re-th!nk: A business manifesto for cutting costs and boosting innovation

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Written by Stephanie Sparrow on 1 June 2010 in Review

As we face an age of austerity, there should be a large audience for a book called re-th!nk, which promises ideas for cutting costs and boosting innovation.

Ric Merrifield

FT Press

ISBN 0137031653

Paperback $24.99

It starts well, with the celebrated quote from Charles Darwin that "the ones most responsive to change" will survive, but although Ric Merrifield sets the tone for evolution and revolution, he doesn't deliver.

The central premise of the book is that businesses shouldn't focus on 'how' they do a job, but should identify the 'whats' and 'why' they are doing it instead. Merrifield thinks that businesses can then calculate which 'whats' contribute to success, before jettisoning some, outsourcing others and re-ordering what's left. He calls this the "plug and play" approach.

I excitedly imagined executives slotting rebuilt 'whats' into rejuvenated organisations but soon felt deflated because the examples of "plug and play" deployed are either pedestrian or vague. For instance, Merrifield tells how Toshiba's customers were furious about the cost and time taken to get their laptops repaired. Its investigation revealed that the problem was logistics- related and, centred on 'whats' such as Transport-Product to-Warehouse, Toshiba got the result it wanted.

A lack of emotion prevails through the book, as Merrifield cranks out the 'whats' in case studies that are either well worn (such as Newman's Own salad dressings in 1980) or obvious (Proctor&Gamble has a Research-Market-Trends 'what').

Like many US writers, Merrifield is entranced by entrepreneurs but such mavericks could be unpalatable to the UK's more inclusive-style managers, who are likely to choke on his reluctance to talk to the shop floor. He says that employees' advice "will tend to be more confusing than helpful" .

And What would a UK Leader make of the story of Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos paying pin money to geeks to do the human intelligence tasks of which computers are incapable? "Critics have carped that the billionaire Bezos has created a virtual sweatshop," writes Merrifield, without irony.

In Merrifield's defence, the company case studies come thick and fast throughout and some,such as the entertaining story of how the board game Cranium was ingeniously marketed in Starbucks, could be quoted during ice breakers or away days. However, even after reading the final chapter on key concepts and deciphering its workflow process maps, I was unclear about how to apply any 'whats' other than those specified in the case studies.

Jaded material and opaque business models mean this book is of limited use to the UK reader. It is not an innovative guide to 'whats' but an example of 'so what?'


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