Book Review May 2007
Reviewed by Soroya Brantley
With so many mergers and acquisitions on today’s corporate landscape, Robert M. Tomasko’s book Bigger Isn’t Always Better: The New Mindset for Real Business Growth (Amacom, 2006), is particularly relevant. A specialist in organizational effectiveness, Tomasko knows well the problems companies face as they try to grow. He has advised corporations, among them The Coca-Cola Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., and draws from this wealth of experience for Bigger Isn’t Always Better.
The book’s premise is that people often confuse growth with expansion, a confusion that has proven costly to companies that strive to “grow” by increasing manpower or moving into bigger offices. Growth does not have to be “synonymous with ‘getting bigger’,” Tomasko contends. Instead, growth is progress that is based on “moving the business beyond the self-imposed limits that have come to define and constrain it,” he says. His book outlines seven capacities that company management must possess in order to allow real growth to occur.
He defines the first capacity, know where to look, as the ability of managers to think outside the box, or, in his words, “an ability to see the world in a slightly different way.” The second capacity is the ability to know what you want. While this may seem obvious, many people simply “go with the flow,” not setting specific goals. Tomasko warns against this, arguing it is essential to establish a vision with a practical shape. Goals should serve as motivators, but should not cause managers to become fixated or blind to the realities around them, he says.
Capacity three, tell the truth, is exactly that. True growth cannot occur unless managers are honest with themselves and those around them and receive honesty in return. It is important to have an honest assessment of where the company stands and what the company’s prospects are.
The ability to create tension to generate forward movement, the fourth capacity, shows how conflicting ideas may serve as the impetus to move closer to realizing a set goal. Tomasko talks about constantly articulating the goal, while being cognizant of the “current state of the business in relation to the objective.” The “tension in the gap between the two” becomes the energy and drive in moving forward, he says.
Tomasko’s fifth essential capacity to initiate growth is the ability to win hearts and minds. There is a difference between winning the loyalty of workers by listening rather than using of force or manipulation. Mastering momentum and bounce is the sixth capacity. Here, Tomasko suggests that in order to succeed and grow, management must experience failure. Use the momentum of a series of successes to spring forward, but know that errors will occur and be prepared to learn from them, he advises.
The last capacity management must have is to know when to let go and how to share the wealth, or, in other words, to know when to “quit while you are ahead.” Tomasko posits that true growth agents recognize when their work is done and are able to strategically pass the baton to others.
Tomasko dedicates a chapter to each of the seven capacities, or traits, he outlines, explaining what each trait is, its significance and how to cultivate it. He uses examples of real people at successful businesses to show how they used the various traits effectively. He profiles such “growers” as Bill Ford at Ford Motor Co., Carlos Gutierrez at Kellogg Co. and Roger Enrico at PepsiCo Inc. Tomasko also uses examples such as the failed Hewlett-Packard Co.-Compaq Computer Corp. merger to prove that becoming bigger does not ensure success.
Numerous subheadings highlight key points and break up the rather dense text. Bigger Isn’t Always Better: The New Mindset for Real Business Growth is not a particularly easy book to read, but it is interesting. A society where everything from the size of food portions to the size of vehicles seems all about being bigger may find it difficult to accept Tomasko’s argument. Perhaps this contrary view is the book’s biggest attraction. There are no chart or graph illustrations, no spouting of statistics. Instead, Tomasko lists his points and backs them up with real-life success stories. This book is worth the time of anyone looking for new ideas and ideals to inspire growth.