Sunday, April 27, 2008

THE CULTURE OF COLLABORATION By Evan Rosen Red Ape Publishing, $29.95, 320 pages FIVE FUTURE STRATEGIES YOU NEED RIGHT NOW By George Stalk Harvard Business Press, $18, 120 pages GOD IS A SALESMAN By Mark Stevens Hachette Book Group USA, $18.99, 144 pages


With the economic climate as bad as it is, it should be a good time for good business books. Good business books, I said.

The mark of a good business book is that it states the valuable truths so that the point suddenly becomes a revelation to the readers. An “ah-hah!” moment if you will.

Evan Rosen, a San Francisco-based corporate strategist, has produced the best of the current crop. “The Culture of Collaboration” already can be called a prize-winner. It received the gold medal at the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards sponsored by Inc. magazine and other industry consultant groups. A week ago Mr. Rosen was here in Washington to make his book”s point to a representative group of government agency management leaders from department from the Pentagon to energy, from welfare to the CIA

The point? The modern (read successful) American corporation of today bears very little resemblance to the cultural structure of those same corporations 25, even 10, years ago. Where once there were chains of command, flows of information (and power), central locations and memo buck slips of Talmudic complexity and obtuseness, technology has made it possible for diverse creative and managerial teams operating in locations around the globe to work simultaneously on projects that bring better, cheaper, more effective products on line at an accelerated pace.

Truly when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton bemoan the outsourcing of American factory jobs to cheap foreign producers they do not have any idea what they are talking about. Where American corporations are succeeding in the global arena, Mr. Rosen argues, you will find a culture of collaboration already in place where projects that once moved in sequence now move in parallel, and where management now operates without either doors or geographical borders.

What Mr. Rosen describes is not a political controversy but production inevitability. I am old enough to remember when the old corporate CEO of the Sixties and Seventies had actually started out on the shop floor of his firm. Men like Thornton Wilson of Boeing, Charles Pilliod of Goodyear and John Swearingen of Amoco could still walk the walk on the production line. Then came the corporate accountant who swore that financial management could take the place of production success. The new business manager can be and often is the one who best directs the current round of changes.

Technology makes much of this evolution inevitable, Mr. Rosen argues. He visited Boeing’s current design center which is not at all near the main plant campus in Everett, Washington but “tucked away in a McDonald’s building two blocks from the Kremlin” in Moscow. Faced with designing its new 787 Dreamliner, Boeing management tapped into the engineering talent pool that had made the old Soviet Union a global aerospace competitor.

By using a perpetual videoconference set of plasma screens design work could shift between the two design bases as the clock changed each day. The result was a plane that rolled out a year earlier than the previous 777 version and a better product in that the 787 uses 20 percent less fuel than its competition models.

There were other participants in the 787’s creation than the bi-cultural, twin campus design team. The cultural shift at Boeing also shifted from italic linear design of the more than 12 million procurement items it needed to parallel design tactics that brought in engineers from traditional suppliers before the design started. Boeing also teamed with four of its major competitors, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Rolls Royce, plus suppliers to create the Exostar consortium to improve design, cut costs and bring commonality to non-competitive component supplies.

This last may be among the most exciting innovations in the American corporate story. Again, intelligent use of the newest communications technology and internet paths makes all this possible and we are just on the frontier.

So whether it’s the Mayo Clinic setting a design team from all departments to create a patient check-in kiosk similar to those at airports or Industrial Light and Magic’s melding of film animators and compositors to create special movie effects for such hits as the Harry Potter series, the culture of collaboration is already what is happening in what may be the most exciting business development since the assembly line.

If you are more curious about the reality of globalization than afraid, this is the read for you.


One other new business trend appears to be how airport book stores have become a major marketing force in publishing, and publishing business books in particular. The editors of Harvard University Press are taking aim at the aimless business traveler with a product whose main value is that its 7-1/2 by 4-3/4 size can fit snugly in a carry-on laptop case for boarding. Content is another matter entirely.

“Five Future Strategies You Need Right Now” is one such ghosted offering with George Stalk, head of the Boston Consulting Group, as the nominal author. The trouble is the five future strategies you need right now you ought to have been using by instinct from day one of your business career or you should apply for a job at an airport book shop.

Priceless piece of advice number one is that there is an increasing complexity in the ability to secure parts and other supplies from abroad — especially from Asia — and you should pay more attention to it. Two is called “sidestepping economies of scale.” Which means it is hard to estimate demand so sometimes making more of a product does not guarantee greater profitability. Three is “dynamic pricing” which means sometimes cutting prices is a good way to lock onto a customer.

Hot stuff, no? I’ll spare you the other two notions. This is the kind of book you leave in your seat pocket once the seat belt sign has been turned off.


Legendary advertising expert Bruce Barton was able to get away with it in 1924 with his book “The Man Nobody Knows,” which argued that Jesus was so successful with his Gospels because they embodied all the principles of modern salesmanship. Jesus, Mr. Barton cheerfully blabbed, “was the most popular dinner guest in Jerusalem,” and one of the foundation stones of modern Babbittry was born.

Now I would be the last one to gainsay author Mark Stevens’ Damascene moment which recently took place in the cardiac intensive care ward of New York Presbyterian Hospital. But this founder of a global marketing firm was probably on firmer ground with his previous hits, “Your Marketing Sucks,” and “Your Management Sucks.” His premise that the Lord God Jehovah is some Armani-suited, cell-phone-toting door jammer is, besides being faintly offensive, in direct contradiction of the teaching of the three major religions descended out of Abraham’s video-conferences with the Big CEO in the Sky.

“God never sells by using product samples, elevator speeches, or customer service surveys,” Mr. Stevens says and he’s right about that. Gods, by their nature don’t sell at all. They command, they teach, chastise, and occasionally bless. This book should better be titled, “Your Theology Sucks.”

James Srodes was the Washington bureau chief for both Forbes and Financial World magazines.

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