Edward de Bono

Creating Value Monopolies when Everybody Else is Merely Competing, New York: Fontana, 1992, HarperCollins, 1993.

5 Stars

Edward de Bono’s book Sur/Petition is very important. All the issues that he tackles in this extremely well-written book are still today hot issues, in the sense that they are unresolved so far in most businesses.

But let us ask, ‘What is Sur/Petition?’ The basic subject matter of the book is the issue of creatingvalue monopolies. Competing literally means ‘struggling together’, whereas surpeting, by contrast, means struggling ahead of others.

How to get ahead of your competitors? The answer is by offering more value, integrated value, value that is yet unmatched by others and that, therefore, becomes a monopoly. As de Bono explains, value monopolies are not illegal forms of business conduct because they serve the customer; they are specific solutions for the paradigm that Karl Albrecht called Total Quality Service or briefly TQS, as a parallel toTotal Quality Management or TQM. This approach puts the customer first in the agenda, not housekeeping or the company tradition.

Value monopolies can only be created after brainstorming has taken place which is based on a serious effort to understand and value the needs of the customer. It seems to me that presently multinational corporations are beginning to grasp the importance of giving the customer solutions that are of real value. De Bono, as always, has looked into the future and offered solutions that most people, at the time of publishing the ideas, were not ready to grasp.

The example that de Bono cites regarding Ford strikes. He consulted Ford Britain to buy a company that owned large car parks all over Great Britain. He argued that cars are no more than a lump of engineering and that a customer who buys a car wants and needs more, and more service in the first place. One of those needs being the urge to find a parking lot in town, de Bono’s idea seemed brilliant. Now Ford could have connected a value to the existing value ‘car’ which would have created a value monopoly for the company. De Bono’s idea was precisely that at the entrance of those car parks a note would have been put that only Ford cars could enter them — and not other cars. However, Ford did not see the chance nor the need of its customers for more integrated value and thus did not follow the proposal.

Edward de Bono

Some years ago, the popular German car maker Volkswagenwas brainstorming on the same lines and they createdVolkswagen Bank as a result, and a free basic insurance for home and family, given free for every car buyer. To make it round, third in the package was a credit card offer for new car customers. Not only did Volkswagen sell more cars, the Volkswagen Bank surprisingly for many became one of the most successful and effectively managed banks in Germany.

The example was obviously inspiring, as Mercedes-Benz and BMW developed similar surplus-value concepts and opened their Mercedes Bank and BMW Bank. What they give is even more. Every new customer, besides the afore-mentioned benefits, receives a credit card, that gives a range of benefits so numerous that it fills a little booklet.

De Bono always questions traditional ways of doing and goes straight to the root of problems. In the first chapter that is entitled What is Wrong with the Fundamentals? he calls efficiency and problem-solving mere maintenance procedures and concludes that only effective solutions can bring success in the long run.

Today, most of the Fortune 500 companies have realized this and other of de Bono’s early ideas, but when de Bono voiced these requirements twenty years ago, he was taken as a visionarywith lacking sense for reality. As it is so often the case, in hindsight we see that he had more sense of reality than all his contradictors since what he predicted so many years ago is business reality today!

Reading Sur/Petition, one gets a feeling that in most businesses, there is a desperate longing for more creativity whereas, at the same time, and paradoxically, creative thinking is rejected as an illusion, time waster, or as something for artists only. Intelligent ways of dealing with business, and effective solutions, in the past as today are the exception.

Even among Fortune 500 companies which are, as a group, the most likely to adopt strategies and fixes as de Bono suggests them, are not immune against old mistakes. The high turndown rate among Fortune 500s is an indicator for this fact. It is not enough to just understand the principles and to establish planning committees. The art of management is to walk the talk one wants all in the company to walk.

