David Wethey reviews the latest Morgan and Fisk books

Wethey on Fisk and Morgan's books

Have you ever been on one of those all-inclusive holidays, where you can enjoy all the facilities and eat and drink what you like at no extra charge? I’ve just come back from one in Turkey. Reading the new Morgan and Fisk books at the same time reminded me of it: two very rich main courses, with numerous starters, sides, vegetables and sauces. Both are significant works. Adam Morgan’s new book (with Mark Barden, his US associate) will inevitably be compared to his Eat the Big Fish, which was a huge success in showing how challenger brands can break rules and conventions, and do serious damage to the entrenched dominance of giants – largely by disrupting the normal laws of competition.

A Beautiful Constraint goes into the ‘how’ of that. To put it simply, it is about the richness of the opportunities that emerge from problems and constraints. It is a counter-intuitive point of view. Academic thinking and conventional business theory tend to be about getting all your ducks in a row. Personally I’m not sure that ‘Propelling Question’ (the question that brackets the ambition with the constraint) is destined to be tomorrow’s voguish cliché. But I loved the “We can’t because….” Vs “We can if…..” counterpoint. Any author offering chapters subtitled, ‘Learning from people who succeeded with next to nothing’, and ‘How big companies have learned to love constraints’ deserves to sell a lot of books. ‘Give me the freedom of a tight brief’ is a seductive message.

Gamechangers is about a new generation of companies who are changing, or who have changed paradigms. He has a ten point formula for changing the game, and an astonishing cornucopia of examples, set out by category: retail, financial services, health, gadgets, media, fashion, travel, food and technology. Despite Fisk’s success with his ‘Genius’ series, I think Gamechangers will become his defining work - his Tipping Point, or indeed given the subject matter, his Eat the Big Fish. There is a lot in common between Gamechangers and Eat the Big Fish. Fisk and Morgan have different styles. Fisk uses a punchy and presentational style I am pretty familiar with from watching a quarter of a century of pitches. Morgan and Barden write like talented journalists with a way-above-average knowledge of their subject, and a satellite’s view of both sides of the pond. Importantly, both books tell us about the future, unlike all those old-style tomes that interpreted the past.

What the books also have in common is genre: they are of the ‘Wow! Isn’t that amazing?’ school, loaded with hero examples. Both have a final chapter, designed to give readers a chance to try out the theories for themselves. For me, both books are difficult to read as a piece, but maybe that was not the intention of either author. If you write a business book, you have a choice between a narrow focus and going for readability, or casting your net wide, and risking reader indigestion.

The availability of so much learning and wisdom on the internet has changed business books as it has changed so any other things. Talented authors like Morgan and Fisk, with capable research support and privileged access to countless success stories, might just as well spread their table bountifully. They can do it, and readers can take advantage of whichever items on the buffet they fancy.

We can argue about whether it is in every sense the very best way to explain how to cope with constraints, or pull off entrepreneurial feats of arms. We can also ask whether it makes sense to give away quite so much proprietary thinking. But no one can claim – in either case – that there isn’t a wealth of knowledge, insight and evidence to learn from. It is a fortunate generation of ambitious business people and marketers who are benefiting from what I call ‘Gurumax’ – the outpouring of life-changing new thinking from talented experts. But I strongly suspect that the main short term beneficiaries of A Beautiful Constraint and Gamechangers  will be jobbing consultants and agencies chasing new business. They will draw hungrily on the brilliance of Morgan/Barden and Fisk to expand their range of offerings to clients. Hopefully our esteemed authors will always receive the acknowledgement and referencing they deserve!

Any marketer who doesn’t think they know it all (well, that might cut down the universe!) should buy both. My tip: don’t go for the eBooks. They would be a nightmare to navigate.

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