What The Extinction Crisis Means To Businesses

Business people! Why are we still talking about anything else than the global extinction crisis? We are heading not for a disaster or catastrophe but to the very extinguishing of life. The last five years alone have all been the warmest on record. Species of all kinds die off at an ever-increasing rate. Insects are dying in droves, by 75% in the last 26 years in Germany. Global Forest health is at the lowest it has ever been. Global CO2 concentration has exceeded 400 parts per million. With 415 ppm, it is the highest it has been on earth in 14 million years – and it is still increasing exponentially. 

These Curves Mean Catastrophe

Even supposing there is no irreversible tipping point, such as the sudden release of methane from former permafrost regions, we are on track to destroy all life on earth. The catastrophe is here already; we are all living smack in the middle of it.

Some frame the extinction crisis as an investment crisis, an opportunity to re-allocate resources to different sectors, like renewable energies or sustainable companies. While I think this is useful, it is not enough. Given the sheer size of the challenge, we are likely to need more than simple re-allocation of resources within an updated system of governmental regulation that. Sticking to the same system of running companies is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Our ship has already hit the iceberg and water is flowing in. I think there are four levels to address the ecological armageddon as a business.

Ways to Respond to the Extinction Crisis

Level One: Acting in the market and legal framework 

For the most part, businesses are awaiting changes to (CO2-)prices, taxes, laws, and regulations pushed on them by the government sector. Business is groomed to work in the market framework supplied by the government, while big business is a detractor to those changes by lobbying for lighter, delayed, merely symbolic regulations.

Level Two: Minimize the impact on the environment

Business people often possess a “can do” attitude. Still, they take pretty timid steps towards a green renovation of companies. Much amounts to greenwashing, like reducing carbon footprints by this or that energy-efficient building design, small changes to vehicle fleets, or this or that petty change to a product. Some companies have promised to become climate neutral by some date, e.g., Siemens by 2030, Volkswagen by 2050. Microsoft even claims to have been carbon neutral ever since 2012. 

The underlying mindset here is to do less damage – in the awareness that upcoming government regulation and customer pressure will probably make curbing a companies worst environmental excesses inevitable. The problem with this approach is that it is unlikely to be enough. As economists have shown, we can’t grow out of this crisis by relying on technological advances alone. That might have been possible some decades ago. Still, now it appears too late, given the current and by some measures decreasing rate of technological progress and the much higher and exponentially increasing rates of environmental degradation.

In a quantitive study of the upcoming ecological challenges to the economic system, economist Tim Jackson (quote) concludes that besides technological progress, we will need de-growth, too, to save life on earth. If this is so, how can we de-grow? Well, first of all, we need to get rid of those things no one really needs.

Level Three: Changing products and services

Much more aspirational than to minimize ecological impact is to seek to improve the world with one’s products and services. A good start is to make products more durable, repairable, recyclable, sustainable. This will invariably mean to provide less physical products and focus more on virtual services. 

Still, wherever there is a buck to make, a company will race to meet demand. Tobacco companies, oil companies, suppliers of sugary drinks – if there is demand, companies will not only fill it, they will seek to increase it. After all, that is inherent in the dynamics of the capitalist system. Should the capitalist mode of production have a chance to survive, the free interplay of supply and demand needs to be harnessed in a way that avoids harmful economic activity. The result will probably be a more regulated, “socialist” economy.  

Companies can anticipate this trend by aiming higher than just minimizing their impact. They may give themselves a purpose that aims higher than just meeting customer demands. Companies may seek to play a positive role, not only by creating happy customers but by helping life itself to prosper on this planet while doing business.

Level Four: Seeking better internal guidance

Yet, schemes of voluntary restraint are hard to sustain for any company. The pressure to make money is just too big. In a clinch, will companies ever forfeit profits for ecological benefits? There is no way this will happen in a company using today’s model of corporate governance. For voluntary restraint to happen more often (not always), it requires a new model of corporate governance. A model that is tuned more towards

  • A holistic view of the world that encourages taking the high road more often.
  • A system that fosters evolutionary purpose in people and organizations.
  • More democratic, deliberate institutions that embed more checks and balances into decision processes.

Glimpses of such a futuristic, even seemingly esoteric model can be found today in companies like Buurtzorg, a 14.000 people health provider; Bridgewater, one of the largest and most successful Venture Capitalists; or Haier, a world-leading manufacturer of household appliances. Patagonia, an outdoor fashion company, is, for example, actively discouraging customers from buying being more of stuff.

All these companies and many more are have adopted governing models that encourage holism, evolutionary purpose, and deliberation. What’s more, they are even more successful with these governance structures than their more conventional competitors.

