Business book review: Enterprise In Action

7 Aug 2013 by GrahamSmith
Enterprise In ActionMany business books seemed to be aimed at baffled middle managers, individuals who (it is assumed) know little about the academic discipline of business development, strategy or performance management. They keep their message simple, promise a deliverable action plan (the ROI) for those buying the book, and read as though they are the only book on the subject worth reading, despite thousands of titles appearing each year. Enterprise In Action is utterly different. Author Peter Lawrence is Professor Emeritus, Loughborough University and visiting Professor at the University of Northampton. This isn't his first book, he has published some 25 previously, but it's the first one I have read and it's a really enjoyable read – instructive and entertaining on nearly every page. In part, it is because there are so many new case studies. Thank goodness, we don't get the same old suspects rolled out – IBM, Apple and Wallmart. Instead, he has original and topical case studies, basing his studies on a total of 80 firms, including 30 Sunday Times Fast Track Companies, and 20 highly successful US entrepreneurial businesses. As far as the Fast Track companies are concerned, we get detail on their back stories, and an examination of their reasons for success - really fascinating insights. The book promises to provide comprehensive coverage of the key issues in entrepreneurship, such as: Where do entrepreneurial opportunities arise? How do successful entrepreneurs exploit trends? What is the role of innovation in entrepreneurship? How do companies get started and become self-sustaining? And it succeeds. For once the sub-title – Guide To Entrepreneurship – is accurate and seems equally aimed at either a business studies student or MBA wannabe, or someone wrestling with how to put strategy into action. It's the practical elements that predominate here, even when the end of each chapter ends with questions ("How would you rate Jeff Bezos on Organisation / Originality / Commercial acumen?") and exercises (too long to quote, but worth attempting). Lawrence also summarises well: "The message of this chapter is IN A MATURE ECONOMY OPPORTUNITIES EXIST IN THE VANGUARD AND IN THE INTERSTICES." Though I could have done without the capitals. There are ten chapters – the first four deal with the creation and exploitation of business opportunities, with the first two arguing that the business opportunity is created by external change, the next two saying that these opportunities are best exploited by companies displaying some degree of originality. Lawrence believes that outsourcing has created opportunities "on the moving frontier; in the slipstream, and in the interstices", and amusingly imagines (p139) the journey of a Fast Track Company and all the ways it has outsourced its journey from start up to success. He writes extremely well – for instance, summarising the historical development of business and the theories of strategy attached to the different epochs in only a few pages – without giving the impression he is missing anything out. Lawrence is also amusing – I love the image of the turnip when he explains how many entrepreneurs learn from previous experiences and then fuse this knowledge into their new business, but how it doesn’t always work that way. "In cross studies this paradox is known as the voyage of the turnip. You send a turnip round the world and it comes back a turnip, not a cosmopolitan. In other words, people need to process experience and internalise it to benefit from it." But the writing is more than amusing and pithy summaries. This is a well-organised book which makes a cogent argument, and in doing so touches on everything from the nature of niche markets and barriers to entry to the Prahalad and Hamel's Core Competencies and the possibility (or not) of sustainable competitive advantage in today's hyper competitive market. (This is also discussed in Rita Gunther McGrath's The End of Competitive Advantage (reviewed here). Lawrence thinks that "the longer a company lives, the more it will need to adapt", and "start-up originality will be eroded by time and competition" so entrepreneurs should "strive to renew it". Failing that, "even if originality erodes, quality of execution will always differentiate your company". This last quote could equally be applied to this book. It has a real quality of execution, and there's a fair amount of originality as well. Great for MBA students, then, but also for the rest of us. Don't be put off by the textbook cover, or the slightly repetitious title and sub-title, this is well worth your time. Wiley £29.99 Tom Otley
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