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Too good to fail? How management gets it wrong and how you can get it right

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Title: Too good to fail? How management gets it wrong and how you can get it right

Author: Jan Filochowski, CEO, Great Ormond Street Hospital

Publisher: Financial Times Publishing, 2013

Reviewer: Simon Browes, advanced nurse practitioner, Trentside Medical Group

What was it like?

In an era of high profile “failures” in health and social care, as well as high street business and major banks, this book seeks to explain what failure actually means, how it occurs and how it can be prevented or turned around.

This is a fairly easy read and a book you can dip in and out of. Using practical and familiar examples of organisations both within healthcare and from the wider economy, Jan draws on his immense experience as a leader and NHS Chief Executive to demystify and remove some of the fear that comes with such an ominous word.


Failure can happen at all levels and in any part (or whole) of an organisation. It is rarely catastrophic or terminal, but often goes unnoticed, unreported and unaddressed. It is important that all of us with leadership responsibilities, from day-to-day supervision of staff to running whole departments, organisations and systems, understand what failure looks like, how to address it and how there is opportunity in every situation.

What were the highlights? 

The book is organised well into four distinct sections: understanding, avoiding, curing and succeeding. It draws on a range of practical examples and in turn offers a range of practical measures, tools and guidance. It is a thought-provoker and does a good job at drawing on the similarities between public sector and the world of commerce. Understanding your core business and your customers, clients, users, patients – whatever YOU call them – is central.

Strengths & weaknesses:

The book is well structured and easy to navigate. It has some useful illustrations and pretty straightforward language. Although it stumbles into jargon quite a few times (and even invents a few terms of its own) it feels relevant, accessible and informed. The author’s experience and willingness to share is clear.

Who should read it?

Anyone in any role can take something from this book. Management and leadership occurs at every level. If the words “leader” or “manager” do not appear in your job title, don’t assume that this has nothing to do with you. If we take one thing from the catastrophic failure at Mid Staffs it is that just about everyone in the organisation knew of failures for a very long time before anything was done. Catastrophic failure is not inevitable. 


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