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Book Review: The Soft Edge

Rich Karlgaard's The Soft Edge, published by Jossey-Bass, is an excellent management book for any level in any company. I recommend to my clients that they need to read a minimum of two business books a year, and this book makes my 2015 list.

In the first chapter, Karlgaard discusses the three sides of the triangle of business. The bottom is the "strategic base," the left side is the "hard edge" and the right side is the "soft edge." The hard edge is the traditional operations, ratios, measurements and systems of running any effective organization. Karlgaard spends just a few pages describing the importance of the hard edge and the five components that make up that side of the triangle.

Karlgaard then moves on to describing what he means by the soft edge. It is made up of five components, as well: trust, smarts, teams, taste and story. Immediately, he begins to build his case for the power of soft-edge management. Each of the following chapters takes the five components and breaks them into greater details and explanations. 

Trust: Trust begins with culture and values. As with many management-focused books, The Soft Edge quotes business leaders on the topic to reinforce Karlgaard's points (one such quote is, "Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work"). Karlgaard describes both internal and external levels of trust and makes his point by quoting a survey: "For the first time in in history, impressions of openness, sincerity and authenticity are more important to a corporation's reputation than the quality of products and services."

(The amazing thing was that I was reading this book on my way to Las Vegas to speak at a conference, and one section of my program was on "building trust." During my speech, I picked up the book and quoted from it to help me drive home my points. When I packed my book for the trip, I did not know the contents of the chapters -- it was a total coincidence.)

Smarts: There are two components. One is the ability to learn new things and solve novel problems. The second is the ability to apply outcomes of learning -- call this intelligence -- as knowledge.

Teams: This chapter rang a bell when Karlgaard described the two-pizza rule: A team should never be larger than what two pizzas could feed. He writes on the need to improve speed and execution. It's a great chapter on a topic that many others have tried to cover without Karlgaard's insights and story.

Taste: In this chapter, Karlgaard identifies key organizations that have focused on the "experience" of going beyond the aesthetic of the product, but creating the emotional connection.

Story: The point Karlgaard makes in this chapter is the power of having a corporate story and the need to craft, share and create stories for both employees, customers and prospects. Building belief is critical in creating a sustaining business model.

In the concluding chapter, Karlgaard summarizes the prior chapters with a case study of a situation where companies have focused on the soft edges and where they have not -- and the results. If by the end of this book you are not a believer in the power of the soft edge, this chapter will convince you.

Buy this book for each member of your management team and discuss one chapter a week at your management team meetings. It will make a difference to your success.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on January 19, 2015


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