Is “Hot, Flat and Crowded” a Business Book?

Thomas L. Friedman’s book ‘The World is Flat’ won the 2005 inaugural Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the year award. This award recognizes business books that offer, “the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues, including management, finance and economics”. You can check out the judges panel, the shortlists and subsequent winners on the FT web site for the awards. I am keeping an eye on this for additions to my Top 10 Business Books (to read before you waste any more shareholders money) feature. My criteria go beyond just being insightful, although I agree this is important. I look for durable, seminal best sellers that a broad range of business people found to be useful and I ensure that consistently great writers and thought-leaders have at least one of their books represented. Having read Friedman’s latest book, ‘Hot, flat and crowded’ I think he deserves to be on my  Top 10 list (which is actually 25, now 26, books)

But is ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’ actually a business book? ‘The World is Flat’ dealt with the new age of globalization being ushered in by the technological revolution and its implications for more than just business. However, its relevance and value for anyone in business is unquestionable and it deserved its accolades in this respect. In ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’ Friedman broadens his view to look at the convergence of 3 global trends (crises in the making) of globalization, climate change and the population explosion. He details how we got where we are, just how bad it is and what we need to do about it. By ‘we’ he means very specifically America and that is a criticism that could be leveled at him. Friedman is very explicit that as world leaders only the USA can lead the way by driving the green revolution he advocates (implores) his countrymen to join.

Friedman is a good writer and is very well connected, travelled and read. He rams home every aspect of his message – the history, the status report and the diagnosis – with numerous anecdotes, analogies and bits of evidence gleaned from a dazzling list of experts. It is shocking, alarming and often entertaining but a second criticism is that it is long winded. In my normal style I will encourage you to read the book itself (it is a good read) but will also summarize the main messages.

Our dependence on oil combined with exponential population growth and in particular a burgeoning middle class who all aspire to live ‘like Americans’ means we are doomed unless we (America) changes track and leads a green revolution. Oil is creating dangerous levels of CO2 and putting power and money in the hands of undemocratic extremists. The weather and the politics are fast approaching the stage of being hazardous to our survival. In fact one of the main issues is that whilst we are programmed to think linearly the convergence of ‘hot, flat and crowded’ is creating exponential leaps into dangerous and unchartered waters.
Up until very recently there have only been 2 of what Friedman calls ‘Americums’, that is a block of circa 350 million materialistic, ambitious, wasteful consumers – America obviously and old Europe. In just a couple of decades there will be 8 or 9 and that is totally unsustainable.

He offers many different aspects of the solution but there is one central theme. We have to replace oil as far as possible with widely available sustainable energy sources. The place most motivated and most able to do this is America. Rather flippantly he describes a talk he gave in China where he actively encouraged the Chinese to carry on developing along traditional lines based on dirty fuels and widespread pollution because this will give the USA the head start it needs to develop the green technology it can sell to the world and thus reinforce its position as world leaders.

International readers may not share his mission that America must lead the green revolution but he is convincing about the overall problem and solution. We used to rely on coal/steam and horses. We now rely on oil. This must change and fast. Being optimistic by nature I believe we will. There is no reason to believe that with the science and technology available to us now, let alone what might be just around the corner, we have the tools to wean us off oil. (Check out Amory Lovins on if you don’t believe me). There is now a sense of urgency, probably heightened by the financial crisis and a growing realization that it can never again be business as usual. Friedman’s book is a huge best seller and one must therefore believe has made a major contribution to the global ‘wake up call’ that is needed. Go to any airport, take any flight and you will find someone with their nose buried in this book.

Is it a business book? Yes it most certainly is for two reasons. Most of the noses buried in this book belong to people in business and fundamentally it will be business, American or otherwise, that will lead this green, sustainable revolution. Why? Because as Friedman points out, there is big money to be made out of the green revolution just as there was in the industrial revolution that caused the problems in the first place. It may be arrogant and myopic to assume that the money will all be made in America, however.

How to progress from CMO to CEO – advice from Spencer Stuart

Here is something for all you ambitious marketers out there. How do you make the leap from being head of marketing to CEO? The general view is that this is very rare, more often CEO’s come through the route of general management, finance or operations. Frank Birkel and Jonathan Harper from Spencer Stuart, one the world’s leading executive search firms, have done some research and published their findings. We have it on good authority that one of the people they interviewed, a CMO who has become a highly successful CEO, is my old mate, Martin Glenn. The full article is available from the Spencer Stuart web site. Marketers can read it for advice on how best to position themselves to be considered for the top job – in most companies the board overlook their own CMO when discussing candidates for CEO – people in other functions can use it to make the argument against appointing someone with a specialist marketing background. There should be strong competition to be the boss.

Here are some of the highlights:-

1.    CMO’s (or marketing directors) often have to make a double transition. They have to move company and move function to get considered. Hardly anyone promotes their own incumbent CMO to CEO.
2.    The main reason is that CMO’s are seen as too specialist and too ignorant of other functions and finance in particular.
3.    It is marginally easier in marketing –led businesses like consumer goods but nowhere is it easy or common.
4.    There are ways around this – volunteering to get on cross functional project teams builds your experience. CMO’s also need to demonstrate their willingness to learn, hands on, about other functions and to present more data driven evidence of marketing success to build credibility.
5.    More often than not they will first need to take a sideways move into a general management role e.g. running a division.
6.    Not all marketing directors sit at the very top table, the senior leadership team. If they can break through to the board this obviously gives them the chance to see how the whole business works together.
7.    CMO’s need to appreciate that the kind of leadership skills a CEO has are different to leading a marketing team. It is not just that they have to be broader in their scope; they have to be prepared to penetrate the bullshit CEO’s get given (everyone tells them what they want them to hear) and often make decisions on less than perfect data.
8.    CMO’s may have the advantage of being naturally good communicators and may think they have great people skills but again the CEO has to have a different kind of communication and people skills. They talk to vastly different audiences and they have to persuade other people to get along with each other, not just get along with other people.
9.    Finally, the CEO’s in the research who had come through the marketing route seriously questioned whether most CMO’s really wanted their job. It can be lonely at the top; you need to get a buzz from financial data and investor meetings; you need the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of job.

It is comforting to hear from the CEO’s that the worst mistake a CMO can make, if they do make it to the top job, is to forget about marketing. They need to stop playing at being brand managers but they need to retain their obsession with the customer and top line growth.

You have been warned.

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