Title: The Only Sustainable Edge
Authors: John Hagel III and John Seely Brown
Read: Seattle 17 May to 21 May 2006
I am a subscriber to John Hagel's blog feed and have found his posts to be insightful, thought provoking and timely. It's interesting how the things he's looking at intersect with what I've been looking at. Often at the same time, sometimes he's way ahead of me, other times it's the other way around.
In a few comment / e-mail exchanges a while back, John urged me to read his book - so I've finally sat down and done that.
John has always talked about his book in terms of outsourcing or talent building. The primary premise of the book is that in order to grow smart, businesses need not expand - but need to harness the power of outside companies that can bring in top-notch talent when it is needed.
The primary industries that he and John Seely Brown use to prove this point are manufacturing and high-personnel, low-return items like call centers. However, while those are the ones we might expect they also give examples of product design, invention, and other elements we would normally expect to be in-house and highly secretive.
What interested me most about the book is that, for me, it really wasn't about outsourcing or talent building. The book was about agile management. The Only Sustainable Edge is a book where the promoted business model - to have mission-critical elements of your organization exist outside your organization - can only be successful in an agile environment.
In order for outsourcing to be successful, businesses need to be comfortable with their business partners. As comfortable as you would want to be with a nanny. This requires a great deal of understanding, communication, transperancy and trust.
Understanding involves a shared vision of the job to be done.
Communication involves frequent discussions about how things are progressing, reiterating the goals and vision, and mutual evaluation.
Transperancy involves being able to see into the processes of your business partner while they are working on your project and to allow them into your side of the project as well.
Trust involves being able to sleep at night, knowing that your business partner is working with you and not for you or against you.
The Only Sustainable Edge is a short book, but Hagel and Seely Brown manage to fit a lot in. I would recommend though, that anyone who reads the book also subscribe to John Hagel's blog. He really does take up where it leaves off and provides top-notch content.