Most management books do a retroactive look on how businesses and organisations can be better run and are instructive on the right way to evolve in a given industry or trade. Few ask deeper existential questions and offer advice on how to navigate through the forest.

Transformation in Times of Crisis does that in real time and given that it’s the handiwork of a hands-on CEO and a Wharton professor, it’s also a real-life example of theory meets practice.

Nitin Rakesh, CEO of Blackstone-backed IT player Mphasis, and Wharton professor of marketing Jerry Wind have put their efforts together to churn out what can be described as a practical road map for leading an organisation out of the dumps and into the cusp of transformational change. How do you do that? They say following eight principles or management edicts is the key.

The authors correctly describe how the pandemic that happened last year is not just the kind of disruptor that will impact one or two industries and have an effect for two or three years. On the contrary it’s the kind of tectonic shift that comes once in hundreds of years and is so wide and sweeping in the manner in which it “breaks things” that the cascading effects are felt across every single industry.

It is in that very vein that Rakesh and Wind ask companies to consistently ask themselves if they are leveraging peripheral vision, reinventing their business models, and zooming in on ways to not just manage the change around them but also to have an indelible impact in the business that they are in. Every single business today, the authors argue, is a digital business and therefore corporations must ensure that they keep their customers at the centre of everything that they do.

The roots of how the book came together hearken back to a conference on the “Architecture of Disruption” in Philadelphia circa 2017. At the symposium, the authors together discussed preliminary versions of the eight principles with a group of international executives, and decided after the event to collaborate on a book.


So, what are those principles?

They include challenging mental models; reimagining and reinventing the approach to customers and stakeholders; speeding up digital transformation and seeing for personalisation and scale; and seizing the need for speed, amongst others.

Each chapter like every good management course has questions at the end of it and uses illustrations and examples to illuminate the contextual philosophies it preaches. More than anything, what Rakesh and Wind do is educate corporations and provoke thinking in the right direction by asking the relevant questions.

Can you change a business model even when nothing is broken and it’s making a lot of cash for you or would you join forces with your arch rival and sworn competitor in order to ride through a difficult market?

The answer is a resounding yes because even the most traditional industries which are and have atypically been protected by technological or industrial moats have been content to remain insulated. No longer will that be a source of comfort given that banking for example is seeing it’s biggest existential threat and not just from one but multiple directions. Blockchain and bitcoin, payments platforms, and personal finance startups are all taking point shots at what was considered to be the realm of white-washed blue-blooded banks. “Amazon, moving into the financial services space is already the most formidable one to do so," the authors write. Multiple such examples abound throughout the work as they illustrate the prodigious change running through the world as well speak across every sector.

Making change is never easy and so the authors hammer home the point at the tail end of the book with a questionnaire that deals with making change and getting buy-in from stakeholders. Who is most likely to resist change, what are the key reasons for the resistance, how can you overcome the reasons for the resistance, and how can you design a plan for change without the resisting stakeholders. Structured and impersonal as it may sound that’s what it takes to break the pattern and propel chrysalis for a company that is at the change gates of what could either be a new dawn for a new era or a darkening tunnel where light may not be visible for a very long time.

Written simply and in lucid style, Transformation in Times of Crisis isn’t just required reading for the CEO of today, it’s a prescription and antidote for the future.

(Transformation in Times of Crisis by Nitin Rakesh and Jerry Wind; Notion Press, ₹899)

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