Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Jaded academics might allow their scepticism to lapse into cynicism when reviewing a book like this, with a title that would sit well in an airport bookstore. However, given the author's description of cynics as “people who ... can act like a poison in the body” and who, if “all discussion fails”, should be euphemistically “moved out” (p. 15), I will attempt to “fight the fear of change” (p. 9), “track the astonishing” (p. 110) and “focus on what went right” (p. 142) in the book.
The trouble is that even for airport passengers, there are so many books like this which offer a pot pourri of ideas, exhortations and advice about self‐improvement that it is difficult to differentiate them. We are certainly still in an era which Giddens (1991) characterized as obsessed with a reflexive project of self‐identity, but it is an era in which books like this often sell well, and “motivational speakers” like the author are in demand. Surprisingly, though, for a “recognised expert on innovation, lateral thinking and leadership” (p. xi), Sloane's publishers, Kogan Page, have hardly provided the sort of glossy presentation that many of these books enjoy, and the picture of the author suggests something from a photo‐booth.
Then, of course, it might be said Sloane could be damned if he does and if he does not: a glossier edition could provoke more cynicism about narcissism and ego. The other unpalatable truth for business academics is that, in spite of the flurry of activity 20 years ago from writers such as Constable and McCormick (1987) or Handy (1987) to encourage serious management training and development in Britain, many management appointments are still made on the basis of other criteria than management competence. Consequently many managers do look to books like this for guidance, especially given their sound bite approach; the belief among writers like Sloane (p. 2) being that busy executives never have time to read anything not in bite‐size chunks (although even in the 1960s Rosemary Stewart (1967) argued that managers tended to do what they liked doing: perhaps some might even like to read more challenging management texts).
So what does the book offer the manager? We are told that it is “rocket fuel for the business brain” (p. xii) is aimed at “the person who wants to turn themselves and their team into ‘commandos of creativity and masters of innovation”’. To this end it is organized into six sections: Leading Innovation, Problem Analysis, Generating Ideas, Implementing Innovation Processes, Building a Creative Culture and Personal Creativity. As promised, each section contains a varying number of bite‐size chunks of advice and suggestions. Some of the latter are quite sensible: “Resign from any organizations whose meetings you dread”, for example, appears sound good sense as a means of simplifying one's life! But for a book which is all about innovation and creativity, it is interesting that nowhere are the formal precepts of managerialism seriously questioned. Although readers are advised to “destroy the hierarchy” (pp. 24‐5), it is assumed that global capitalism is just the way organizational life is nowadays, and that in essence creativity and innovation are all about making profits and business success, rather than a means of seriously questioning the way that our lives are organized. This is tame creativity, not revolution.
Yet it is possible to promote revolution in airport books, and the revolution does not have to be aggressive either. A book which is similar in size and format is Richard Templar's (2006) The Rules of Life (which I did buy at the airport looking for an “educational” title with which to while away a 2‐h flight). There is a companion volume, The Rules of Work, and both offer similar bite‐size chunks to Sloane's book. Yet where Sloane is tame and even occasionally pompous, Templar is quirky and often counter‐cultural. In fact, I have already broken his first “rule of life” regarding his homilies, which is “keep it under your hat” (p. 4), which is reminiscent of the New Testament injunctions of Jesus to those he cured.
In the context of self‐help to develop leadership and creativity, however, I would have to recommend Templar as alternative in‐flight reading. “The trouble is that there are so many people who won't change because they think they won't be held accountable. If there is no‐one watching, they think they can get away with murder. History will make short work of them, says Templar of those who say that individuals cannot make a difference. Sloane would not disagree, but his style of making this point is much blander, and tellingly there is little or no reference to the ethics of innovation. Is it acceptable, for example, to sell people a new product or service even if they neither want nor need it? Templar, on the other hand (pp. 196‐7) is quite unequivocal: ‘does your work provide an essential service or product; does it make people happier, wealthier or more successful?”’.
Overall, The Innovative Leader is an amiable book which can be dipped into in a spare moment. It has a comprehensive bibliography and index, and for a fairly middlebrow text it is well‐written and with refreshingly few typos. But rocket fuel for the business brain is a questionable description for a text which in the main repeats the usual mantras, even quite happily importing techniques from other management gurus like de Bono (p. 94 and following). In an idle moment at the airport I might buy it (although at £9.99 it is hardly a book bargain), but would not urge my library to stock it.
Constable, J. and McCormick, R. (1987), The Making of British Managers, British Institute of Management/Confederation of British Industry, London.
Giddens, A. (1991), Modernity and Self‐Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA.
Handy, C. (1987), The Making of Managers: A Report on Management Education, Training and Development in the United States, West Germany, France, Japan and the UK, National Economic Development Office, London.
Stewart, R. (1967), Managers and their Jobs, Macmillan, London.
Templar, R. (2006), The Rules of Life, Pearson Education, Harlow.