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The 'Rocket Science' of Building High-Performance Corporations: Book Review

Beyond Genius, Innovation and Luck

Beyond Genius, Innovation and Luck: The 'Rocket Science' of Building High-Performance Corporations


Why do businesses fail? What makes them succeed? According to J. Allan McCarthy, the blueprint for success lies in basic architecture: building a well-constructed business platform with the fundamentals to mobilize ideas, and the tools to manage its evolution and complexity. It may sound doable in a sentence, but throughout his book Beyond Genius, Innovation and Luck: The 'Rocket Science' of Building High-Performance Corporations, he proves to both young and mature business leaders alike that effectively managing an organization is actually rocket science.

McCarthy begins with an example of the Hubble telescope, a modern marvel we are all familiar with. When it was launched into deep space orbit in 1990, the images that returned were blurry and useless, due to a small error made in the size of one of its digital receptors. McCarthy uses this example to indicate how incredibly complex organizations can be. The Hubble team was no doubt the brightest in the country, yet they still lost time and money sending a flawed telescope into space. McCarthy calls this error a result of misalignments that affect all organizations, which are sometimes hard to pinpoint in extremely complex and fast-moving corporations.

McCarthy’s goal throughout the book is to uncover the causes of misalignments, and how to prevent them through “managing in context”. By this he means running an organization three dimensionally, because each dimension of an organization represents only a portion of it.

“Applying leadership discretely to one dimension out of context with other dimensions invariably sets organizational misalignments in motion that can be counterproductive to the direction and objectives of the organization.”

Managing in context is difficult, says McCarthy, because entrepreneurs and passionate innovators tend to gravitate more towards where their interests lie, in new technology, developing new products and ideas, and beating out the competition, rather than planning for scale and growth.

The book begins to then flow like a blueprint itself, as McCarthy maps out key elements for developing high-performance corporations, starting from the ground up. First, a master plan is needed to act as "a blueprint that provides context for all resource deployment in the organization and is the 'single source of truth'". Next, the sequencing of work activity comes into play, which he stresses is much more effective than prioritizing, as prioritizing can be misleading and lead to much debate. Finally, he stresses the important distinction between a team of leaders and a group of leaders, understanding the importance of managing stakeholders, and ultimately designing a productive, scalable organization.

Of course, there were times during the book where this novice entrepreneur (me) found certain concepts difficult to grasp (I am a business school reject, after all), and I’m certainly not familiar with genetic make up of high-performance corporations. However, the concepts in this book have opened my mind to the inner workings of organizations, large and small, and I feel more equipped to get started with this book at my side.

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