So let’s stop rearranging deck chairs

Yes, measures to increase profits and productivity are good and necessary things to discuss in companies. But let us not lose sight of the big picture, you people in the business. A comforting bank account won’t come with the assurance of a comfortable life for you or your children. In catastrophes, the rational thing is to be radical. Alternatively, you may continue to behave like an ostrich and do business as normal. It is your choice: Radical or Ostrich. There is no in-between and only one of those option will save humanity and all life on this planet.

I know this may sound way too dramatic for many people. That’s because it really is.

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Further Reading

  • More on technology and the environment: Read John Lovelocks 2019 book “Novacene.”
  • More on the dramatic impacts of the climate catastrophe read Wallace-Wells 2019 “The uninhabitable Planet.”
  • More on economics and the climate catastrophe: Read Tim Jacksons 2017 “Prosperity without Growth” or Kate Raworth 2018 “Doughnut Economics.”
  • More on progressive organizational systems can found in my 2020 book “Liberated Companies- how to create vibrant organizations in the digital age” and on the Liberated.Company site. The ebook is in-store now; paperback will be in store the next days; hardcover is already available (Germany only)

The Do-Good Ideology of New Work

A lot of the narratives about progressive companies are colored with positive moral statements about how work should be organized. While this is certainly inspirational, I always suspect these statements to be misleading. Isn’t it better to have a cold, more rational view of businesses?

A Normative Canon of New Work

Last week, I came across an 18 point list of belives about business management, put forward by Ari Weinzweig. Ari is an author of a series of excellent, unique business books and the founder of a group of progressive businesses in the US. Let’s dissect this list of belives in two categories: Normative Statement and Recipes.

Normative statements:

Design work that…

1. brings joy, purpose and creative passion

2. builds an organization that helps people be themselves

3. makes a business a tool for positive change where everyone comes out ahead

4. chooses quality Over quantity

Oh, hell, yes! Everyone should experience joy, purpose, and make the world a better place in every minute of working. I fully subscribe to these statements. However, there is a snag. Most businesses are not like that. Given the need to make a living most people confine themselves to just making profits – and relegate all other considerations to a secondary priority. Turning out a profit is hard enough, why weigh oneself with other considerations? It might be simpler to just follow those recipes, which give a higher chance of making those profits, which keep a company afloat. Let’s have a look at such recipes next.

A Utilitarian Canon of New Work

The remaining 14 principles on Ari Weinzweigs List are recipes likely to work well in modern companies: 

Recipes

1. Don’t Just Enforce, Engage!

2. Don’t just teach people how to do a job, help them learn to run the business

3. You Need Great People to Make a Great Organization

4. Share an Inspiring Vision of the Future

5. Tap the Powerful Nature of Purpose

6. Put Autonomy into Practice

7. Create Creativity

8. Practice Continuous Improvement

9. Collaboration Counts; Diversity and Discussion Make a Meaningful Difference

10. Honor the Power of Beliefs in Business

11. Training Is Terrific

12. Don’t Settle for So-So When You Can Go for Greatness!

13. It’s All About Self-Awareness

14. Ends and Means Must Be Congruent

The Do-Good Ideologists of New Work vs. the Cybernetic Manipulators

Recipes assume a utilitarian outlook on the world, an orange world view (for those versed in Frederick Laloux’s version of Ken Wilbers Spiral Dynamics), a predictable relationship between cause and effect, between costs and benefits: Do X and you will get Y. They are interventions into organizational systems that might be done for whatever motives, good or bad. They can be elements of a positive utopian workplace as well as devious schemes of exploitation.

Cybernetic manipulation of work designs is what is mainstream, even in the realm of progressive organizations. Agreed, few people are aware of the term “cybernetic manipulation”. Still, the way people apply calls for more psychological safety, more diversity, more autonomy in organizations solely for better economic results is nothing but cybernetic manipulation. It is entirely in sync with today’s (orange) focus to use whatever works to achieve better results.

Progressive Ideology versus Deliberate Thinking

I think that everyone interested in progressive organizations needs to be aware of whether one pushes normative statements or utilitarian recipes. 

  1. An Ideologue pushes normative statements – which is excellent to rouse oneself and others in a quest to make the workplace a better place.  
  2. A deliberate thinker pushes recipes– which is useful to better the organization but often lacks a moral compass.

My point is: We need both, the Ideologues and the deliberate thinkers. My fault, as reflected in my work on liberated.company and the upcoming book, which should be in stores in January after some delays in printing over the holiday period, is undoubtedly to veer too much on the deliberate thinker, cybernetic manipulator side. 

Mobilization needs Ideology – Truth needs Deliberation – Progress needs both: Ideology and Deliberation.

The deliberate Ideologist

Ari Weinzweig is a deliberate ideologist. He recently wrote an excellent, 60-page essay “Going Into Business with Emma Goldman: 18 Anarchist Lessons for Business and Life“. It makes an excellent read over the holidays.

