BOOKS: For the thinking manager

BOOKS: For the thinking manager - THE FUSION MANAGER; By Robert Heller; Profile pounds 14.9; MT price pounds 11.99

by Sir John Harvey-Jones
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

THE FUSION MANAGER; By Robert Heller; Profile pounds 14.9; MT price pounds 11.99

This is a guide that eschews fads and tackles the often paradoxical and perplexing everyday realities of leadership, says John Harvey-Jones.

Every manager seeks advice and new perspectives on their problems. In the 1970s it was possible to read almost every business book published, but the number and variety of books available today makes this unattainable. We must choose the thinkers we follow and study. They are the writers who force us to question the ideas and practices by which we live and work. Robert Heller, together with Charles Handy and Peter Drucker, has been a lodestar of my business thinking for many years. He is able to relate ideas to practice and is never afraid to progress his thinking. His latest book is an essential part of the kitbag of any manager who is trying to cope and adjust to a difficult and changing world.

Heller and I have long chafed against books of the 'in one mighty bound Jack was free' variety. Every business problem needs a specific solution and one that covers the widening ripples of the reactions to the actions one has taken.

There never has been and never will be a 'one solution that fits all' or one ubiquitous management theory. Yet management life is beset by flavour-of-the-month solutions. As Heller points out, the current fad or fashion is almost invariably wrong, and in any event the only true route to success is to try to be different in every way - from the organisation to the treatment and support of the customers. The competitiveness of your business depends on continual innovation in every area and developing the next new approach before your current ideas have peaked.

This calls for a wide-ranging breadth of vision, and an understanding of your own business as well as of the changing business environment.

Heller has always been ready to challenge the orthodox business view or fashion and is particularly hard-headed in his views about adding value for true organisational growth. His views on this are far removed from the fads of working to the sole criteria of market capitalisation or growth by acquisition.

Anyone who is tempted by these false gods should spend a little time considering Heller's ideas. The concept and practice of fusion management is not easy to follow. Yet there can be few realistic managers today who believe the pathways to success are as simplistic as some seemed to think when I started my business career.

Managers must do more fundamental thinking than ever before if they are to chart a successful course. There is no rulebook, and every manager must devise his own solution to the unique mix of people, marketplace and historical legacy of misbeliefs and myths that encompass his chosen field. Each one of us has to break out from the multifarious demands put upon us in order to struggle with our problems with courage and integrity.

This is difficult enough in itself and the only aids we can draw on are the experience and perceptions of others.

Heller casts his net wide and never accepts the common perception without subjecting it to penetrating analysis. You don't have to accept his views, but at your peril do you disregard them without testing them against your own experience and problems.

A good management approach should start with a rigorously sceptical view of the reality of the situation you face. Heller has a habit that I admire and like: nearly every chapter is headed by a list of informative key points that provide a checklist against which to test your current approach.

Above all, remember the key message - you have to be able to reconcile paradox and operate on the widest possible screen. You must remember that everything affects everything else. The future lies with the thinking manager - and the thinking manager must read this book.

Sir John Harvey-Jones is the former chairman of ICI and the BBC's Troubleshooter. His book Making it Happen was reissued by Profile in August.

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