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Entertaining . . . Informative . . . Sometimes Shallow
am 14. Mai 2000
In this book, Al Ries defines corporate focus as an organization's "necessary" and relentless pursuit to specialize within its industry. For example, one of Ries' examples, PepsiCo, should've focused on its core competency (the Pepsi cola brand), and spun off all other divisions such as its food chains division (KFC, Pizza Hut, Del Taco) and its snack foods division (Frito Lay). PepsiCo, he claims, will lose the war with Coca-Cola unless it focuses on just one enemy (Coke) rather than several. Interestingly enough, Ries's prophecy towards future focus within organizations happens to have become the biggest hit on Wall Street in 1997, and in the case of PepsiCo, came true.
Overall, Ries's call for corporate focus makes a lot of sense. He provides some wonderful examples throughout the book where companies have lost steam through a lack of focus, and then regained it through refocusing. In fact, probably the greatest contribution of this book comes from Ries's expansive milieu of business examples to support his focus-centered thesis. However, this book's downfall becomes apparent in its mid-section where Ries exposes his ignorance about other business philosophies that he imagines are different than his own. For example, his discussion of quality-based management (TQM) is hopelessly misinformed and biased, which will become obvious to even the neophyte in TQM philosophy. It is through his discussion of quality-based management where Ries's bias towards only his way of doing things is exposed. Also exposed is the fact that Ries's area of expertise is marketing, and he consequently pays less respect to others areas of business (namely, operations and support areas).
Although I enjoyed the many excellent business examples that Ries provides for the reader, and would recommend the book for that reason alone, I would not recommend the book as a whole. I believe that Ries's focus-centered thesis has trapped him to focus only on his way of focusing. To put it another way, Ries's focus will help a company perhaps attain its desired financial and market results, but can not contribute to the overall growth and development of the organization. As experienced here at JOICO, the word focus (without proper understanding) can be used in a multitude of different ways. Furthermore, we may focus on a certain type of product or market niche so much that we may miss the changing trends in the world that will someday make our focus and market dominance irrelevant. For example, Ries encourages Kodak to concentrate on its core competency, chemically processed film, and leave the digital stuff to another company. That may be good for Kodak's focus, but will probably kill Kodak in the long-term when chemically processed film becomes a thing of the past.
This book is very interesting, but I would not recommend it to the easily swayed business reader. Ries' is a sweet-talking salesman when it comes to his point of view, and it takes a well-educated outside view to see through some of his arguments.