Book Review: “A Sense of Urgency” by John P. Kotter

This is a book with a simple message: develop a true sense of urgency or suffer the dire consequences. Defined against the complacency and false sense of urgency, the true sense of urgency is when urgent action is not created by feelings of contentment, anxiety, frustration, or anger but by a gut-level determination to move, and win, now. It’s not the product of historical successes or current failures but the result of people, up and down the hierarchy, who provided the leadership needed to create and recreate this increasingly important asset.

How to increase the true sense of urgency: one strategy and four tactics:
Strategy: Give people important facts -> Winning hearts and minds
Create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each day and constantly purging the low-value-added activities – all by always focusing on the heart and not just the mind.

Tactic 1: Bring the outside in: Reconnect internal reality with external opportunities and hazards. Bring in emotionally compelling data, people, video, sites, and sounds.

Tactic 2: Behave with urgency every day: Never act content, anxious, or angry. Demonstrate your own sense of urgency always in meetings, one-on-one interactions, memos, and email and do so as visbily as possible to as many people as possible.

Tactic 3: Find opportunity in crises: Always be alert to see if crises can be a friend, not just a dreadful enemy, in order to destroy complacency. Proceed with caution, and never be naive, since crises can be deadly.

Tactic 4: Deal with the NoNos: Remove or nutralize all the relentless urgency-killers, people who are not skeptics but are determined to keep a group complacent or, if needed, to create destructive urgency.

This book has simple messages and shouldn’t be hard for a senior executive or manager to figure out. But it’s hard to keep urgency up as fatigue sets in when urgency level is kept high for a long time. It’s not easy to sustain. Easier said than done.