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This post is inspired by a post by Ari Weinzweig on Corporate Rebels.  Ari’s four-book series “Zingermans Guide to Good Leading” is his premier work on business management and leadership. Zingerman is the name of the restaurant and deli group of companies that Ari co-founded and managed during the last decades in Ann Arbour, Michigan. His texts have been an inspiration for my upcoming book “Liberated Companies: How to Create Vibrant Organizations in the Digital Age.” 

Why Liberating Companies Is a Bad Idea

There are excellent reasons to be suspicious about an author who sets out to blast his own work, so you should certainly take this with a grain of salt. Still, what you will find in this post is an honest attempt to critique the thoughts spelled out in the soon to be released book “Liberated Companies.” 

Let’s start with a definition: 

A Liberated Company is a learning organization that evolves its work designs in a holistic manner towards a more egalitarian distribution of power. It aims to free people of oppression to put itself on the trajectory of technology, thereby maximizing its number of options over time. #liberatedcompany

Ready to shoot holes in it? Ready. Aim. Fire!

A) The claim to “liberate companies” is pretentious. 

Companies are coercive systems. By their very nature, they need people to submit to the needs of the company. Liberating people is unrealistic; it’s Anarchy. Companies need discipline and submission.

The Defense: If the way power is wielded in today’s companies is corrosive to a companies performance, and people’s and society’s wellbeing, liberation is indeed what is needed.

Agreed, a company needs to align people’s actions to its needs. But there are better ways to achieve that alignment than the formula “money for submission.” In a more and more knowledge-driven and dynamic economy, people’s creative problem-solving potential goes to waste, if an organization does not utilize people’s intrinsic motivation. Running companies on coercion or incentives is outdated.

Yet, liberation is a weak term. It describes the release of some constraints, but it does not represent the target itself. If the current way of running companies is to be replaced with something, what is it? It is undoubtedly not Anarchy, as Anarchy is often understood as an absence of rules. 

In a liberated company there are, actually, more rules than in traditional, more hierarchical companies. These rules are there to regulate the distribution of power between people so that everyone in an organization becomes more powerful while still enabling decisive action and focus of effort.

Companies need discipline and submission. But that discipline and the submission is to rules, not towards superior managers. The paradox of liberated companies is that, as a rule of thumb, the more liberated organizations are, the more regulations (in the form of work designs) they have. The crucial point to understand is that freedom is not the absence of regulation. Instead, freedom is the balance between autonomy and loyalty – between managing and being managed. In a traditional organization, that balance is out of whack, as most people are being managed instead of being in charge of their own work. 

We need to use work designs more deliberately to correct this imbalance. Which brings us to the second critique.

 B) Work designs are secondary: All it takes is excellent leadership – everything else will follow suit. 

Great leaders know what works and whatnot. They will come up with the right organization on their own initiative. It is their decisiveness and strategic thinking that is all-important to a company.

The Defense: Are we not beyond the strong man theory of management?

The strong man theory has all but been debunked in management and organizational research. The systems of work used in a company (and its expressions, the mindsets of coworkers, and the culture of a company) are more important than any individual, and be that the CEO. Chapter two of the book “Liberated Companies” lists all the evidence.

C) The concept of work designs is too fluffy, too open for interpretation, to be actionable.

Just look at the list of work designs on the Liberated Company Map: How can work hack’s like Kanban Boards, or the Advice Process change companies for the scale? All these work designs are not even solidly defined – they mean different things to different people.

The Defense: You got to deal with the complexity of businesses. To remain blind-sighted is not a good option.

Agreed, there are no norms for work designs, and no single work design is likely to be truly important for a company. Yet, any company is made up of work designs, and progressive companies evidently use different ones than traditional companies. Plus, they use more of them and in a more deliberate manner. The evidence about this in academic studies about progressive companies is hard to ignore. 

No work design will likely ever be precisely the same in two companies. That is not what is needed, what is ultimately crucial that work designs are used in a manner and composition to create a self-supporting configuration of work-designs.  

Reality is messy. Still, this shouldn’t keep us from describing the patterns we see in companies and develop a model to get to grips with this complexity. Work Designs, the Liberated Company Map, the 11 Principles of Liberated Companies, and others are all elements of such a model.

D) Well, work designs and liberation might be a thing – but there are more important things to focus on in businesses.

Product Innovation, Business Model Design, Talent Management, Restructuring, Systems Implementation, Cost-cutting, Growth, Business Transformation is all more important. All these initiatives have direct impacts on companies’ survival. Organizational efforts might be useful, but work more indirectly and are therefore of lesser priority.

The Defense: (i) The point is not to stop these initiatives but to supplement them with organizational measures that foster their success: More liberated work designs.

