How to stop piscine odours

The Fish Rots from the Head - Jamming
February 7, 1997

The strange title of Bob Garratt's book is taken from an old Chinese saying. He uses the analogy to make a point about business: if the brains at the top of an organisation are not good enough, the body will die and disintegrate.

Garratt does not dwell on leadership as such; the duty of providing the necessary intellectual and practical leadership is obvious. He takes the Cadbury Corporate Governance Code (1992) and the Institute of Directors/Henley Management College's research, Good Practice for Directors: Standards for the Board (1994), and shows how to implement them. Although Garratt's book is small, it contains heavyweight material written in a straightforward and uncomplicated style. The best leaders are able to simplify complex matters for their colleagues so that they can make the right decisions, and the author does this for the reader.

The comprehensiveness of the coverage, too, is striking. He includes all the important strategic books, codes, theories and practices (good and not so good) around the world, different types of organisations and markets, and matters such as directors' remuneration, business ethics, green issues and an array of procedures for finding out how companies really work, as opposed to how people think they work. Then there are scores of case-study examples drawn from companies and organisations - succinct one-liners to whole paragraphs in length.

Garratt particularly differentiates the often overlooked gap between directing and managing: hands-on directors are often a menace to their companies. In the most readable way he covers the difference between supervision and accountability, and policy formulation and strategic thinking. Corporate success, the outcome of good directing, means that corporate regulations produce no difficulties, and profitability and probity can go hand in hand. Happily Garratt does not fight shy of the term "stakeholder" (as does the Institute of Directors), a working concept far above the level of political slogans.

The author, after previous reservations, also now propounds the need for and likelihood of director-level accreditation. The need for this was researched and proved independently in a 1995 Institute of Management study of. Garratt favours the process of "whole board training", ie the learning board for the learning company. The need is obvious. I hope the demand will soon accelerate and fully professionalise the role of director. Crowding all of this material into fewer than 240 pages is a remarkable feat.

John Kao's Jamming is an unusual book. We are used to business gurus from the United States presenting new and exotic ways of thinking to excite managers and tickle academics. Their books are useful and confirm J. K. Galbraith's belief that academic scholarship often "seeks not to extend knowledge but to exclude the unknowing".

If the unknowing have to manage risks as well as certainties, ways of liberating minds from threadbare mind-sets must be a good thing. What is risk and what is creativity? "I define creativity," Kao states, "as the entire process by which ideas are generated, developed and transformed into value. It encompasses what people commonly mean by innovation and entrepreneurship." As a jazz enthusiast and Harvard Business School professor, he has joined the discipline of creativity with what he describes as the discipline of jazz. But is jazz a discipline, or is it anti-discipline? "Jazz starts with a whim, a possibility, a good feel I When the alto sax player starts a solo, he doesn't know where he is going, all this is risky."

The analogy is clever, and while it may be considered slight by some readers, it is worthy of consideration. Creativity is a process not a product and processes need disciplining if they are to be effective. "Success," he says, "depends on your ability to infuse, imbue and instil a respect for a belief in the power of creativity throughout your company I Improvisation is important and companies that are not willing to take risks are not for this fluid, protean, constantly changing world."

"Jam", we are told, means "to improvise on a musical instrument with a group: take part in a jam session." Taking the analogy forward with a full range of interesting techniques is the substance of the book.

Jamming is a useful book and brings fresh ideas to the brainstorming, lateral thinking and the divergent - convergent debates for both business leaders and academics.

Patrick Mileham is a lecturerat the University of Paisley and thecentre of leadership studies, Universityof Surrey.

The Fish Rots from the Head

Author - Bob Garratt
ISBN - 0 00 2556138
Publisher - HarperCollins
Price - £18.00
Pages - 226

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