My experience has shown me that often corporate leaders are well ready to follow the advice of consultants but they think that they themselves are beyond the need for consultancy. The hairy truth is that, in the contrary, the boss has to adopt the new attitude first and thoroughly walk it through before he can duly expect others down in the corporate hierarchy to adopt it.

Bill Gates

Interestingly, when we study highly successful entrepreneurs, we see that they intuitively apply the principles de Bono writes about. I would like to cite Bill Gates as an example; his extraordinary success is not chance and it is not just luck. What I found after having studied various sources about him as well as information received from people closely working with him is that he exactly applies all these principles in his leadership style.

Gates goes even beyond. He is one of the few entrepreneurs who voluntarily apply chaos principles in their management to get out of linear movement and into the magic of serendipitous strikes. What is perhaps the final secret for the success in business is the combination of technical competence (the hardware) and people competence (the software).

What Microsoft has done to get out of the claws of its competition, and sur/pete was:

  • Creating value monopolies based upon precise knowledge regarding to what the mass customer expects and needs;
  • Intelligent concept design that gives a familiar look to all Microsoft software;
  • Superior striving for providing the utmost user-friendliness, intuitive handling and ease-of-use;
  • Very conscious and careful approach in customer care and follow-up;
  • Leading position in advancing new technologies, and courage and expertise to do so;
  • Most advanced approach for people care;
  • Very careful examination of what the competition is doing for quickly and often boldly sur/peting it.

Value monopolies namely begin with providing value and with valuing both the customer and the company. The latter if often forgotten. A company that does not value its own achievements and strength, and their staff will not succeed. However, high self-esteem, as de Bono observed in his book, is in practice often replaced by complacency. Complacency is such a destructive attitude that he devotes twelve pages, a whole subchapter, to its discussion.

More than once, de Bono reports that arrogance and complacency are what he found to be the two strongest impediments for implementing new customer-focused management strategies.

A very interesting part of the book, for those who are not yet familiar with value-based management is chapter eight entitled The Three Stages of Business. These three stages are outlined as —

  • Product Values
  • Competitive Values
  • Integrated Values

It is only logical that at the end of this thorough study, de Bono suggests to implement entire Concept R&D Departments, a brilliant idea. The author notes that in traditional business settings, it is still considered a threat to empower employees and to establish think tank groups.

As long as business or government is managed like the military — and this was after all the traditional way to manage large corporations and government agencies all over the world — we will not be able to move into management and leadership that is —

— Team driven instead of person driven;

— People driven instead of technology driven;

— Progressive, effective and ecological;

— Flexible and unbureaucratic.

One of the purposes of Edward de Bono’s contributions was to help us move away from this old management paradigm that has become archaic and ineffective, and implement an effective, sustainable and people-driven business management paradigm that is based upon values and the virtue of satisfying value-driven customer needs.

To summarize, this book that is supposedly not one of the most well-known Bono books, is yet one of the best productions of the author. For all people concerned with management, it is one of the most original and valuable books on management success strategies that have ever been published.

I would even go as far as saying that it is a must-read for everyone who is in some way involved in leading people into the postindustrial era. At the time de Bono wrote this book, most of his daring ideas were rejected by the mainstream management paradigm. The author’s reputation as the leading think tank and trainer did not change this fact, nor the fact that among his clients were large multinational corporations. This is the somewhat frustrating point of departure of the book in the author’s own words:

Government needs thinking very badly but does surprisingly little of it. (…) Business handles the analytical side of thinking quite well. But there is a need for improvement in the constructive, creative, and conceptual side. In the future, this is the aspect of thinking that is going to be essential for success./XX

With his habitual lucidity, Edward de Bono shows the present discrepancy between a new paradigm of quality management and the emphasis on housekeeping that used to be the flaw of traditional management. Down the road, you have to provide values that customers want, writes de Bono. We can only hope that both government and business leaders will eventually comprehend and implement de Bono’s futuristic ideas so that the new business culture will be more customer driven, more flexibly intelligent and more creative.


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