Every business initiative has an organizational dimension to it. After all, what else are business initiatives than people collaborating with another? No matter what a business is up to, it should do it by using the most ingenious work designs it can come up with. So the question is not to delay any necessary initiative but to use it as a vehicle to start weaving more liberated work designs into their very fabric.   

The Defense (ii) Liberating companies is more than a supplement to business initiatives: It is a worthy target on its own. 

Many companies struggle to get to grips with the digital age. In chapter one, “The Trajectory of Technology,” I argue that companies can be made much more technophile, i.e., able to absorb technologies and put them to good use, by adopting more adequate work designs.

Did I deflect all critiques? I do not think so, and I do not believe that I ever will. The concepts laid down in liberated companies are just a model, and there will be better ones in the future. Hell, there might even be better, more accurate, and more practical models out there today. If you know one, let me know.

That’s it for this post. “Liberated Companies- How to Create Vibrant Organizations in the Digital Age.” will be in stores at the end of this month. 

Stay in touch by subscribing to this blog.

More details can be found on www.liberated.company.

A Beginners Guide to Liberated Companies

“Liberated Companies” is a new approach to organize companies or teams. Its unique perspective is to make the work designs- i.e., those structures, processes, and routines used to collaborate inside an organization- explicit and evolve them. 

Every company uses work designs: Meetings, decision-making, task allocation, information and communication, performance management, project methods, and business processes. There is no way for any company or team not to use work designs. The thing is: Most companies are not aware of what often disastrous effects their incumbent work designs have on their performance as on people. Overwhelmingly, companies plow ahead and use those work-designs their managers learned by imitation from past generations’ managers.

Progressive Organizations, many Technology Companies, the Agile, New Work, and Lean Start-up Movement demonstrate that better results can be realized for everyone by using ever more refined work designs. Work designs that enhance people’s collaboration by eliminating fear in the work-place, creating the space for more mindful, holistic, and finally more ingenious solutions.

Liberated Companies provides a model and methods to utilize these advanced work designs at scale. Just imagine what good follows from activating people all those 85% more or less disengaged people in today’s companies, of people bringing their whole to work instead of turning into a mini-sized version of themselves once they entered the office!

Six challenges for todays organizations

Every work design carries in it a message. Hierarchical decision making, for example, however it is done, carries with it a clear message of discretionary, paternalizing power. It tends to disenfranchise people, making them retreat into their inner shells. More participative decision making, more open communication, more dynamic systems of distributing power between people, reduces these negative messages and systematically encourages people to speak up. 

Another example: Giving feedback. The way that managers give managers feedback but teach people to become subservient underlings. Not because all managers suck at it, but because feedback is usually delivered from a position of great power, teaching people that manipulating the perceptions of superiors is more important than truth.

Or think of meetings. Meetings are often only thinly structured discussions on agenda points that do not reflect what people actually need and that do not strive in any way to elicit people’s genuine opinions.  

Work designs are not merely structures to get things done. They all carry messages in them that are detrimental or beneficial for an organization’s mission and growth. Every time a meeting is done, a review is done, a decision is taken, information is disseminated, a project is set up, it sends a message to people. It teaches them how to behave, what to say, and it impacts their self-esteem and personal agency. 

The “Liberated Company Map”- A map of work designs.

Systems change people much more than people change systems. The unreflected systems of work designs most companies are using today are not working as good as they could. “Liberated Companies” mean to change that.

A Liberated Company is (i) a learning organization that (ii) evolves its work designs in an (iii) holistic manner, often (iii) towards a more egalitarian distribution of power. It aims to free people of oppression to put itself on the trajectory of technology, thereby maximizing its number of options over time.

“Liberated Companies” is an approach to creatively configure and evolve the work designs of any organiz ation, company or team.

An Introduction to Liberated Companies

Let’s change the system and start evolving work designs to make companies and teams into ever better versions of themselves – for the benefit of everything that a company touches.

This book shows how: Liberated Companies – How to Create Vibrant Organizations in the Digital Age.

To learn more:

Or contact us via linkedin.

Extremely Powerful Organizations

New Work and Agile always seem to imply that you need to mellow. It pitches the evil organizational hierarchy against the inventive, social human individual. Like it’s a matter of picking a position on a scale between despotic hierarchy and an egalitarian self-managed organization.

Given the abundance of oppresive hierarchies and bad bosses – attested by the fact that only about 12-15% of people declare themselves truely engaged at work the give people more say in organisations is very understandable. But it is wrong in a critical aspect.

Agile and New Work seems to imply to transfer power from managers to the people, through more participation, empowerment, more transparency and devolution of decision making to individuals and groups. Like power is a zero-sum game: Either managers have it or coworkers have it.

