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Book Review
How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life)

by Seidman, Dov (2007) Wiley & Sons

Selected as one of the Best Leadership Books of 2007byLeadership Now, on the idea that “leadership is everyone’s business.”, this book challenges conventional wisdom with examples, anecdotes and good writing. The author begins his compelling book with the story of Krazy George Henderson, a professional cheerleader, at the third game of the play-off series between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees on October 15, 1981.  On this day, Krazy George began the gesture that swept successively through the crowd in a giant, continuous wave of “connected enthusiasm”. On that day, Krazy George invented the Wave.  From that simple act, Seidman builds on his premise that “companies building lasting success, those that seem to be getting it right in highly competitive markets, have something going on in them, a certain energy, very much like a Wave….To build and sustain long-term success in the new socioeconomic conditions that define our world, you must embrace a new power, the power, in human conduct, the power in how.

He then continues to build his case that the hows of human conduct are the determining factor in long-term success.  Seidman writes that it is harder now to innovate the what and quotes Jack Welch as saying “There is no secret to the what; the secret is in the how. They can know our model, but they cannot do it. They can’t copy our hows.”

Those of us who work in or with family owned businesses know this.  In fact, most of the failures in family businesses are directly related to the hows, the human behavior, e.g. failure to agree on goals, family conflict, communication problems and not the whats, the estate plans, the technical or business issues. We also know that, from a study in Williams and Preisser’s “Preparing Heirs” of the 70% estate/wealth transitions that ended in failure, only 15% were due to the whats, the legal and technical issues and 85% were result of the hows, breakdowns in communications and trust within the family, lack of family developed missions, and inadequately prepared heirs.

And, finally, Seidman challenges us to look beyond the “core ideologies” (some examples: Merck/excellence; Citicorp/expansionism, being out in front, self-confidence; 3M/innovation,tolerance; Philip Morris: winning) that Collins and Porras described in their seminal study of the habits and practices of visionary companies, Built to Last. He notes the ‘big shifts’ since the book was published in 1994:

  • From brand awareness to brand promise
  • From customer service to customer experience
  • From managing reputation to earning reputational value

And he concludes “All these big shifts result when you get your hows right, when you connect to something deeper that ideas, something that unleashes the power to make Waves in everything you do: values….Like happiness, if one seeks such ends as innovation, progress, and winning, one can best achieve them by pursuing the values that can get you there: trust, honesty, integrity, consistency, and transparency.  Values inspire, and are deeper and more powerful than ideologies…. You cannot do success; you cannot achieve it by pursuing it directly.  Success is something you get when you pursue something greater than yourself.”

This is the stuff that family businesses can be great at—taking the long view, driven by family values first, taking the time to carefully develop the hows in order to get the whats right.

Take away:  Ask yourself what do you stand for? What are the family values that you wish to be the GPS of your work, and your legacy? How are you going to get there?

For more information on the How, check out:http://www.howsmatter.com/


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