The following is the speech given by Jules during the launch of, “Uncommon sense and common nonsense: why some organisations consistently outperform others”. I hope you enjoy it.
by Jules Goddard
The best moment in my academic career was an email from Stephen about a month ago, beginning “a very very handsome book has just landed on my desk”. I don’t think Stephen could have understood the weight of emotion that this simple statement released in my mind.
I first conceived the idea for my book in 1978 when I wrote a short essay called “A minimal definition of strategy”. My argument then was that what separates success from failure is not goals, or intentions, or values – but assumptions and beliefs. I thought at the time that this essay might be expandable into a book.
Now 34 years later, the result of this idle speculation is upon us. The book has finally come out.
This works out at 3 words a day.
To say that I was suffering from writer’s block would be like saying that Russell Brand was a confident young man or that Stephen Hawking was good with numbers or that John Prescott was sometimes irritable.
On a typical day, I would start to construct the first word of a new sentence over breakfast. By lunchtime, the second word of the sentence was beginning to form in my mind. Imagine the excitement as the third word came into focus just before bedtime.
I remember one day in 1984, a whole sentence came to me in a flash and the rest of the day was spent joyously writing it out in full, leaving the details of spelling and punctuation till the following day after a good night’s rest.
The breakthrough was 2003 when Tony came on board as my co-author. Immediately, the ideas became clearer and the pace quickened. On one occasion, we had written three full sentences before elevenses.
Clearly, the tempo was killing us. There was nothing to do but to step out for lunch in St John’s Wood and recover from our exertions.
In the time it took us to write a chapter, Mozart’s whole life could have been lived.
If Tolstoy had written at the same speed, we would still be waiting for Napoleon to be at the gates of Moscow.
Dostoevky could have written about not just the brothers Karamazov, but the sisters, the mothers, the nieces and the God Parents Karamavov as well, with time to spare.
Wagner’s Ring Cycle was composed in the time that Tony and I were rephrasing a particularly tricky paragraph on key performance indicators.
I worked out that if Cherry had done her line drawings for the book at the same pace that Tony and I were sculpting our immaculate prose, she would be drawing lines at 2mm a day.
Penny’s copy editing would be spotting grammatical errors once every three months.
And the printers would be churning out a copy of the book every 47 days.
So please buy this book.
Thrillingly relevant to the issues confronting the country in 1979, you will relive the excitement of the Callaghan years and the winter of discontent.
And by buying it, you will encourage us to write Part 2, so that in 2034 we can re-assemble to celebrate a pithy reminder of what life was like in the year 2012.
If you don’t buy the book, we will assume that you felt we’d rushed it into print without giving the ideas the attention they deserved.
This could radically slow down the speed and confidence with which we write the sequel.
So, my thanks to Tony, my co-author, for his patience, his intellectual companionship, his wisdom and his help.
We’re actually rather proud of the book and we think you will find it a refreshing antidote to most books on business.
When you read it, bear in mind that we had agreed long ago a straightforward division of labour – he would write the sense, and I would write the nonsense.
And finally, a very big thank you to Stephen, our extraordinarily kind and compassionate publisher, to Penny, our unfailingly optimistic copy editor, to Sue, the brilliant designer of the book and to my daughter Cherry, for her lovely illustrations.
And just as important, thank you all for coming this evening to pay homage to the speed with which the right words have been put together in the right combination over the course of a third of a century.