This is the back story to the book Wheel of Fortune.
Several years ago, Massimo Torinesi, who had read and liked several books I had written, ventured to contact me to get to know me and inquire about working together to deliver workshops and seminars in Italy. After a while of getting to know each other via e-mail and later at lunch at a restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut in 2013, Massimo, invited me to Italy to co-lead workshops and give talks on topics ranging from Lean leadership to kaizen to Speed Leadership. I made several visits to Italy to deliver workshops and lectures until COVID-19 came along. Over the years we developed a wonderful friendship and working relationship, speaking almost weekly in recent times. It has been a great collaboration.
For the past few years Massimo talked about collaborating on a book about strategy. He was familiar with my work analyzing strategy failures and he has read much and consulted with his clients on strategy, but was dissatisfied with how most business leaders typically understood strategy, how they developed strategy, and how they executed strategy. I was busy with other book projects and deferred until the fall of 2020. We began writing the book in mid-December 2020 and completed it one month later.
In this book, we sought to present new ideas about business strategy and describe how the requirement for strategy is more of a social construct — a requirement simply resulting from that fact that other CEOs do it — rather than an actual need. We also examine how business strategies are generally uncreative copies based on traditional business thinking. Importantly, we focus on both a method for formally analyzing failed strategies and a method for assessing candidate strategies to determine if they contain defects that will lead to failure.
Both Massimo and I are not the typical thinkers on the subjects that we know about, including strategy. We are both creatives in different ways and see things in both complementary and contrasting terms, which makes for a great co-author pairing. It was fun working with Massimo on this book and on all of our other projects as well. He was able to keep up with my frenetic pace of ideation, writing, and editing! When we were done, I told him:
So, having worked with me on the book, you now know my deep secrets to speedy writing and publication. Kaizen! Nobody else knows the secrets, except for my wife.
After having authored or co-authored and published 23, now 24 books, since 2003, you would think I would have good processes. And I do, continuously improved over 17 years. Once the research phase is completed, the average time from writing and publishing is one or two months, rather than the nine to 12 months or more that it typically takes.
Wheel of Fortune is a small book, one that gets straight to the hear of business strategy, and is packed with a lot of useful information and insightful analysis. Massimo and I hope that readers find it to be illuminating and that it propels leaders to make practical improvements to strategy development and execution.
Origin of the Failure Analysis Method
The failure analysis method featured in Wheel of Fortune was created by Professor Bob Emiliani in the Spring of 2004. It was the backbone of a graduate-level business school course “Failure Analysis of Management Decisions,” first offered in the summer of 2004 and taught nearly every semester through 2022.
The failure analysis method and university course grew out of the recognition that business school case studies were invariably success stories, and thus they ignored the common occurrence of business failures in their various forms.
We learn more from failure than success, yet business schools (and business) are success-oriented and prefer to not think about failure and its causes. That is a glaring gap in both scholarship and important knowledge that must be imparted to undergraduate and graduate students. The failure analysis method can also be used as training in industry to help new and veteran managers avoid the errors in thinking and decision-making that lead to failure.
The structured failure analysis method is unique in its focus on manager’s:
- Beliefs and untested assumptions
- Cognitive biases
- Illogical thinking
The locates the causes of major business and management failures. Its purpose is to:
- Understand and learn about complex business problems
- Learn how to apply formal root cause analysis to business and management problems
- Learn the types of errors commonly made by managers that contribute to flawed decision-making
- Identify and understand the root causes of failure in management decision-making
- Identify practical countermeasures to prevent recurrence
The method can be applied to any type of business, business process, leadership,management, product, or service failure. The failure analysis method underwent years of revision and improvement based in student feedback and other factors.
The intent of learning the method and of analyzing business failures is to:
- Reduce the human and financial costs of failure
- Avoid repeating errors that lead to failure
- Avoid repeat failures
- Improve leadership skills and capabilities
- Improve management thinking and practice
- Avoid doing current or future harm to stakeholders
The failure analysis method has proved itself in the analysis of over 60 major business failures, including
Airbus A380 Development
BP Texas Refinery Explosion
Boeing 787 Development
Baxter International’s Heparin Blood Thinner
Big Pharma’s Drug Pipeline Problem in the 2000s
Bristol-Myers Squibb Accounting Scandal
Cisco Systems Management Reorg
Coast Guard’s Fast Response Cutter
Connecticut Electricity Deregulation
Cost Management in Healthcare
Cost Management in Higher Education
F-35 Airplane Development
Fall of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, etc.
Fisker Automotive Bankruptcy
General Motors Bankruptcy
General Motors Ignition Switch
HMRC Lean Transformation Failure
JC Penney Financial Distress
Johnson & Johnson OTC Drug Recalls
Koninklijke Ahold N.V. Financial Scandal
Microsoft OS Product Failures
Minerals Management Service Failed Oversight
Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella Recall
Pratt & Whitney PW 6000 commercial engine
Privatization of Public Assets
Rare Earths Bubble
Rite Aid Bankruptcy
Simmons Bedding Company
Synthes Bone Cement
Timken Company Spinoff
Toyota Late 2000s Quality Problems
U.S. Government Future Imagery Spy Satellite Program
Fundamentally, the failure analysis is much more than just a structured problem-solving method. It is also a business process improvement method and a leadership development method.
The Wisdom of Henry Ford
“A man who cannot think is not an educated man however many college degrees he may have acquired.Thinking is the hardest work any one can do – which is probably the reason why we have so few thinkers… If education consisted in warning the young student away from some of the false theories on which men have tried to build, so that he may be saved the loss of the time in finding out by bitter experience, its good would be unquestioned. An education which consists of signposts indicating the failure and the fallacies of the past doubtless would be very useful…the best that education can do for a man is to… teach him how to think.” – Henry Ford, My Life and Work, with S. Crowther,1922, page 247 and 248.