Here comes the snag:

Power is not a zero-sum game. Just transferring it from managers to people might make coworkers more powerful, to ease the weight of oppression from their shoulders, but might not change anything about the power of the organization. #liberatedcompany

More self-management is certainly better for the creativity, engagement, learning, experimentation and growth of people but it has its own defects: Indecisiveness, political behaviors, lack of strategic behavior of the overall organization, diffusion of organizational focus.

A simple transfer of power from the hierarchy to the people doesn’t help much. It just trades one set of limitations for another. Granted, these are other limitations, which might be helpful for some organizations, seeking, for example more creativity and willing to sacrifice focus. However, organizations can do better, much better.

What if it is possible to increase the power of an organization while simultaneously increasing the power of the people? Welcome to the Liberated Company. #liberatedcompany

Let me explain. The power of an organization is the higher, the more it is able to focus all its resources, behaviors, processes, systems on its targets and re-focus them with lightning speed to market or strategic needs. This is a bit like having a Steven Jobs at the helm, who used Apples resources by laser focus and strategic foresight. However, a powerful organization is more than about having a powerful leader, it’s about having extremely powerful bureaucratic processes at work, in all or most parts of the organization: Logistics, HR, Sales, Purchasing, Manufacturing, Finance etc.

The other, largely independent dimension is the power of the people. It is the higher, the more people are able to express themselves, are able and willing to speak up freely, are able to experiment and pick their work according to their intrinsic drives.

Where most people go wrong is to think that powerful organizations invariably suppress people. While there are despotic organizations, where fear is the dominant feeling inundating the organization, there are other organizations that have extremely able, powerful organizations and at the same time are a place where people can freely flourish, in all the many ways they chose to.

Healthy companies only exist in a narrow corridor, that allow for both, a powerful organization and powerful co-workers at any level.

Extremely powerful organizations are always struggling to keep in the narrow corridor. If they increase the power of the organization too much, for example by tolerating despotic managers or overbearing bureaucracies, people will retreat into their inner self’s and go into survival mode. Any increase in organizational power needs to be flanked by an increase in power by the people. Two examples might help to understand this concept.

Take the introduction of new work processes. It is no secret that work processes, however brilliantly designed, are likely to fail if people at work level do not feel the need for them. To push processes on people will just lead to people circumventing them. People don’t like change – they dislike being changed.

Or think about a company deciding to pivot to a new strategic direction. Many companies arrange “change programs to roll-out a new strategy to get buy in of people”. Like a recruiting officer skimming the streets of London to enroll new army recruits in the Victorian Age. Companies engaging with people after all important decisions have been made, will likely end up with outward compliance and inward apathy or resignation.

The fact is: Organizations can only be truly powerful, if they have both: Powerful, bureaucratic institutions delivering great services to customers and employees efficiently AND powerful coworkers, who have a real say in the company, are highly motivated to speak up and communicate their true attentions. #liberatedcompany

On the other hands, if organizations increase the power of people too much, neglecting the focusing capabilities of the organizational bureaucracy, they end up with a social collective of people that engage in all kinds of political behaviors, which are not necessarily helpful for a company’s mission.

It is a matter of balance. The corridor in the middle is where what I call Liberated Companies exist. Hugely successful companies like Haier, world’s leading manufacturer of household appliances, Bridgewater, world’s most succcessful hedgefund or Buurtzorg, a trailblazing care company – just to name a few.

Liberated Companies manage to turn on the power of their central institutions while simultaneously enable coworkers to flourish. #liberatedcompany

Don’t mellow. Turn up the power!


There is more to Liberated Companies, they:

  • strive to put themselves on the trajectory of technology
  • use more self-managed and networked structures
  • are build around a central theme
  • evolve their work designs to create ever better versions of itself
  • manage to turn on the power of their central business functions while enabling people to flourish

A liberated company is conscious of its own work designs, the implications that these have on human behavior, human growth, and economic results. #liberatedcompany

Interested? If you like to learn more, sign-up for “Liberated Company”. You will receive regular updates my upcoming book about configuring progressive organizations.

And: Spread the word, if you like the concepts here or on www.liberated.company.

P.S. My book “Liberated Companies Flourishing Organizations in the Digital Age” will launch by end of November.

Sources

  • The Gallup Studies of Global Employee Engagement
  • Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson (2019) The Narrow Corridor
  • Amy Edmondson (2018) The Fearless Organization

Why are Agile, Lean and New Work Getting Stale?

Because they ignore power. Take the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions > processes and tools
  • Working software > comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration > contract negotiation
  • Responding to change > following a plan

There is nothing in there about power.

Or take the main underlying of one of the main expressions of Agile, Scrum. It’s main six underlying principles are iteration, self-management, empirics, collaboration, value, and time boxing. Only one of these, self-management, is about power but merely on team level. It ignores the power dynamics that teams are subjected to in organizations. Yes, there are approaches to scale Agile to multiteam level, namely LeSS, SaFEE and Nexus, but these approaches are nothing more than prescriptions for multi-project management.

