Jennings' highly innovative, at times refreshingly unorthodox thinking was evident in his previously published books, It's Not the Big That Eat the Small...It's the Fast That Eat the Slow (co-authored with Laurence Haughton) and then Less Is More: How Great Companies Use Productivity As a Competitive Tool in Business.
As I read this volume, I was reminded of at least some of the material in Sun Tzu's The Art of War and, especially, the strategies recommended in a section called "Estimates" in Samuel B. Griffith's superb translation. For example: "All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance. When he is united, divide him. Attack when he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you." You get the idea.
Jennings is a staunch and eloquent advocate of this principle: Do much more and do it much better, faster, and do it with less. OK, but how? The answer to that question was revealed by rigorous and extensive research which he and his two associates (Brian Solon and Greg Powell) conducted. They began with 70,000 companies as candidates for designation as the best performing companies in the U.S. Among all of them, which have increased their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer? Only nine qualified: Cabela's, Dot Foods, Koch Industries, Medline Industries, O'Reilly Automotive, PETCO Animal Supplies, SAS Institute, Sonic Drive-in, and Strayer Education.
Back to "How?" Jennings identifies ten "Building Blocks" which, in combination, explain why each of those in an obviously mixed bag of companies has been and continues to be a best performer (i.e. among the top one-hundredth of 1% of all U.S. companies). It would be a disservice to both Jennings and to those who read this brief commentary to list them and then comment on each out of the context within which Jennings so skillfully presents them. Suffice to say that all organizations (regardless of their size or nature) need to have all ten Building Blocks as a core foundation on which to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% and then continue to do so year after year after year.
How revealing that the CEOs whom Jennings and his research associates interviewed indicate little (if any) interest in any of Sun Tzu's deception strategies...nor in what their competitors are up to, for that matter. They seem wholly preoccupied with sticking to their own "knitting," focusing on what their companies can do best, how to do it even better, and thereby deliver even greater value to their customers. Also, each seems determined to nourish and enhance the quality of life as well as standard of living of everyone involved in the enterprise. This is precisely what Jennings means when referring to building communities, Building Block #9. Employees, customers, and allies should be viewed as "partners" and treated as such.
Ultimately, one of the most formidable challenges for those in any organization is to achieve and then maintain an appropriate balance of "thinking BIG" while "acting small." Hence the importance of Section Three, "The Quad: A Self-Evaluation and Ranking," in which Jennings "breaks down the title of the book into four scenarios, each represented by a quadrant":
TSAS Think Small, Act Small
TSAB Think Small, Act Big
TBAB Think Big, Act Big
TBAS Think Big, Act Small
He applies this template to each of the ten Building Blocks. It remains for each reader to complete the self-evaluation, one which helps to measure her or his own organization's current situation. The details of this exercise are best revealed within the text, pages 189-201.
I highly recommend this book for reasons previously indicated but also because I cannot recall a prior time since the Great Depression when it was more difficult for companies to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer. Consider these statistics which Michael Gerber shares in his recently published E-Myth Mastery: "Of the 1 million U.S. small businesses started this year , more than 80% of them will be out of business within 5 years and 96% will have closed their doors before their 10th birthday." Chilling statistics indeed. Here in a single volume is a rigorous analysis of how nine quite different companies have achieved and then sustained their "full economic and human potential."
How important and potentially valuable is this book? Please re-read the statistics provided by Gerber.