Business Book Review

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Thinking Inside The Box - by Kirk Cheyfitz - Remarks


Cheyfitz was prompted to write Thinking Inside The Box after observing the corporate scandals of the business world during the 1990s and in the first few years of the 2000s, a time period during which, Cheyfitz says, the business world essentially lost its head. These errors in business practice were largely based on the erroneous assumption that the foundations of business had been radically and fundamentally altered by technological and social change. His thoughts hearken back to the great twentieth century economic thinker Herbert Simon and his classic 1947 work, Administrative Behavior.

Simon wrote, “Human organizations, quite large ones, have been with us for at least four thousand years. Although the physical technology a modern army employs is wholly different from the technology employed by the armies of Nineveh or Egypt or X’ian, the processes people used in these ancient armies to make decisions or to manage people appear quite familiar to us and largely unchanged over the centuries.” (In fact, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Administrative Behavior Simon declined to make changes to his book saying that in the half century that had passed people, and the way they make decisions, had not changed.) Cheyfitz’s book, like Simon’s work, is based on sound historical documentation to illustrate that there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. The fundamental rules of commerce have not changed since the Middle Ages—so don’t try to change them.

His observations on innovation, change, and technology are central to the premise of the book. “If you listen to most of the business gurus,” according to Cheyfitz, “there’s a business revolution every minute, each one driven by technology.” Robert Sutton, the noted Stanford expert on innovation and organizational psychology believes that excitement about building better products and companies sometimes makes us forget that most new ideas are bad and most old ideas are good. By no means are Cheyfitz and Sutton saying that companies shouldn’t innovate. “Creativity,” as Sutton points out, “is largely about seeing old things in new ways. And being creative requires detailed knowledge of old ideas so those ideas can be adapted to new uses and directions.”

It is important to note, finally, that the author does not deny that there is such a thing as “thinking outside the box.” However, the first step to “thinking outside the box” is to think “inside the box,” and this is the step—a big step and a basic step—that many forget.


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