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Survival Is Not Enough: Zooming, Evolution, and the Future of Your Company

Author: Seth Godin, Charles Darwin
Publisher Free Press, The
Publication Date: December 2001

Reviewer:Dr. A. J. Schuler
Dr. A. J. Schuler is an expert in leadership and organizational change. To find out more about his programs and services, visit www.SchulerSolutions.com or call (703) 370-6545.

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Seth Godin Zooms in on Change

“The secret of this book,” says Godin, “is that your success is not going to be due to your plan. It’s the process that matters.” That’s because, according to Godin, the marketplace is now so chaotic and fast-paced that change - and the ability to change - has become an end in itself for companies that seek, not just to survive, but to achieve “transformative success.”

Seth Godin, the best-selling author of “Permission Marketing,” is also a contributing editor to Fast Company magazine, his Fast Company ethos shines through in this worthwhile argument about change. Fast Company - a very good magazine ever in search of the next great transformative “paradigm,” - can be notoriously long on hype and buzz (how many “new” new economies can we have in a decade?). But hey, that’s marketing. The publishing business is tough, and publishers will do what they have to do to capture our attention, or they die. It’s certainly a Darwinian world in the publishing business!

But then, that’s Godin’s argument for all businesses. His argument is not only that change is the constant imperative in today’s marketplace, but that all companies are organic entities - just like species and organisms. He then applies terms and concepts taken from evolutionary biology, through an extended application of analogy and metaphor - to organizational survival, success and adaptability. Mostly, it works, as these things go, and though the extended discussion takes a bit of discipline to get through, Godin’s concepts and prescriptions are good and basically quite sound. Under the hype, there’s very good content in this book, and for those interested in change, it’s worth getting and reading.

Or at least, it’s worth skimming. Godin, an experienced and bankable author, knows very well what the folks at Fast Company know: we don’t like to read a lot of text. We like lists and bullet points, and he successfully provides lots of those. His extended list of provocative questions for managers at the end of the book is excellent - it includes a lot of my favorites. Here’s a brief sample:
  • Do you have multiple projects in development that bet on conflicting sides of a possible outcome?

  • Who are the three most powerful people standing between things that need to change and actual action by your company?

  • What if you fired those people?

  • How can your company dramatically lower the cost of launching a test?

  • Have you institutionalized the process of sharing what you learn?
If the issues raised by questions like this interest you, then I highly recommend “Survival Is Not Enough.” And in the interests of honoring Godin by way of imitation, I’ll cut off my review here, and simply state:
  • this is a very good book on change

  • the evolutionary and biological metaphors are useful and a bit catchy, but they take a lot of work to get through

  • under some of the buzzword gimmickry, this is a terrific book about building high performance, innovative organizational cultures

  • if you don’t want to slog through all the text, this is still a good book because it offers neat chapter summaries and lists, as well as thought provoking questions that help Godin make his essential points.