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Book Review: Road Maps and Revelations by Paul R. Niven

May 29, 2009

Road Maps and RevelationsOften I’ve contemplated the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. In my experience, that statement is true and I’ve also observed that the viewers frequently derive significantly different information from a picture. Some will see simply a scene or in abstract art they will be reminded of vastly different experiences than I might recall. What we learn from the picture will be different depending on the lenses through which we view the scene. Those lenses are shaped, polished and given refractive characteristics through our values and life experiences.

Much the same happens when we hear an interesting story, which, next to a picture, is the second most engaging and inspiring way to share information. In Road Maps and Revelations, Niven spins a compelling fable and manages to fit in very sound principles for developing a strategic business plan. The story takes place in a trip down the California coast between San Francisco and San Diego. This was especially interesting to me since I have made that very same trip several times. Rory Newman, the protagonist, uncovered many lessons through the improbable character, Sydney Wise, who is both a surprise visitor and a successful serial entrepreneur who has figured out exactly how to create a strategic plan. He doesn’t make it easy on Rory, but rather seeks to engage Rory’s imagination in discovering the lessons for himself.

Home Strategy WheelThose lessons are: (1) Start with a consistent definition of strategy; (2) examine the organization’s core purpose and timeless mission; (3) create a strategy that is simple, clearly understood and easily implemented by the employees; (4) create an organic plan which is dynamic rather than details of facts and figures; (5) develop a plan that fits with, complements and creates synergy with your corporate culture; (6) communicate your plan as a story in which every employee is central to the exciting success of the company. Niven further espouses getting clear on your mission and then answer four fundamental questions: (1) what propels us forward? (2) What do we sell [not really a trivial question!]? (3) Who are our customers? And (4) how do we sell? Each of these questions is answered looking at them through the lenses of social/cultural impact, Human point of view, technological issues and financial point of view. Keep in mind that this is a high level method of creating and presenting a plan. There is much work hidden in these simple steps.

When written and summarized in this short list, the lessons seem boring and somewhat trivial. Niven’s book itself, on the other hand, demonstrates exactly why weaving a story to make your point and communicate your plan is the most effective way to get everyone on board. In using his story to develop how to go through the sometimes overwhelming task of developing a clear and compelling strategy, the author manages to break things down into bite-sized tasks. We know that each one is going to be a challenge by itself, yet we no longer feel that we have such a monumental task in front of us. And best of all, the plan developed will be easily understood and will not comprise reams of paper with incredible detail. All that will, of course, exist. However it will be backup data rather than the plan itself. I am reminded of Chief Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes who once famously said, “I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity. But I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Niven gives us a simply understood method for digging through the incredible complexity required of a solid strategic business plan so that we arrive at a concise and simple to understand strategy on the other side.

Click to view at Amazon.

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