Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth

By Chris Zook
Harvard Business School Press, 2007
208 pages

Chris Zook’s latest book emphasizes the unexploited opportunities that exist in every organization’s core business — a focus that Unstoppable shares with its predecessors, Profit from the Core (2001) and Beyond the Core (2004), both also from Harvard Business School Press. Unlike those two titles, this one shows how leaders can make changes in their business models while still running their businesses. Zook, who heads Bain & Company’s global strategy practice, supports his arguments with data drawn from studies, surveys, and interviews with executives around the world who have successfully redefined their core businesses.

Zook’s key finding is that the renewal of a business’s core rarely requires leaps to distant markets or “big-bang” acquisitions: The opportunities lurk right under managers’ noses — if only they could see them. The first step to redefining the core of a business is to understand where one’s enterprise lies along what the author calls the Focus–Expand–Redefine cycle. This progression, through which business cores tend to move, helps managers understand the threats to the core and identify hidden assets. The hidden assets in any such redefinition are undervalued business platforms, untapped customer insights, and, most elusively, undeveloped capabilities. In uncovering all classes of hidden assets, it is important to be able to change “lenses,” looking at phenomena from different perspectives and at different levels of magnification.

The author draws four lessons from companies that have successfully renewed their core businesses: Redefinition starts with a core customer at the center of the new strategy; hidden assets must offer clear differentiation from the competition and tangible added value for the customer; seeing hidden assets requires the “cracking of mental screens,” as well as finding new vantage points; and, last, using hidden assets may require redefining the organization. These conclusions are hardly earth-shattering but, as the author points out, they are rather like the elements of a good golf swing: Each one sounds doable on its own, but the difficulty comes in doing them all at the same time and then repeating them.

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