It speaks volumes that Scrum, which for many is the epitome of Agile, strangely ignores the first line of the Agile Manifesto.

How on earth can one put individuals and interactions over processes and tools and at the same time slavishly obey SCRUM processes?

A silly, obvious contradiction. But that is the state of Agile. It becomes more and more captured by the powers in charge as just another set of management processes which are to be adhered to. Most companies “upgrade” their project management processes from waterfall to agile by replacing one set of processes and measurements with another. Still, the operating system that these processes are running on remains the same, the organizational hierarchy. 

In a conventional organizational hierarchy Agile is an impossibility at any level above the team:

  • Processes > Interactions: 
  • Control > Results
  • Adherence to your manager > Collaboration
  • Execution of a plan > Sensing & Evolving

A hierarchy expects adherence and submission. It is basically built on control. Individuals and interactions are secondary concerns.

There is just no way you can scale Agile in purely hierarchical organizations. Instead we need an update not of this or that process, but on the underlying operating system that agile runs on, the hierarchy. 

No, that does NOT mean that all companies need to become self-managed. Neither does it mean that middle management needs to be eliminated.

To liberate companies we need to (i) update the mechanisms to distribute power between people in (ii) a manner that is much more complex than just exchanging hierarchy for self-management.

 As Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom and many others have shown, there are many more alternative models of governing. These are not even new, we just got to rediscover them. We are better equipped in bringing to live these new, progressive organizations than ever before in history: Digital Technologies and the transparency they offer, enable forms of human collaboration, that are much closer to the needs of organizations, people and technological progress itself. 

We are more than ever before in human history able, ready and in need of new ways of collaborating with one another. 

If you like to learn more, sign-up for “Liberated Companies”. You will receive regular updates my upcoming book about configuring progressive organizations.

And: Spread the word, if you like the concepts you find on www.liberated.company.

P.S. I expect the book “Liberated Companies” to launch by end of November!

Sources

  • Agile Manifesto https://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html
  • Keith Sutherland (2015) Scrum: The Art of Doing twice the work in half the time
  • Elinor Ostrom (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

How is the worlds most successful Hedgefund organized?

Which companies are at the forefront of organisational design AND economic results? The case can be made that this list will include these three companies: Bridgewater, Buurtzorg and Haier.

  • Bridgewater, argueably the worlds most successful hedgefund over the last decades with 125 Billion Dollars of Assets under management
  • Buurtzorg, a Dutch Health Care Company which grew from zero to 14500 co-oworkes within twelve years
  • Haier, the worlds dominant manufacturer of white goods (e.g. washing machines), which gained prominence by buying GE Appliances in 2017 – and by its CEO smashing sub-standard washing machines with a sledge hammer

These three companies are all leaders within their markets. They are quite different from one another, but all of them share one common focus: Work Designs. They use a configuration of work designs that contributes to their mission. Not only that, they experimented with work designs over years to come up with ever better versions of themselves. By zooming in on these progressive organisations it becomes blindingly obvious, that their success is rooted in their obsession over work designs.

Bridgewater, Buurtzorg, Haier – companies that know that their success is rooted in their obsession to design ever better ways for people to work together.

The concept of work designs and configuring companies has been introduced preciously in my blog, especially in the last post. Starting with this post, I like to analyse the configuration of these three leading companies, one company at a time. Let’s start in this post with Bridgewater.

The configuration of Bridgewater

Bridgewater is all about learning. For a global hedge fund, it is all-important to get the big decisions right, the ones involving billions of dollars. Consequently, Ray Dalio, the founder and guiding spirit of the company, has configured it with work designs that strive to get one thing right: making big decisions. Learning is the sustainable advantage that Bridgewater seeks in order to make ever better decisions.

Bridgewater can be characterized as a hierarchical organization that relies not on orders but on mission command. Through its management practices Bridgewater strives to develop people from a socialized mindset (“team players”) to a self-authoring mindset. It wants people to become more autonomous, independent problem solvers. A framework of adult development, proposed by Harvard researcher Robert Kegan, whom we met before, underlies Bridgewater’s choice of work designs. In his 2018 book, Ray Dalio describes his organization as “a machine to produce good decisions through the optimal use of the collective power of self-authoring minds”.[1]Let us look at how Bridgewater achieves this, category by category.

The structure of the above map is explained in in the last post.

Some of these work designs might be unknown to you. Feel free to investigate them in the compendium of management practices.

Organization

Bridgewater has not abandoned the traditional hierarchical structure. It focuses much more on learning and reflective practices, while expecting managers to empower employees so that people take charge of their own development. Managers are to refrain from ordering and requesting obedience. They should use mission command instead. Personal development at Bridgewater is decentralized: everyone is a coach and a mentor, as well as  being coached and mentored.

