The Book

About Chasing the Rabbit...

Chasing the Rabbit focuses on a group of organizations that face a particularly challenging predicament.  They are in industries that are brutally competitive--everyone chasing the same customers, with similar products, sourcing from the same suppliers, and subject to the same regulation--but, somehow they escape what should be a tooth and nail, dog eat dog experience and race ahead as without rivals. The examples abound--Toyota in autos, Southwest in commercial aviation, and a host of less well known but equally remarkable instances.

The point of the book is that the front runners and their followers alike face a similar challenge--they are responsible for and dependent on incredibly complex systems, entailing hundreds if not thousands of people, spread over nearly as many disciplines, all needed to deliver value to customers.

The basic difference is that most organizations design complex systems, struggle when operating them, and resign themselves to muddling through, making do, and otherwise getting by.  The day to day costs are measured in inefficiency, delay, frustration, and demoralization, with the steadily accumulating 'minor' stuff periodically being punctuated by catastrophe.

The front runners, the high velocity 'rabbit' organizations, as I call them in the book, take a fundamentally different approach.  Even though they too start out with imperfect systems that are constantly hiccuping, the front runners use small problems as indications of what they didn't previously understand, where they need to improve, and what they need to learn. Building knowledge and expertise at a rate faster and a duration longer, they outrun the field like a world-class marathoner in front of a pack of pack-a-day smokers.

Though the book is deeply grounded in my research about Toyota, it has examples from disparate fields--product design (Pratt & Whitney engines), 'new economy' (aQuantive, a internet advertising firm recently bought by Microsoft for $6 billion), and health care.  There is also the military example of the US Navy's exceptional experience bringing nuclear propulsion on board warships--sixty years and not a single reactor related injury.  A sharp contrast with the Soviet Navy or the US space program.

The main message of the book is that we can accomplish much more with less cost, effort, and risk than we currently take for granted.  This is true, even amongst the manufacturers who have embraced lean and six sigma, certainly in the delivery of medical care, and also in the provision of governmental services.  The theme is overwhelmingly optimistic.  Rather than constantly debating what we have to trade off or give up in order to get something else we want and need, we can discover how to achieve far more of the potential of our efforts.

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