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Idealog—in the ideas business

Book review: Uncommon Sense, Common Nonsense

Uncommon Sense, Common Nonsense: Why some organisations consistently outperform others
Jules Goddard and Tony Eccles
Allen & Unwin, $36.99

book review uncommon sense, common senseUncommon Sense, Common Nonsense begins by asserting that “this is not a textbook”. Yikes. By no stretch of the imagination is this true; this hopeful declaration is verging on false representation. Business books tread a fine line between accessibility and sophistication. This volume is as dry as the Sahara, and even the plethora of charts and graphs can’t save it.

The key point I gleaned is that failing companies tend to conform to a pattern, while winning abhors rules and is a harder formula to pin down (read: don’t do what everyone else is doing). Making new markets to play in beats fighting for current market share. And losers tend to focus on reducing costs rather than daring to innovate, which in turn detracts from time and energy that could be better spent on differentiation – they dread failure more than they covet glory, and that kind of philosophy ultimately has only one outcome.

Goddard and Eccles also write that companies could learn a thing or two from science. Identify problems. Test multiple solutions. Work through them systemically in order to derive the optimal answer. All very sensible stuff, albeit stuff you can’t help but feel could be boiled down and expressed in a book half the size.

The message is worthy. Too many CEOs are stuck in traditional mindsets, and floundering in an age of incredibly rapid change. Technology has broken down the walls between companies and consumers, and reimagined the entire business landscape. And businesses that have coasted along until now are waking up to the rude reality that their old MO just isn’t going to cut it any longer.

Odds are, though, the people who most need this kind of advice are going to page through this book, nod sagely between chapters, and put it down, never to act on any of the material.

Originally published in Idealog #41, page 68

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