Friday, January 13, 2017

Review of "The Journey of Not Knowing: How 21st Century Leaders Can Chart a Course Where There Is None," by Julie Benezet

Review of
The Journey of Not Knowing: How 21st Century Leaders Can Chart a Course Where There Is None, by Julie Benezet ISBN 97809997813906

Four out of five stars
 This book is actually three significantly different sections, tied together via the theme of rapid change where it is difficult to impossible to look over the horizon. In the modern world, businesses rise quickly and often fall even faster. Sometimes the business simply folds and in better circumstances it is purchased. Generally speaking, it is the quality of leadership when operating using incomplete data that makes the difference. That is the point of this book.
 The author was an executive of Amazon in the early years where their only goal was to build the company infrastructure that would allow them to fulfill the orders. This meant that they were undergoing a crash program of real estate acquisition, remodeling/building and then stocking the resultant warehouses with products. Underneath all of this the order fulfillment process had to be constructed, debugged and implemented. Complicating the matter was the fact that they had to do it on more than one continent and that there was no accurate model to follow as this was a new line of business that had not been done before.
 The first section of the book is a description of the author’s experiences in those early years at Amazon. It is the very definition of the statement of the title, it was a journey where no one had gone before, simultaneously challenging, nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Anyone interested in the history of Amazon will find this section fascinating.
 The second section is a detailed description of a fictional business (Arrow) that has lost a major account and where the principals have seemingly lost their way. Political infighting, blaming and in some cases malaise has settled in and the company seems on the verge of collapse. The backgrounds of the principals is given in exquisite and sometimes excruciating detail. While it is clear why the author wants to do this deep dive into their motivations, it does reach the point where too much ink is spent in establishing the context of the problems internal to the players.
 The third and final section is a postmortem on the problems Arrow had and the steps that the major players are taking in order to get their company engaged and moving forward again. Many of the conclusions are based on the deep dives into the past of the principals, so that the reader will better understand their motivations and phobias.
 Other than the overemphasis on the events in the past of the principals becoming tedious, this book contains many jewels on how one deals with making decisions based on uncertain information. Despite the ubiquitous reliance on data collection and analysis, many business decisions are still based on a form of intuition. In most cases the most important thing is to have the courage to act on those beliefs rather than playing it safe and eventually sorry.

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