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The Ten Commandments for Business Failure Paperback – June 28, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
A former president of the Coca-Cola Company, Keough has assembled an enviable Rolodex in his 81 years, and his book counts Bill Gates, Jack Welch and Warren Buffett among its champions. His lessons draw upon his long and varied career—from his early days as a philosophy major to his first job as a TV sports announcer and employment at Butternut Coffee and Coca-Cola—and comprise a list of tongue-in-cheek rules guaranteed to make the follower a true loser in business: from quit taking risks and be inflexible to don't take time to think and be afraid of the future. Keough supports his commandments with stories of business mistakes and failures, both his own—the roll-out of New Coke, for example—and those of others—namely, Schlitz beer and IBM. While the author's clear and encouraging tone and renown within the business community will likely garner his effort publicity, the unoriginality of the material—all standard business-book fare simply phrased in the negative—keeps this well-meaning book from standing out or offering original advice to business leaders in the market for a little self-improvement. (Aug.) ""
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Keough, a distinguished corporate executive, offers a perspective on failure that is especially applicable to leaders who have attained some degree of success. With a foreword by his longtime friend and associate Warren Buffett, the renowned investor, the author presents a chapter on each of his 10 commandments for failure and adds a bonus chapter about how losing passion for work and for life is a certain route to disaster. His failure commandments include stop taking risks; be inflexible; isolate yourself; assume infallibility; play the game close to the foul line (which offers thoughtful commentary on ethics); don’t take time to think; put all your faith in outside consultants; love your bureaucracy; send mixed messages; and be afraid of the future. Keough’s book is rich with examples of failure, and he gives advice on how to recover from mistakes while learning from them and moving ahead. This is an excellent book with valuable insight for corporate executives and those aspiring to corporate leadership. --Mary Whaley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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No good purpose would be served if I merely listed the ten "commandments." Keough devotes a separate chapter to each and his insights are best revealed in context. However, I will provide a representative selection of brief excerpts to indicate the thrust and flavor of Keough's narrative, adding a comment or two of my own.
Excerpt: "A company doesn't fail to do anything. Individuals do, and when you probe a bit you usually find that failure lies not in a litany of strategic mistakes - though they may all be present in one form or another - but the real fault lies, as Shakespeare noted, in ourselves, the leaders of the business. Businesses are the product and the extension of the personal characteristics of its leaders - the lengthened shadows of the men and women who run them. (Pages 8-9)
Excerpt: "As Peter Drucker pointed out nearly fifty years ago, it is management's major task to prudently risk a company's present assets in order to ensure its future existence. In fact, if a company never has a failure, I submit that their management is probably not discontented enough to justify their salaries. Xerox was not discontented in any way. They were very, very comfortable, and, as I've noted, when you're comfortable, the temptation to quit taking risks is so great, it'd almost irresistible. And failure is almost inevitable."(Page 23)
Excerpt: "Charles Kettering, the great engineering genius who helped steer General Motors during its glory years, said `Don't bring me anything but trouble. Good news weakens me.' It is instructive that during World War II, Winston Churchill created a special office whose sole duty was to bring him bad news. He wanted the unvarnished truth, no matter what it was...Isolation [from painful realities], carried to its most extreme form, tends to breed a sense of almost divine right."(Pages 51 & 57)
Excerpt: "Watch out for bright lights that surround themselves with dim bulbs!" (Page 55)
Excerpt: "The Jesuit priest and distinguished paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin noted that `no evolutionary future awaits man except in association with all other men.' Therefore, it not only behooves us to treat our fellow human beings with compassion and respect, it is essential for our collective survival. Unethical men and women can flourish for periods, sometimes very long periods, but ultimately their lack of morality - and their lack of humility - destroys them. You cannot build a strong and lasting business on a rotten foundation." (Page 77)
Excerpt: "If you want to get nothing done, make sure that administrative concerns take precedence over all others! Love your bureaucracy!...There are layers upon layers of people, yet when a customer calls, nobody's home. They are all in meetings. These meetings generate more paperwork, more e-mails, more calls, more meetings. In fact, most often there are meetings to plan meetings. Meetings are the religious service of a great bureaucracy and the bureaucrats are fervently religious."(Pages 116 & 120)
With regard to this last excerpt, I am again reminded of James O'Toole's observation that many of the barriers to change initiatives are cultural, resulting from what he aptly describes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." Bureaucrats tend to be the most vigorous defenders of the status quo until convinced that any proposed change will not threaten their own subculture. It should also br noted that waste is one of the most important themes in Keough's book, one that is directly relevant to most (if not all) of his commandments. Drill down to determine the root causes of a business failure and you'll probably find extensive waste of resources and opportunities. In 1963, Peter Drucker shared this insight that remains true today: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all."
