A lively, engaging and counterintuitive exploration of success stories from across the globe, and what Michelle Obama referred to as ‘the flimsy difference between success and failure’. In this lively and counterintuitive exploration of success stories from across the globe, award-winning journalist Hamish McRae takes the reader on a fascinating journey in pursuit of the flimsy difference between triumph and failure. Why do some initiatives take off while others flounder? How have some communities managed to achieve so much while others struggle? What distinguishes the good companies from the bad? This thoughtful, engaging look at some of the world’s greatest success stories provides an optimistic and eminently practical guide to what works and why. What lessons can we learn from the surprisingly well-ordered Mumbai community made famous by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’? Why have Canadian manners helped Whistler become the most popular ski resort in North America? How has Zurich developed the world’s most admired anti-drug policies? And how has Hong Kong used gambling profits to help its residents enjoy the greatest level of economic freedom on the planet? Drawing life lessons from the great ideas put to work on every continent – from America to Europe, from Africa to Asia and Australasia – McRae’s stories are as surprising as they are inspiring. We are better placed now than we have ever been to make good choices about the future of our species and our planet. But if we are to face the many challenges ahead, we have to try to learn from each other. ‘What Works’ will leave you entertained, informed and, ultimately, enlightened as to what each of us can do to make successes of our businesses, our communities and our lives.
They had to have a deep-seated sense of mission-a vision, drive and commitment to do something that is worth doing even better. This sense of purpose could initially come from an individual but frequently it sprang from a group of like-minded people. Or it could develop from a general ethos accumulated over many years, so that no one could quite identify just who picked up the baton in the first place and who carried it forward at any particular time.
They had to be acutely sensitive to the market. They worked because they went with the grain of the market, listening to its signals and being guided by them, and applying its disciplines and adapting to whatever these required.
One without the other does not work. A plan or project that operates with a mission but fails to listen to the market may carry on for a while on a tide of early enthusiasm. But it cannot be sustained.
Pure market-driven endeavours can carry on for much longer. Most good businesses perform the essential task of seeking to fulfil people’s needs and desires, and if they do that competently, they make a solid contribution to the material world. However, they cannot change it. Market without mission can certainly help us get richer, improve our living standards and lead a materially better life. But add the sense of mission and you get something much more: a success that can be replicated and scaled.
Each case study in this book is a mix of these two attributes and each is tackled in the same sequence. First, I tell the story, explaining how I came to include this example and trying to capture and explain its special features. Then I seek to draw out some general lessons. Then, because nothing progresses in a straight line, I have to acknowledge what may go wrong and, in some instances, has already gone wrong.
Two other points emerged during the research and writing. One was that there has been a host of ‘near misses’-things that ought to work very well but have in some way fallen short. I considered trying to capture this because failure can sometimes carry more messages than success. History is littered with examples of clever and thoughtful people making huge errors, and of plans hatched by apparently very competent organizations resulting in disasters. The ‘best and the brightest’ get things wrong. In the end I rejected this approach because there were many different reasons for failure. There are common features to the successes but each failure failed in its own particular way. To give a flavour of this, I have sketched some of these near misses in the next part of this introduction.