires that everyone is able to participate in and contribute to the collaborative process, that allows decisions to be made based on insights gathered from throughout the given enterprise, that these decisions be in alignment with the vision, that there be "collective debate" with principled dissent, and that there be on-going, constant communication between and among those involved. Merchant also stresses the importance of taking an approach that utilizes conflict and tension to motivate creativity, one that focuses on what is most important (what "matters most"), and that enables those involved to move faster (i.e. get and better work done sooner) while tapping into (indeed leveraging) everyone's strengths.

That is the book's "what," clearly presented in the Preface. Most of the material that follows explains a "New How" to achieve those and other worthy objectives. Merchant is a passionate empiricist and diehard pragmatist, determined to understand what works, what doesn't, and why. I appreciate her focus on a combination of processes for strategy planning and execution but only after rigorous consideration of options versus objectives in terms of where and how to compete. Long ago, I began to view strategies as "drivers" and tactics as "nails." The New How suggests different and, Merchant insists, better ways to decide how to compete, whatever the nature and extent of the given marketplace may be. That is, how to drive high-impact results.

In many of the organizations by which I have been retained to assist with accelerating executive development and performance improvement, I soon realized that the strategies they created were what Merchant characterizes as an "air sandwich": New "marching orders" are formulated in the C-suite and communicated to supervisors in middle management (viewed as messengers) who are then expected to explain the new strategy and obtain buy-in of it by those at lower levels.

As Merchant explains, "The middle is missing [the substance of the business] a set of understandings [of all that needs to be considered and managed] that would connect the vision of the direction to the reality. By focusing only on the top or bottom, we lose the middle, which is where the value is." Inevitably, there are systemic problems and Merchant discusses three: "tunnel vision" (i.e. focus only on what serves one's self-interests) "ahead of yourself" (i.e. focus on doing without sharing), and "It's not my job," an attitude whose meaning and significance are self-evident.

Throughout her narrative, she includes content modules of key points. For example:
"The Seven Responsibilities" of a Leader (Pages 81-98)
"Collaborate strategy process framework" or QuEST (103)
"Managing Temptations" (Five)

o Believing That You Already Know What Problem Needs Solving (126)
o Choosing Certainty over Clarity" (Page127)
o Saving Ideas You Personally Like (144)
o Wanting Harmony Instead of Productive Conflict (145)
o Choosing Your Individual Status over Team Results (203)

"Using MurderBoarding" (162-163)
"Turning Around a Big Ship" (165-166)
"The Goal: Selecting a Winning Strategy" (188-189)

Although Merchant devotes almost all of her attention to "how," she does specify what she characterizes as "first principles" for the New How: Distribute decision making, Demand good follower ship, Reward co-ownership, set clear goals and then improvise, finally, Be students of the game in which the team competes. These are not principles only to be affirmed; they must also be lived each day, by each person, during each transaction.

Near the conclusion of the book, Nilofer Merchant asserts (and I wholeheartedly agree) that, with all dues respect to the value of "eye-catching business results of profits and stock price," it is important to remember that the organizational systems and processes enable a company's people to produce those results. They are "the unseen and unsung parts that drive the fundamental health, growth, and results of the system."

One final point: Hugh MacLeod is to be commended on the superb illustrations he created for this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Right on time!, January 7, 2010
This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
New How is my first "must-read" book for 2010.

It seems that there is growing evidence our organizations, institutions and our way of leadership are poorly equipped for the 21st century. This timely work from Nilofer Merchant lays out a framework for focusing relentlessly on what truly matters so that organizations can be successful today and tomorrow. We all know that there has always been a significant gap between what organizations and "leaders" say and what organizations and "leaders" actually do...this book tackles that gap head-on and provides a framework for closing it. This is about delivering on promises and about understanding how value is really created today.

"Having a great strategic direction or idea without a prepared set of people who "get it" is effectively the same as having a bad idea." ...sounds like common sense but this happens over and over and over again in companies big and small. Nilofer provides sound guidance for really tapping into the unique potential of your organization.

This is one of those books that everyone will be talking about at the end of the year...don't wait until everyone else has already read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read For Manages and Those Being Managed in IT, March 6, 2010
This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
I fall into the perfect demographic that this book is aimed at. A non-manager in IT but who is in an MBA program. This book clearly outlines what are common problems faced in projects, then goes on to tell what ways a manager and a non-manager can do to correct for them. The idea of the "Air Sandwich" is a nice and easy way to remember the communication gap that usually takes place in many organizations.

However I feel like the best aspect of this book is it gives you clear cut ways to become a better team member as well as leading a team. If you are not a manager you can still become more productive, impact projects, and be an overall better team member after reading the first few chapters. As from a manager perspective what are the best ways to get people to open up and make sure the correct information is being obtained and communicated.

If any of this type of content seems interesting at all don't hesitate to pick up this book. It's a quick and fast read and the content is easy to digest and retain. I highly recommend it for anyone that works on IT projects, manages IT projects, or is in an MBA program.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A practical guide to strategy creation through collaboration, July 22, 2010
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This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
Nilofer Merchant has provided a solid framework to create strategy that forgoes the standard of where to compete and focuses on the how. Using real-life examples and systematically addressing how to develop and successfully implement strategy creation this book is an invigorating change of pace in showing that collaboration can be used to effectively more a business forward. The advice is practical and cohesive and fills a gap in traditional approaches by placing the onus on individuals throughout the organization to work together in planning and executing strategy. The emphasis on creating alignment between those who formulate and those who do is laid out by addressing people as well as process and engaging both so the what, how, and why of a corporate strategy are understood and owned throughout an organization. This book is a highly recommended read for anyone wanting to create an environment of collaboration and inclusiveness and achieve better strategy creation results.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How New?, February 10, 2010
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This review is from: The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy (Hardcover)
Nilofer has done a masterful job of bringing anecdotal examples of dysfunctional companies with unrealistic expectations. She has also pointed to the gaping gap (the "air sandwich") in complete and thorough integration of all parties in the company to the ultimate goals and success of the organization. Though these are not new concepts, she should get credit for revisiting and bringing back into life the need for better employee engagement and a broad based and supportive collaborative environment for all to participate in.
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The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy
The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy by Nilofer Merchant (Hardcover - January 5, 2010)
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