Decisions

This is the area where Bridgewater is very special and very focused. Most decisions are still made by individuals and hierarchical superiors, but the most important decisions are made using a unique process called “believability-weighted decision making”. In a very structured meeting format, decisions are made by voting on alternatives. The number of votes that everyone gets depends on their track record of making good decisions. More experienced, more competent, more knowledgeable people with better track records get more votes than novices without much experience in the subject that is to be decided upon. Hierarchical rank does not matter – but competence in the subject to be discussed does.

The thinking behind believability-weighted decision making is that voting is good, as it allows an organization to use collective intelligence, but it is better still if the voting is done by competent people ‒ an idea that is as reasonable as it is fraught with difficulty and danger. Who determines the competence levels, the individual believability of people? At Bridgewater that competence level can be set by a superior, it can be voted upon by a group, it can be established by data analysis (for example on the basis of CVs or psychometric testing), or a combination of these three methods.

Believability-weighted decision making is an attempt to make high-stakes decision making in companies more effective. In democracies, anyone proposing this kind of decision making would be rightly accused of Orwellian elitism. Every national assembly, even the founding fathers of American democracy, has struggled with this issue: “Surely, we can’t give equal voting rights to the plebs, the uneducated masses! We aristocrats/bishops/merchants/educated people need to lead.” In a company setting, the jury is still out on the believability-weighted decision-making idea. Ray Dalio is sure that this kind of decision making is a huge part of the reason why Bridgewater is – by some measures ‒ the most successful hedge fund in the world.

More conventional, participative decision making, delegation of decisions, the advice processand other decision practices are also used. Routine decisions, those that can be safely trusted to a number-crunching machine, are routinely engineered into algorithms. Especially in the financial sector, machines are making many decisions on their own or are an integral part of a combined machine‒human decision process. While other companies approach decision making by machines haphazardly, as mere minor features of this or that process, Bridgewater has elevated algorithmic decision making into a work design.

Meetings

Bridgewater is strong on meeting structures. It recognizes that everyone must be heard. It employs a time limit of a maximum of two minutes of uninterrupted talk in small meetings. And it expects people to make themselves heard, too: staying silent is not an option. Even in large-scale meetings, people are obliged to give feedback about their feelings and the performance of other meeting participants, using an online app that displays the feedback in real time on screens, while the meeting is still in progress. People are supposed to be open-minded and assertive. Meeting structures drive these two behaviors to the fore.

Control

Bridgewater employs most of the usual practices of a hierarchical organization: target setting, budgets, dashboards, standard operating procedures, job descriptions and reports. The most significant practice to align and control the work of people at Bridgewater is mission command, although Ray Dalio doesn’t call it that. The nature of mission command fits the overarching target of creating and utilizing self-authoring minds perfectly, as it is squarely based on the independent problem solver. On top of mission command, people are also expected to pick challenges themselves. The self-authoring mind writes their own destiny in service of the mission that a superior or the company has defined.

Bridgewater uses toolscaping intensively to supply its people with integrated tools to manage the business. Far beyond the usual communication and business process supporting systems, it goes so far as to provide apps for interpersonal conflict moderation and interpersonal transparency, and cloud systems to stream videos of meetings. It appears that founder and CEO Ray Dalio takes a personal interest in an ever-expanding, ever more integrated tool set.

People 

Bridgewater emphasizes three kind of people practices: testing, coaching and feedback. Testing is pervasive. New hires remain in a special “onboarding” status for as long as reviews are not good enough for them to be allowed to move into the line organization. Dalio writes that a 30 percent attrition rate is acceptable, and onboarding may take up to 18 months. Even people inside the organization are re-evaluated regularly by co-workers at all levels and through the use of psychometric testing. Dalio speaks of “oiling the machine”, a questionable and telling metaphor for his utilitarian outlook on people.

Performance management is centered on coaching. Being a manager at Bridgewater means being a coach; without outstanding listening skills and questioning techniques no one at Bridgewater should be able to climb the ranks, or indeed, retain their job for long.

Transparency

Transparency is extremely highly valued:

  • Videotaping.Every meeting is videotaped and accessible for everyone.  
  • Issue filter. Everything people feel about the company and job is supposed to be captured in a system for all to see.
  • Baseball cards. Every person is described with a small number of key personal attributes determined by psychometric testing and co-worker feedback. 
  • Open reports. Every report is available to everyone. Classified reports do exist but are a rare exception. 
  • Daily updates. Every day, everyone in the organization posts their answers to three questions: What did I do yesterday? What is to be done today? What are my reflections, the thing or feeling that is most in my mind? These posts can be seen by everyone in the organization. 

