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Review of ‘Velocity’ by Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander

‘Velocity: The Seven New Laws For A World Gone Digital’ by Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander

Published by Vermilion, 2012

Reviewed by C P Howe

The review copy of Velocity was provided by Random House

On page 91 of Velocity, the authors refer to Thinking Fast, and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It is an incongrous moment, because the two books couldn’t be more different. Kahneman’s is a detailed and specific account of the way we think and make decisions, heavily referenced and grounded in peer-reviewed science. Velocity, on the other hand, lightly skips through an endless stream of non-referenced general comments, supposedly spoken in conversation between the two authors. Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander may well be successful businessmen, but Daniel Kahneman they most certainly are not.

Structured into seven chapters, one each for ‘the seven new laws for a world gone digital,’ the book consists of alternating statements from the authors, with the occasional interjection of a conversation with someone else. Some people find this inspiring – I know, I’ve read other reviews of the book – but I found it dull and uninteresting not because of the way it is written, but because of the content itself. For example, take this exchange on page 28:

Ajaz: The leaders’s clear mandate is to increase revenues, develop new products and markets, drive profitability and create a sustainable business for the benefit of customers, employees, management, shareholders and the community.

Really? You don’t say. Or this, on the same page:

Stefan: There can be painful lessons when experimenting. However, understanding why something didn’t work, reflecting on it and not repeating the errors – that’s progress.

Gosh – I’d never have thought it.

As I worked my through the book, I thought about who it is targeted at. Clearly it is not for CEOs or managers. If they don’t already know the general business principles repeated ad nauseum on every page, then they don’t know how to do their job. Instead, perhaps Velocity is for people who wish they were like Ajaz and Olander – working in a creative agency, or for a big global company like Nike. Perhaps they are truly inspired by what these two high achievers have to say. Perhaps they can translate the generalities that fill these pages into specific actions that will improve their businesses.

Velocity’s 237 pages are largely devoid of the convincing detail necessary to engage and convince the reader in any narrative. I found myself wondering on every page what exactly these two people were talking about and, if I was feeling particularly ungenerous, whether they even knew themselves.

To be fair, every now and then real stories emerge. Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Kahneman are name checked. There are anecdotes about Steve Jobs, which is almost mandatory for a book of this type.  The most specific passages are concerned with products the authors have themselves been involved with, and this is another major weakness. Whereas Jonah Lehrer, in Imagine, demonstrates an high level of awareness and knowledge about the world he’s writing about, Ahmed and Olander rarely go outside their own experiences in more than a general or cursory way. When they do, it is to relate anecdotes about Amazon or Google that are well-worn and known to all, and often they admit that they don’t even know where those stories came from, or if they’re real.

There are some positives. Occasionally the obtrusive editing of the supposed dialogue between the two authors falls away and we get snippets of real conversation where suddenly the narrative comes to life. For example, on p55 they talk about a great example of crowdfunding and, on page 200, Olander in particular gets excited about managing creativity and productivity at Nike. These glimpses of the real people behind the clumsy dialogue goes some way towards redeeming the book, but nowhere near enough for me to recommend it.

I was particularly antagonised by the authors’ arrogance. The subtitle is not ‘Seven laws…’ but ‘The Seven laws…,’ as if they are the only ones. The main title caused me similar problems. Velocity is defined as the speed and direction of an object. Ahmed and Olander say that they will define – although they never actually do this – what they call a new business environment, and label it Velocity. Confused? Precisely. They have created irritating chapter headings, summary one paragraph descriptions of the chapters, very short one-liners for each chapter and, not content with that, proceed to pull out further one-liners in the middle of chapters and give them whole pages to themselves. Then, at the end of each chapter, they summarise it over two pages. This is taking the ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them,’ rule of communications to the extreme. My final gripe with the structure is their reference to four principles of ‘Velocity’ in the introduction, and their failure to refer to them again for the rest of the book.

Now, it may well be that to survive and thrive in ‘a world gone digital’ you need to think like Ahmed and Olander. Set some principles and don’t refer to them again. Decide on new ‘laws’ and don’t acknowledge there might be other ideas out there. Summarise what you’ve said in snappy, faux-pop reference ways again and again. Use your strength of character and charisma to broadcast general statements about leadership, business and management. Personally, I don’t believe it. I do believe that Ahmed and Olander are successful in the digital world, and I wish they had taken the time to really write about it, rather than – presumably – have someone record and transcribe their general and contrived dialogue.

In conclusion, I wasn’t impressed with Velocity. True, I’d just come from reading Daniel Kahneman and Jonah Lehrer, and have just started with Terry Leahy, so Ahmed and Olander were up against the best. But nevertheless, Velocity could have been a much better book. Breaking out of the endless dialogue to hear in detail how the ‘laws’ they propose relate directly to their own experience would have been a start. Expanding their horizons to research two or three specific examples from other businesses for each law would have been better still. Revisiting the four principles and relating them to each of their seven laws would have been interesting, and including a chapter or two on what they don’t know and what doesn’t work would have provided some much-needed balance.

I’m sure Ahmed and Olander know that Velocity isn’t their best work. My job here, as a reviewer, is to make sure you know that as well.

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Categories: Business
  1. July 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Random House have told me they won’t be posting this review themselves…I suppose that’s fair enough. I assume they accept that providing a book for review doesn’t guarantee it will be a good one.

  2. Paul
    August 22, 2012 at 12:13 am

    I guess, why would the publisher want to post a review of a book they want you to buy, when the review tells us not to buy it. Funnily enough I agree fully with your review.

    In many ways the book itself doesn’t follow their rules of Velocity “If you don’t think its good enough, then you should be doing it better”. I wonder if Ajaz and Stefan would appreciate the irony of the situation?

  1. July 18, 2012 at 2:27 pm
  2. August 18, 2012 at 4:03 pm

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