Anyone interested in the future of news will have been following Simon's work for a while now, both the theory - at Creative Disruption and previous blogs - and the practice in the form of the Guardian. (It would, I think, rather badly miss the point of what Simon did in his time there to call it "the Guardian's website".)
And in that context it's a surprising book, in both tone and message. The subtitle of the introductory chapter and accompanying blog, "OMG! The internet ate my business", is exactly what I expected to see - fiery neologisms exhorting immediate embrace of an inevitably digital future. Creative Disruption is nothing of the sort. It is a sober how-to for business leaders facing a variety of challenges including (but, also suprisingly, not limited to) the fundamental shift of attention online, and like all the best guides one is left with the deliciously illicit sense of being let in on some hard-won secret knowledge which the author should probably have kept to himself.
First, here's my favourite paragraph and a taste of what the book's about:
"A business with a legacy of costs, systems, people and products in need of reinvention is nothing like a business without any of those worries. There are always lessons to learn from successful companies of all shapes and sizes, but we ignore the fundamental differences in corporate DNA at our peril. Google has a host of great practices about innovation, and ways of working that have helped to make it the phenomenon it is. But these all sit on top of a massively profitable search advertising business. To think you can adopt the former without the latter, and somehow radically reverse your fortunes as a result, is as misguided as watching a Superman movie, putting on a red cape and assuming you will be able to run as fast as a speeding bullet."
In that sense, Creative Disruption is both a how-to and a "how-not-to"; both a helpful guide to dealing with the unique challenges of C21st change management and a litany of mistakes made by legacy businesses which the current crop of leaders should now know to avoid. The key how-to message can be summarised (and indeed is so summarised in the introduction) as "transform the core business; find big adjacencies; innovate at the edge". Each of these messages is then illustrated with numerous case studies and examples. The "how-not-to" is harder to sum up - examples are spread throughout the book of mistakes that business can make and have made as they struggle to deal with the new digital reality, from panicky and near-random acquisitions of web businesses that look cool but offer no tangible synergies with the core to directionless "build it and they will come" web projects like the Economist's Red Stripe that pull together the brightest and best from across the business to dream, ponder and achieve precisely nothing.
To my mind the book is oddly structured, with case studies book-ending the theoretical framework so that the examples of Britannica, HMV, IBM and Apple sit towards the front, Kodak and book publishers right at the back. Still, this is quibbling over minutiae - the concepts and the examples come across clearly enough and alternative structures would present their own problems.
If your business faces challenges from digital (hint: if you have a business that's you) it's well worth the couple of hours it will take you to read Creative Disruption. If you can't spare a couple of hours buy it anyway and read pp1-10 (which handily summarises the key arguments in bullet points) and skim chapters 5, 6 and 7 for the how-to guide. You'll save yourself at least one expensive mistake - and while of course the day's wasted if you don't make at least one expensive mistake (f0r how else does one learn?), you'll learn a lot more making new ones and Creative Disruption will definitely help you avoid some of those that people have already made before.
(Disclosure: Simon is a friend, and was kind enough to invite me to the launch party for the book. However I turned up so late the tab had run out and I had to pay for my own drinks so the conflict of interest probably isn't material.)