Book review: Clicks and Mortar

What does it take to succeed in the new economy? David Pottruck, co-CEO of Charles Schwab, shares his views in <I>Clicks and Mortar: Passion Driven Growth in an Internet Driven World</I>, but his ideas may not exactly be cutting edge.

By David S. Pottruck and Terry PearceJossey-Bass Publishers, March 2000282 pp. plus appendices, endnotes, and index; hardcoverISBN: 0-7879-5273-7Price: $18.20 at .
Oscar Wilde said, “One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing.” Similarly, it would be easy to say kind things about Clicks and Mortar. For instance, I could say, “It’s full of good ideas,” but it’s difficult to care because few of the ideas are fresh enough to inspire the “passion” mentioned in the book’s subtitle.

The authors, David Pottruck, Charles Schwab co-CEO, and leadership guru Terry Pearce, write many uninspired phrases such as, “the new economy rewards constant improvement and innovation” and “people long for the unchanging security of the values of truth, integrity, and ethical behavior” and “understanding interdependence [among workers] can build deeper understanding and immense appreciation for all of our fellow employees.”

Yes, yes, it’s all true, but do such statements really represent breakthrough thinking?

And are there still a significant number of executives who need to learn the lessons of Chapter 3, “Cultivating Commitment Through Diversity”? That’s where we find out that “when people look up in the organization, they want to see people like themselves in positions of substance and importance” and “diversity means more opportunity for growth—and for excellence in executing that growth.”

Again, I certainly wouldn’t argue against those points, but haven’t most of us already taken them to heart?

And what are we to make of Chapter 8, “Understanding Technology and The People Who Build It”? That’s where we learn that “technologists” are always literal minded and many of them see “Mr. Spock of Star Trek” as their role model. Who’s the target audience for this book? Older, white, male CEOs who want a primer on how to deal with all the geeks and minorities they’ve heard so much about?

Don’t judge this book by the cover
Clicks and Mortar is a clever name for an e-commerce book, and it is unlike any other book on the market now. But that’s because it’s not really about e-commerce. The Internet isn’t even mentioned very often during the first two-thirds of the text.

Pottruck and Pearce’s premise is that although dot com companies are grabbing headlines, the young whippersnappers at the forefront of the new economy still could learn a thing or two about management from experienced executives like Pottruck and Pearce.

According to the first section of the book, "Culture at the Core," culture is now the primary driver of corporate growth. The authors offer advice on how to develop and sustain culture through language, image, and ritual. The second section, "Leadership Practices," explores the qualities leaders should possess, such as personal integrity and open communication. These qualities are supposed to inspire others and generate innovation. The third section, "Management Practices," explores ways to use management tools such as measurement and marketing.

Throughout the book, best practices at a variety of companies are mentioned, but most of the text explores developments at Schwab. Nothing is necessarily wrong with that. An analysis of Schwab’s online brokerage endeavors could be quite insightful—especially since such brokerages represent, according to Pottruck, “one of the greatest breakthroughs in our business since the inception of the first stock market.”

But e-Schwab isn’t even mentioned until Page 157. When I got to this page, I thought I finally was getting to the “fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the electronic revolution” that I was promised in a blurb on the book’s back cover. But the information on e-Schwab lasts only a few pages. Then the focus shifts back to general “management practices for the Internet world.”

I did find a few nuggets of wisdom in the pages of Clicks and Mortars. For example, Pearce offers worthwhile observations on modern marketing messages:

“Marketing and advertising are separated from internal communication as though they operate in a vacuum. Yet, clearly, in the age of the Internet, chat rooms, and forums, as well as other mass communication media, employees and customers alike have an unprecedented opportunity to hear and compare all of it, internal and external to the company. The Web has created an open environment, whether the company culture and the marketing department embrace it or not.

“Because these communication functions continue to be kept artificially separate, and because the channels are so much broader and louder, inconsistencies in messages are noticed more than ever. Employees know when they are capable of keeping the promise of their company’s marketing message, and they know when they can’t, or worse, when the company doesn’t intend to. Employees also know when the brand image being portrayed in advertising bears no resemblance to the actual values of the company or its executives.”

The recommendation
By criticizing Clicks and Mortar, I might be in a minority. There are several glowing, customer-written reviews on Even the reviewer who notes that “the title on this book is a bit of a misnomer,” gives it four stars.

But I believe most of the ideas in Clicks and Mortar will not inspire new passion in anyone who has done much reading on management techniques, leadership theory, or e-commerce. Indicative of the problem is a question Pottruck asks in the final chapter—a section that consists of a “Dialogue on the Future” with eight academic and business leaders, including Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Novell's Eric Schmidt. Pottruck asks them if the Internet represents “the beginning of a revolution that will have an impact on every area of our lives?”

That may have been a good question a few years ago. But now the answer is a resounding “duh!” The revolution is well under way, and, of course, every area of our lives already has been affected.

If you want to read a book about how technology and employee passion are turning the business world upside down, I suggest The Cluetrain Manifesto. (Click here to read a review.) If you want to learn business strategies for surviving the revolution, I recommend Blown to Bits. (For that review, click here.)

Thomas Pack is a freelance technology writer.
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