Book review: The Wisdom of Failure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 3:36pm

The Wisdom of Failure
by Laurence Weinzimmer and Jim McConoughey


Failure is an underrated business tool, say Laurence Weinzimmer and Jim McConoughey, who explain how to prevent avoidable mistakes.

Rooted in a seven-year survey of what some 1,000 managers across 21 industries think of failure, the manual features interviews with chief executives at a range of organisations, including giants such as Caterpillar and Start-ups also contribute to the authors' taboo-busting "how-not-to" leadership guide, which addresses failings from reckless vanity and efficiency fixation, to disengagement, paralysing perfectionism, "dysfunctional harmony" and more.

Some descriptions of managerial folly are perversely pleasurable. Take the passage in which IT guru Phill Benson details a micro-manager's pathological expense audits. "Benson recollects, 'Whenever I had to turn in receipts from business trips, not only would I have to produce the itemised receipts, but I would have to write out report after report, detailing where I ate, why I ate there, who I was eating with and what we were talking about, even for receipts less than $5.00'."

Besides being over-controlling, bad bosses contentiously champion "thinking outside the box" - a practice the authors attack in a low-key crescendo of lethal logic.

They decry the belief that late Apple boss Steve Jobs was wedded to relentless originality. "Although many pundits credit Apple's successes to outside-the-box thinking, closer inspection reveals that Steve Jobs was a master at using technology, not for the sake of making things more complicated but to make things more simple. Did Apple develop the first personal computer, the digital music player, the smartphone, or even the tablet computer? No!" the authors write.

Weinzimmer ( Fast Growth) is an advisor to various Fortune 100 firms while McConoughey is a business development and community leadership expert. Both have appeared on CNN and NBC, among other news networks.

Their sporadically hilarious guide oozes sense, and has all kinds of positive lessons. One simple but canny tip: your odds of success rise sharply if you tap something you are already doing instead of venturing into a new landscape.

A downside of the authors' wise guide is their deployment of the cliché "perfect storm". Equally irritatingly, they use the humour killer "no pun intended".

Despite this, Weinzimmer and McConoughey nail their "story", which has added bite because they did their interviews during the 2008 global financial crisis. If The Wisdom of Failure became required reading for management, the odds of another such crisis just might drop.