Review – Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways by William Taylor
This review first ran in the Oct. 24 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
Portfolio / Penguin
Would you get married in a parking garage?
Would you go there for wine-tastings, yoga classes and fundraisers?
Would you live in one?
They do in Miami Beach.
1111 Lincoln Road is a one-of-a-kind parking garage. Developer Robert Wennett hired the architects who designed the Tate Modern in London and Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium and invested $65 million to transform the garage into a commercial property, cultural landmark and civic space.
Along with 300 parking spots, the seven-storey garage is filled with public art, high-end restaurants and boutiques. The building has a central winding staircase and offers 360-degree unobstructed skyline views. Wennett lives in a penthouse on the top floor.
“It’s all part of creating an experience people have not seen before, with offerings in places where they have not seen them before,” says Wennett. “We said to ourselves ‘Let’s look at what a parking garage is, and then let’s twist every single notion about it’. Nothing we do here is what you expect. We’re creating an experience, we’re telling a story.”
So how about your organization? What story are you telling? What are you doing that’s unexpected and unforgettable?
Or have you opted to stick with the familiar and settle for dull? If so, don’t worry because you’re not alone.
“This quiet brand of failure – a failure of imagination, a failure of nerve, a failure to muster the will to break from the past – has become a familiar part of the business landscape,” says William Taylor, author of Simply Brilliant and cofounder of Fast Company magazine.
“The problem with most organizations is not that they are broken. It’s that they are boring. And boring organizations don’t lend themselves to runaway success. The real action, the true agenda, for leaders is in closing ‘opportunity gaps’ – the difference between what is and what could be.”
To stand out and stand alone, Taylor says runaway success comes from doing what your competitors can’t or won’t do. Your customers want to be impressed and surprised. They want you to do something memorable.
And if you want to be exceptional in the marketplace, you first have to create something exceptional in the workplace.
Taylor profiles 15 organizations that do exactly that, including Metro Bank in Britain, Pal’s Sudden Service in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia, and SouthCentral Foundation, a nonprofit that delivers health care to 65,000 Alaska Native and American Indian customer-owners (calling them patients is verboten).
And then there’s the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Launched by Community Solutions in New York City, the campaign aimed to secure permanent housing for 100,000 chronically homeless Americans in four years without a major influx of government funding. Nearly 190 cities and towns came up with grassroots efforts that ultimately housed 105,580 homeless.
“Nobody I know signed up to work on homelessness for job security,” says Community Solutions founder Rosanne Haggerty. “But somehow we created a ‘homeless-industrial complex’ that is good at running programs but has given up on solving the problem. We realized that doing more of the same was absurd. We asked organizations to wrestle with the consequences of doing business differently.”
If you’re looking to do business differently in your organization and in our community, you’ll find inspiration in Taylor’s book.
“The thrill of breakthrough creativity and breakaway performance doesn’t belong just to the youngest companies with the most cutting-edge technology or the most radical business strategies,” says Taylor. “It can be summoned in all sorts of industries and all walks of life, if leaders can reimagine what’s possible in their fields. The opportunity to reach the extraordinary may be most pronounced in settings that have been far too ordinary for far too long.”
@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and lives in Hamilton.