Think Outside the Building – Rosabeth Moss Kanter

28 February 2020
Think Outside the Building Book Cover Think Outside the Building
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Business & Economics
January 28, 2020

One of the leading business thinkers in the world offers a bold, new theory of advanced leadership for tackling the world's complex, messy, and recalcitrant social and environmental problems. To address the big social and environmental issues of our day--from poverty, to race and gender disparities, to climate change--we need a different kind of leadership. Good leadership can help solve problems and guide an organization to success. But as Rosabeth Moss Kanter recognized, there is an enormous gap between "good leadership"--where individuals can use authority to get things done--and "advanced leadership"--where individuals possess the skills required for tackling complex, messy, and recalcitrant issues. Advanced leadership requires not just "thinking outside the box," but "thinking outside the building." Over a decade ago, Kanter co-founded and has since directed Harvard's breakthrough Advanced Leadership Initiative. In this book, she combines extraordinary stories from the business world with a pragmatic tool kit to deliver a new theory of leadership for producing significant societal change, one that begins where conventional leadership thinking ends. We desperately need leaders with wisdom and experience willing to exercise their imaginations to create solutions to society's intractable problems. This book will teach them how.


Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time, while a mouthful for a book title, it does combine terms that set the focus for what is covered in the book.

Firstly, to Think Outside the Building sets the framework of the scale of the topic under discussion. This does not mean a focus on external customers but rather on issues that are greater than any single business could or would address – namely the environment and society for the good of the public. This is not a book with advice, techniques and anecdotes on what works in creating highly successful commercial organisations for shareholder value. This is about creating highly successful ventures that have a dramatic impact on our environment and society, such as cleaning the oceans or climate change or improving inner-city education or healthcare availability to all. The context is that these are World issues and the daunting task is to implement a Change process with all the various dynamics and influences competing for why things are the way they are.

That next major aspect from the title is that this is targeted at Advanced Leaders, which implies that it is targeted at leaders who have already proven themselves. In other words, if your career as a leader is just starting or you are still building your company with a focus on achieving certain commercial goals, then this is not aimed at making you better at that role. Advanced leaders almost require a reset or a repositioning because often it means they have to move from a structured environment and a position of authority to uncertainty and persuasion, to build coalitions and to think open-mindedly across sectors.

“Readiness to change involves the willingness to take risks. As I’ve indicated, the very people most interested and most qualified to take on institutional change challenges, because they possess the three critical Cs of capabilities, connections, and cash, are also often the most constrained by their positions and handicapped by their successes. They need a fourth C—courage.”

The strategy of One Smart Innovation at a Time is also crucial in that the challenge is already daunting working across multiple stakeholders and sectors without trying to achieve massive leaps forward to eradicate gun violence or a global refugee crisis. Look for the new ways of approaching the problem.

To read business books or personal development books feeds an inherent desire to learn new techniques, to be inspired, to undertake the challenge ahead and to be reassured of its validation with stories of success. Rosabeth Moss Canter is a renowned, highly respected and experienced voice in this space and her personal interaction and her Centre’s interactions with leaders and advanced leaders provides a wealth of anecdotes and stories that underpin all the points she makes. While that is important in a book of this nature, I felt it just ran from one story to another and lacked periods of summary and reflection. In many cases, I could have jumped ahead and not really missed anything important. This is a book addressing a niche area so it probably won’t have the wider business appeal but I’m sure that leaders that find themselves in the situation where advanced leadership is their next step this would provide some interesting thoughtful reading.

I would recommend this book as an interesting read and I’d like to thank Perseus Books, PublicAffairs and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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