When Giants Learn to Dance

When Giants Learn to Dance sets out to show how truly innovative organizations are winning in the business world, pitting the bureaucratic management of corporate America against the post-entrepreneurial organization.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter believes American business should aim to become fit for Olympic business battle, moving away from the existing large, sluggish, acquisition-driven corporate culture to a more streamlined, focused and innovative organization.

Why is it worth reading?
This book, published 1992, remains both refreshing and informative. Kanter goes into great detail to explain how organizations should become like fit and healthy athletes working as a team.

Kanter says this can be achieved by fostering good communication both internally and externally; and by developing a higher level of staff ownership, both in financial and commitment terms.

When Giants Learn to Dance received the Johnson, Smith & Knisely Award for New Perspectives on Executive Leadership and has been translated into 10 languages.

Talking points
Kanter challenges the norm. Her recommendations include the need for a well-trained workforce – ‘make them, they make you’ – and ‘intrapreneurship’, improving employee dedication by giving them share options.

She also calls for corporations to move away from acquisitions and focus on core activities, forming strategic alliances with appropriate organizational ‘pals’, in relationships that ‘must be harmonious not competitive’. When it comes to innovation, she recommends backing a range of modest projects, rather than making a few ‘big bets’.

Kanter also suggests that the US can improve its business performance by addressing educational practices, such as introducing more language teaching, of Japanese in particular.

On corporations losing sight of the overall strategic aim with job cuts or acquisitions:
‘But the search for synergies is sometimes forgotten in a corporation’s rush to restructure. Many cut costs without considering the consequences. They work on the “use less” side of the equation but not the “achieve more” side. Or they acquire new businesses because theoretically there is a “fit”, but then foster rivalries that interfere with getting benefits from that strategic fit.’

Comparing business to the game of croquet from the novel Alice in Wonderland:
‘The mallet Alice uses is a flamingo, which tends to lift its head and face another direction just as Alice tries to hit the ball. The ball, in turn, is a hedgehog, another creature with a mind of its own. The wickets are card soldiers, ordered around by the Queen of Hearts, who changes the structure of the game seemingly at whim by barking out an order to the wickets to reposition themselves around the court.
‘Substitute technology for the flamingo, employees or customers for the hedgehog and everyone from the government regulators to corporate raiders for the Queen of Hearts and the analogy fits the experience of a growing number of companies.’

Rosabeth Moss Kanter holds a chaired professorship at the Harvard Business School. A holder of 19 honorary doctoral degrees, she was also the editor of Harvard Business Review between 1989-1992. Kanter has been named one of the 50 most powerful women in the world by The Times, and to date has been the author or co-author of more than 300 articles and 13 books.

What others say
Tom Peters, management guru and author of Thriving on Chaos: ‘This inspiring, yet realistic text will become the benchmark against which management books of the nineties are measured’.

When Giants Learn to Dance, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, is published by International Thomson Business Press.

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