'Blue Train' lays out plan for business growth on fast track

December 28, 2006


Can chewing gum be a growth business? Can an established Chicago giant like Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. achieve explosive growth?

Can Midwest companies deliver breakthrough growth like Silicon Valley stalwarts? Can you and I transform our own companies?

Bart Sayle and Surinder Kumar, co-authors of Riding the Blue Train: A Leadership Plan for Explosive Growth (Penguin Books, $24.95, 228 pages), believe explosive growth is possible. They've set down a series of tools and techniques managers should follow to jumpstart companies into breakthrough mode.

Sayle is the CEO of The Breakthrough Group, a London-based innovation consultancy. Kumar is the highly regarded chief innovation officer at Wrigley. Their book offers an intriguing collection of anecdotes, techniques and war stories that are instructive for any manager seeking to stimulate positive change and growth.

Riding the Blue Train is not a groundbreaking business book. It's a bit self-promotional and self-laudatory, but it's still worth reading.

Riding the Blue Train reminds us that business executives grow too defensive, pessimistic and closed to new ideas. It may be human nature, but most of us ride what Sayle and Kumar call the Red Train, symbolic of fire, anger, resistance and destruction. We let fear, criticism and bureaucracy stand in the way of organizational change, growth and success.

Sayle and Kumar want us to follow the path of executives at Apple, Procter & Gamble, Southwest Airlines and Wrigley. They urge us to ride the Blue Train and be "creative and optimistic and embrace the opportunities inherent in change."

Sayle and Kumar site examples of executives who successfully embrace Blue Train behaviors. They point to Bernard Marcus and Arthur Blank, who were fired when a corporate raider took over Handy Dan. Instead of wallowing in despair, Marcus and Blank rode Blue Train behaviors to success, founding their own home improvement store, Home Depot.

They describe how in 1943, Edwin Land got the inspiration to invent instant photography while walking in New Mexico with his young daughter who -- in those pre-Internet days -- didn't want to wait for the photo to be developed.

They explain how the sudden death of Bill Wrigley Jr.'s father in 1999 thrust the 35-year-old into leadership of his family's company. They demonstrate how the new CEO outlined, "a bold aspirational goal: to increase Wrigley revenues from $2 billion to $5 billion by 2007."

Today, thanks to the breakthrough leadership of Bill Wrigley Jr. (now executive chairman and chairman of the board) and the efforts of his consultant, Sayle, and his chief innovation officer, Kumar, the Wrigley company is closing in on the $5 billion mark (sales were $4.2 billion in 2005).

Sayle and Kumar offer many -- perhaps too many -- frameworks and lists for aspiring corporate change agents.

They encourage "magical thinking" and "heroic thinking," and urge us to let go of "resigned thinking" and "cynical thinking." They cite five behaviors of life on the Blue Train, including "awareness, acceptance, letting go, taking risks and generating."

They talk about "five powers of insights, inspiration, intention, language and congruence."

They offer constructive models for communication, collaboration and providing feedback called the "feedback frame." They say that smart business leaders should describe "what works, what's possible" and then pursue "what's not working yet? what's missing?" rather than attacking and criticizing colleagues who venture new ideas.

An experienced innovator and change navigator will recognize these concepts as valid and valuable, but for some, the pop psychology feel may be daunting.

What works in Riding the Blue Train are the war stories and anecdotes. They are insightful models for aspiring executives.

What's missing in Riding the Blue Train is a compelling narrative that will spark readers' imaginations and guide their actions. An entire book devoted to the transformation of Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. would have been a more effective backdrop for presenting Sayles' and Kumar's techniques.

What's possible from Sayle and Kumar is a second, more refined book that evolves their thinking. Sayle and Kumar have much to offer. They found their voice in Riding the Blue Train, and their voice is worth hearing.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, a Chicago-based consultancy. He can be reached at michael.krauss@mkt-strat.com.



 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners