Well laid out easy reading for the summer, '[t]his is a book about success' (Introduction p.ix). Although the author is a well-known economist and journalist, it's not yet another 'How to do it' management tome and no overarching theory is pushed or startling insights provided - the author just observes success and quietly draws appropriate lessons. And success comes in many forms: he draws on a widely chosen collection of twenty short case studies, which include such examples as the Edinburgh Festival, The City of London, traffic management in Copenhagen, Zurich drug rehabilitation, IKEA, Main Street America, Harvard University, mobile telephony in Africa, the slums of Mumbai, The Hong Kong Jockey Club and the International Baccalaureate.
If you don't wish to read the whole book, you can easily select the case studies that particularly interest you. Each is similarly arranged in three sections: 'What's the story?' 'What are the lessons?' (He always chooses three), and 'What could go wrong?' And, not only what could go wrong, but also in some cases what has already gone wrong, particularly since the recent economic crash. But what also interests McRae is the extent to which entities can change, react to what has gone wrong and survive over the generations.
Unlike in some books, the Introduction is not to be skipped over, as it really does set the scene for the rest of the book. In particular, if's where he sets out the criteria he used in the selection of his case studies - and they are all based on personal knowledge. Readers will no doubt think, as I did, of other examples they would readily have included, but that is beside the point as McRae's template would easily serve for them too. What is not to be missed in the introduction is the table of lessons learned (p.x). That is reprised at greater length in the concluding chapter.
The latter chapter modestly sets out what McRae suggests we take away from the case studies. 'Anyone reading these tales (sic) will have found their own messages - ideas that ring true and give clear signals... I certainly will not have spotted all of them. People... will have come from different backgrounds and bring different insights' (p347). Nonetheless, he sets out 10 powerful common threads - not rules, he stresses, but powerful ideas to be deployed in many situations to achieve better outcomes. The overall message is one of optimism arising from observing what works well, sometimes in unlikely circumstances - 'Pessimism paralyses' (p148). '... '[W]hatever you are doing, do it as well as you can... That's it really' (p271) is his overriding message. Read the book and judge for yourself.
from Ken Giles