Review of A Sense of Urgency

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A Sense of Urgency book summary


8 Overall

8 Applicability

7 Innovation

7 Style


Professor and best-selling author John P. Kotter is a significant thinker on leadership and change. Here, he shows with concrete – if lengthy – examples how organizations fall prey to complacency or fake urgency, which leaves them spinning in circles and accomplishing little. Kotter details the way a few enlightened organizations handle true urgency. They don’t miss golden opportunities or let destructive hazards overtake them. If your organization doesn’t operate this way, Kotter insists, competition will leave it behind. He emphasizes that change is now a constant. While many of today’s business authors also stress this point, Kotter wrote this book in 2008. He believes that any meaningful change initiative requires organizational awareness of what constitutes true urgency. Urgency recognizes that “the world contains great opportunities and great hazards.” It is always time to “move and win now.”

About the Author

John P. Kotter is Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School. His books include Leading Change and Our Iceberg is Melting.


Kotter explains that 70% of change initiatives fail due to a lack of true urgency, which moves companies ahead. Complacency keeps organizations frozen in place. Even more dangerous is frenetic action – “false urgency” – which can dominate in firms where everyone has long agendas and detailed action plans. Frenzied activity doesn’t equal true urgency. Executives and employees can become so busy with meetings, action reports and PowerPoint presentations that they can’t deal with serious and urgent issues. Kotter stresses that urgency means “of pressing importance,” not that everything is perfect (complacency) or horrible (false urgency). In urgent firms, employees stay energetic, alert and proactive. In saying so, Kotter’s writing doesn’t always reflect quite as much energy. He extends some examples beyond the point where even a half-awake reader will get the idea. And he can repeat himself. Still, those facing change initiatives will find useful information here. It was urgent when Kotter wrote it, and it’s still immediately applicable.

To develop and nourish urgency in your organization, take note of these important lessons:

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    Darryl Long 5 years ago
    Really like 'series of actions to succeed in changing world' and 'Bringing the Outside In' segments - effective approaches to both setting your 'organizational mind-set' and relationship building with employees and customers alike, respectively.

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