The New How: Creating Business Solutions through Collaborative Strategy is a how-to book for anyone involved in strategy development in a large organization. It’s a toolkit for implementing a more collaborative workplace. It’s about the How and not so much the What or Why, though there are many anecdotes shared by the author Nilofer Merchant, from her experiences with companies like Apple, Adobe, Nokia and HP. Co-creation of strategy, especially the How part it, is a major theme here. As Nilofer explains:
Once upon a time, some firms had more access to data and information than others. Some firms had more skills at slicing and dicing. In that time, heavy-duty data analysis was enough to form a competitive advantage. Today, everybody has access to vast amounts of high-quality information and the tools to crunch it. What matters now is the ability to act on that information: to conceive – now – the nugget of hidden opportunity in a given situation. The key is being able to work with one another and come up with new ideas, build on those ideas, and then add insights based on the data that empower us to act in unique and differentiated ways.
Another reason that collaboration is so important is that the notion of the great leader, or what Nilofer describes as The Chief Answer Officer, cannot handle the complexity of the current hyper-connected business environment. Here is her advice to GMs, VPs and others in high management places:
The answer to today’s specific question is only that – part of the solution to today’s problem. Next week’s problem will require a different solution. And next month’s question will need yet another answer. Crowning yourself the Chief of Answers puts you in a difficult position, one with very little advantage. It sets your team up to be the Tribe of Doing Things. And, at the end of the day, you end up feeding the very counterproductive cycle you need to alter.
As a bonus, the book is amply illustrated by Hugh MacLeod, which makes it an even more interesting read.
A good part of the book covers the Quest method of strategy development, with plenty of examples and aids. I found the “MurderBoard” the most interesting section. This section alone makes the book worth buying. The MurderBoarding sequence is simple: 1) Decide what matters; 2) Sort; 3) Test; 4) Choose. The last step is critical, for “If you don’t choose, you don’t have a strategy; you just have a set of options.” Or, to make it as clear as possible, “MurderBoarding: It’s not how many ideas you have. It’s how many good ideas you kill.“
This is a detailed and practical book. It is not a high-concept tome where at the end you feel good but don’t know what to do next. There is enough pragmatic advice in this book for any executive or manager to run with. It’s a valuable addition for people with management responsibilities in large organizations or anyone consulting to such an organization. Here is one final quote that succinctly describes the end goal of The New How:
“Permission to innovate without asking happens when the strategy is co-owned.”