Appreciative Inquiry Handbook

David L. Cooperrider, Diana Whitney and Jacqueline M. Stavros, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008, 454 pp., $49.95 (book).

Peter Drucker said, “The ageless essence of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.” David L. Cooperrider and his team make this possible with the use of appreciative inquiry (AI), which designs strategic change initiatives and allows organizations to reshape the future by focusing on its core strengths.

The AI process begins with the organization deciding what to learn about. Next, the discovery activity uncovers the core strengths of the company. Then comes the dreaming stage to help envision what could be. This leads to design—finding or identifying ways to create the desired future state. The final stage is delivery, in which team members talk about how to sustain the change. The process can loop back to discovery as required.

Typically, problem solving breaks things into pieces, and what results is a fragmented corrective action that is a Band-Aid, not a preventive action. AI starts by focusing on the ideal and finds roots in what is already good about the organization. Employees from many departments are engaged in the process, ensuring that everyone is actively pulling for the desired outcome during implementation.

The AI process works because the employees focus on what is good about their work. This becomes an invitation for people to engage in building the kind of organization they want. AI helps employees see the need for change that drives the exploration for new and better solutions.

This book is an outstanding guide for the leaders of change. The elements of AI are explained clearly for the novice, and a wealth of learning tools and resources are included. It should be required reading for everyone in senior and executive management.

Reviewed by John J. Lanczycki Jr.
Creative Planners
West Springfield, MA

A Complaint Is a Gift

Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008, 273 pp., $19.95 (book).

This is not just a book about how to deal with complaints. It serves as a how-to guide for taking the first step to building a customer-oriented organization.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first section, the authors state that although we might not like to receive negative feedback, customers who complain directly to us are giving us a gift. Moreover, the authors explain the importance of using complaint handling as a strategic tool (one of the least expensive marketing tools) and a way to define what customers want.

The second part of the book shows how to put what the authors call the gift strategy into practice. It begins by explaining the gift formula, an eight-step response to complaining customers.

The last section, which is new to this edition, deals with the personal side of complaints and urges individuals to use complaints they receive as a tool for personal development.

The main strengths of the book are that it is well organized and written in a very enjoyable style. It contains plenty of real examples that ease the understanding of the concepts. Each chapter concludes with a set of discussion questions about complaints and what you or your organization can do about them.

The book has only one weakness in that it could have been a bit shorter. Despite that, I highly recommended it to everyone, especially those who are frequently in contact with customers. In fact, it should be mandatory reading for anyone charged with handling complaints.

Reviewed by Martín Tanco
Tecnun (University of Navarra)
San Sebastian, Spain

Outsmart! How to Do What Your Competitors Can’t

Jim Champy, FT Press, 2008, 162 pp., $22.99 (book).

This is a short book generated from Darwinian mode research Jim Champy has done for organizations that have experienced a minimum of 15% annual growth for at least three years.

Although Champy mentions one well-known company—Smith and Wesson—many of the organizations he has worked with are not as recognizable—Shutterfly, Sonicbids and Smartpak, to name a few. He defines best-practice strategies organizations should adopt, including the ability to be quick, flexible and ready to adapt to the market. He also covers more traditional attributes: intelligence, experience and business sense.

Champy is excellent at capturing the essence of each company’s success in just a few pages. Of the eight vignettes, six are 16 pages each, and two are 19 pages. At the end of each chapter, he lists a few questions that can spark creativity to help you generate your own ideas.

In one of the chapters, Champy tells of how Sonicbids was formed to solve a problem local musicians had when trying to market their skills and link with customers who needed small-event entertainers. The market was huge, but the average unit cost was small, so it had been neglected by the traditional agents. Sonicbids recognized that, and it has grown to serve 10,000 promoters and 120,000 musicians, charging small fees on a large scale.

The epilogue highlights the following lessons that support Champy’s approach: ambition matters, intuition reigns, focus prevails, customers rule, calm enables, innovation lives, culture drives and everyone plays.

This book lends itself to readers who travel often, because each chapter is a standalone study that reinforces best-practice strategies.

Reviewed by Bill Baker
Speed to Excellence
Santa Fe, NM

The FDA and Worldwide Quality System Requirements for Medical Devices

Amiram Daniel and Ed Kimmelman, ASQ Quality Press, 2008, 336 pp., $95 list, $57 member (second edition, book).

This book is a revision of a 10-year-old compendium. It follows the same format as the original but provides updated comments on the requirements and guidance given in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) quality system regulation published in 1996, ISO 13485:2003, ISO/TR 14969:2004, and portions of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The authors attempt to provide a single place to compare the quality system practices required by the most widely used standards for producing medical devices—and they succeed.

The pages for each chapter are tabbed for easy navigation, and there is a very helpful index if the chapter titles do not allow for easy searching. Risk management, quality management system process interactions and a short section on future FDA activities are integrated into the discussions. The only ways to substantially improve this book would have been to include a searchable CD-ROM and a dictionary of acronyms.

While the book deals with subject matter that can be dry at times, it will be useful to anyone in medical device production who wants to improve their current practices or anyone who is thinking about getting into the industry.

Even though the actual standards must be used as the absolute authority, this book is an excellent guidance tool and will rapidly become one of the most page-worn volumes on your bookshelf.

Reviewed by Marc A. Feldman
Solvay Chemicals Inc.

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