Although most of the real-world examples that Keough cites involve major corporations such as Coca-Cola, IBM, Montgomery Ward, Republic Steel, and Xerox, I think that his observations and recommendations are relevant to just about any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Although he places Commandment One, "Quit Taking Risks," at the top of his list of ten, my own opinion is that the last, "Lose Your Passion for Work - for Life," should be there. Among the most common causes of failure, not only in business but in life, I agree with Friedrich Hegel: "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." One man's opinion....
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out these books written by other fantasy dinner guests: Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, Peter Drucker's Adventures of a Bystander and On the Profession of Management, Jack Welch's Winning (with Suzy Welch), and James M. Kilts's Doing What Matters: How to Get Results That Make a Difference - The Revolutionary Old-School Approach (with John F. Manfredi and Robert Lorber). Also Bill George's Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value and his more recent True Blood: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, John C. Whitehead's A Life In Leadership: From D-Day to Ground Zero: An Autobiography, and Sydney Finkelstein's Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes.
Donald Keough has poured his vital experience of Coca Cola years into this book. This is the first management book I have read which had flow of a fiction book. You hardly feel like putting it down. Small stories bring great wisdom, moreover when these are witnesses by author himself. Keough’s style of writing is compelling enough to convince you about the business wisdon you have already read at many places.
As author starts in the introduction:
” When I was asked to talk about how to win, my response was I couldn’t do that. What I could do, however, was to talk about how to lose and I offered a guarantee that anyone who followed my formula would be a highly successful loser.”
The book gives you ten (rather eleven) commandments for failure in Business, if you want to be successful, you need to be careful not to follow any of these. Commandments are made of simple business wisdom such as “Quit taking risks“, “Assume infallibility” and “Don’t take time to think” and it also includes some of the new wisdom such as “Put all your faith in Experts” and “Send mixed messages“. Its not the advice which makes the book interesting, rather the way the advice is presented. Small stories, amusing quotes and author’s personal experience make it good and delightful read.
The book is humorous, compelling and entertaining enough for atleast one read, although I am going to read it again. I will repeat Jack Welch’s recommendation “A Must read for every leader” and I will further add ” A must read for anyone who aspires to be leader and learn from others mistake rather than making his own”.
I would definately recommned it and rate it 4 out of 5.
Now I will leave with you some of the parts of the book I liked:
“A company doesn’t fail to do anything, Individuals do……
….Businesses are the product and the extension of the personal characteristics of its leaders – the lengthened shadows of the men and women who run them.”
“It’s human nature. I’ve got something. Why risk it? Who knows what’s on the other side of the mountain? Don’t go there!”
“Einstein said he needed in his office: a desk or a table, a chair, some pencils, paper, and a very large warebasket “for all the mistakes I will make.” “
“If a company never has a failure, I submit that their management is probably not discontented enough to justify their salaries.”
“When you’re comfortable, the temptation to quit taking risks is so great, it’d almost irresistible. And failure is almost inevitable.”
“It not only behooves us to treat our fellow human beings with compassion and respect, it is essential for our collective survival. Unethical men and women can flourish for periods, sometimes very long periods, but ultimately their lack of morality – and their lack of humility – destroys them. You cannot build a strong and lasting business on a rotten foundation.”
“If you want to get nothing done, make sure that administrative concerns take precedence over all others! Love your bureaucracy!…….Meetings are the religious service of a great bureaucracy and the bureaucrats are fervently religious…….. These meetings generate more paperwork, more e-mails, more calls, more meetings. In fact, most often there are meetings to plan meetings.”
“I have never met a successful person who did not express love for what he did and care about it passionately… they can’t imagine doing anything else. They seem almost crazy about it. “
There is lot more I will leave upon you to read finally a story author shares from his life, I liked it.
“In my teens, while working during the summer at the city stockyards, I got a offer becoming a bull buyer. A bull buyer was supposed to choose appropriate bull for slaughter from the bulls scattered all over the yard. After my first day on the job, he came by and asked to see what I’d bought. It turned out I’d paid too much for quite a few of the bulls. He reminded me that I was among salesmen and because of my young age, they would try to flatter me, be nice to me, distract me, but he pulled out a chart and said here’s exactly what you are looking for in a bull. No matter what anyone says, never deviate from these basic requirements of conformation. He said, “Watch the bull, not the man”.
That simple advice has stuck with me through my years in business even to this day”
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