by Ben Worthen

Do What You’re Good at, and Success Will Follow

Jan 01, 20062 mins
IT Leadership

Book Review – Douglas Rushkoff, author of Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out, says that too many companies have been seduced by charlatans hyping “outside the box” thinking as the elixir for their competitive ills. By straying from their core competencies, these companies have gotten away from what led them to become successful enterprises in the first place.

Rushkoff, a writer and new media consultant, thinks that a company should focus on what it does best to ensure its long-term success. This is simple and sound advice, which makes his premise compelling. He backs up his thesis with examples of companies that reinvented themselves with disastrous results.

One example Rushkoff offers of a company that strayed from its box unsuccessfully and later returned to it is Details magazine. Details was launched in 1982, targeting men who frequent urban clubs. Promoted by publisher Cond¿ast, the magazine reached 500,000 subscriptions. In the 1990s, Details attempted to expand its readership among men generally. It invested in cross-promotions with Miller Lite and de-emphasized its content.

The magazine floundered for years. Then Details returned to its original vision as a cultural journal for clubgoers. Circulation has rebounded and the magazine has won awards.

Other examples seem off the mark, raising the question—which Rushkoff doesn’t answer—of where the line is between an innovative idea that plays to one’s strengths and one that is outside both the proverbial box and one’s capabilities to execute it.

The book is marred by Rushkoff’s tendency to insert himself into his narratives. But his self-promotion is forgivable. One might even see it as an example of him taking his own advice: Find what you’re best at and stick to it.