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Book review: Rocket Fuel

Richard Simpson, a Director at STEM-focused PR agency Six Degrees offers us his book review.

Perhaps the most rewarding take-away from any good business book is that it prompts you to make some changes – changes for the better. It forces you to ask questions about yourself and re-evaluate the organisation in which you work. This book certainly does that.

The main question it asks is, which of two very different personalities types that the authors have identified as key to building a thriving entrepreneurial organisation do you most identify with, and where do your colleagues sit on that dividing line.

On the one side there are ‘visionaries’, individuals who have “ground-breaking ideas”, and on the other ‘integrators’, those who are “the glue” that holds the organisation together and bring those ideas to life. Despite being polar opposites, the authors argue, when played out well they complement each other perfectly. Very much alongside the Yin-Yang model, the one can’t work without the other.

 

What did you like and what didn’t you like about the book?

Exactly what those two roles look like in reality and the appeal they carry can differ quite a lot. Among our own internal discussions, descriptions like “obsessed about organisational clarity”, “fanatical about resolution and forcing conclusions” and the “voice of reason”, resonated well with those who identified themselves as integrators, and seen by both sides as vital characteristics in bringing about business success. But, many also felt the integrator role – despite often being filled by the co-founder – was very much positioned as a subordinate one. Being described as “glass half empty” people and “frequently disliked” obviously did little to appease those views.

The appeal of being a visionary is much more clear cut – big picture thinkers, “seeing things that others can’t” and always buzzing with ideas.

For me though, the two are often too blurred to be able to separate into two distinct camps. Take the example cited of the two men responsible for building the Ford motorcar company into the global phenomenon; Henry Ford is labelled as the visionary and James Couzens as integrator. History will confirm though that it was Couzens that forced Ford to continue shipping cars after a minor technical fault was identified early, and send out mechanics to any cars that were experiencing any problems out on the road. He used ‘big picture’ thinking to know that if they didn’t do that, the company would go bust, and Ford would have a third failed business on his hands. It may have been financial, but visionary thinking non-the-less in my book.

The book also lays out some additional role structures to support those two at the top of the organisation. While ultimately organisations do need to accept that someone needs to take the lead and be accountable for different business functions – whether that is sales & marketing, operations and/or finance – in my mind, we have to be careful in this age of increasing transparency, of pigeonholing people too much, and putting people in boxes.  Not only is that not always practical, particularly in the case of smaller entrepreneurial businesses where staff numbers mean business owners and their team often have to wear multiple hats, but also there’s a danger that employees can feel trapped within their role and stifle entrepreneurial spirit and thinking.

The book does fuel questions and it does force people to focus on job roles and accountability. But, like so many things in life, it has to be a question of finding the right balance, and I’m not sure that has been fully answered here.

 

 

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