Bridgewater is definitely operating on a “all there is to know” basis ‒ and not on a conventional “need to know” basis. Its overarching target is to supply all the information that “self-authoring” minds at all levels can process, learn and use to provide feedback or come up with better decisions. This degree of openness is radical and can easily appear dystopian. Is a place of work where the light of transparency is everywhere and there are few dark corners to hide and rest still a place for humans? Is this degree of transparency making people show compliant behavior on the outside while keeping their true views to themselves? Many people are quite skeptical about Bridgewater’s configuration of work designs, while others, like philanthropist Bill Gates, appear to be supportive of Dalio’s practices. [2]

Projects

Little can be obtained from the sources about any special work designs for projects. However, it seems fair to speculate that Dalio’s outlook on projects is bound to be determined by the three cornerstones on which he built Bridgewater: elaborate decision making; learning; and feedback and radical transparency. This means Bridgewater would be expected to use more mature work designs for its projects, like agile methods, but I found nothing to substantiate this claim.

Learning

Dalio’s core idea for his company is learning. He wants Bridgewater to be a meritocracy of ideas,  a place where the best ideas are produced and where people that consistently produce these great ideas rise to the top. He even provides a formula for this: “Idea Meritocracy = Radical Truth + Radical Transparency + Believability-weighted decision making”. The target is to create a culture of learning, where failure is allowed, and the resulting pain is distilled by (brutally honest) reflection into learning. Everyone is expected to teach everyone all the time in a work environment saturated with learning opportunities. 

Reflection

Reflection in an environment of “radical truthfulness” means ignoring social impulses to dampen one’s critique to the point of being perceived as unkind and rude. Dalio calls this way of giving feedback “tough love”. As well as reflective microstructurespeer feedbackskip-level feedback and talking partners, two more radical practices stand out from the host of opportunities for self-reflection at Bridgewater: the dot collector and the pain button (see Chapter 8).

Bridgewater clearly puts the collective interest of the company ahead of the individual interest of comfort and self-preservation. Bridgewater is a very challenging workplace where you need to display an uncompromising willingness to learn. There is nowhere to hide from personal injury of the ego in a place of radical openness and radical transparency. Unlike other elitist organizations, no one is able to rest on their laurels. Its central ideas are:

  • An idea of technology that sees technology and people as co-workers.
  • An idea of performance centered on making ever better decisions.
  • An idea of ruling based on a hierarchy which nurtures people to become self-authoring.
  • An idea of work based on never-ending, relentless growth in a machine of learning.
  • An idea of life based on mental awareness.

You might feel fascination or abhorrence at these radical practices. But one thing is for certain: they are a great experiment.

Conclusion

Bridgewater uses a staggering number of work designs: Seventy five. A typical, run-of the mill company uses just about a third of these, usually about 25 to 30. This proliferation of work designs is typical for progressive companies. It seems counter-intuitive, but Bridgewater is regulating the work between people heavily in order to make it easy for them to speak their mind freely.

The paradox of progressive organisations: In order to liberate people you need to regulate a psychologically safe work space into being.

It is a complex story, but basically if you want people within a hierarchy (which Bridgewater is) to speak up, you got to restrict the arbitrary power that managers have over people. The way to do that is by using mandatory work designs.

In the next post, I will contrast Bridgewater configuration of work designs with the one of a more traditional organisation, before proceeding with analysing Buurtzorg and Haier. I like to end with a teaser: Here is a chart comparing the average liberation level of Bridgewaters work designs to the ones of a traditional, purely hierarchical company.

Hope you enjoyed the post. Sign up the the emailing list of the upcoming book “Liberated Companies” if you like what you see.


[1]Ray Dalio,(2018) Principles (Simon & Schuster)

[2]A critique can be found at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/business/dealbook/bridgewaters-ray-dalio-spreads-his-gospel-of-radical-transparency.html, retrieved 5thof  June 2019

I have posted about Bridgewater before if you like to learn more just search for Bridgewater” on the Blog side.

200 Work Designs on a Map

It is strange. On the one hand most companies seem to be all alike and not so much different from one another at all: Hierarchical beasts that employ the classical work designs of Feedback, Delegation, Status Meetings, Protocols, Policies, Orders, Rewards, Appraisals etc. to get things done.

On the other hand there are more progressive companies like Google, Buurtzorg, Amazon, Haier, Netflix or Bridgewater that utilize some “leading edge” work design such as OKR’s, Self-Managed Teams, 6 Page memos, Culture Books, Promises Beyond Ableness, Mission Command, Consent Decision Making etc. They often appear to be using quirky ways to get things done differently.

Many people are fascinated by this or that “Work-hack”. Some even try it on their own Organization. Well, I guess by now most people have been subjected to daily stand-up meetings, KANBAN Boards and more engaging workshop formats with lots of breakout groups working in parallel – just to name a few of the better known practises.

What if we could explain companies by the way people are working with another? Introducing the Liberated Company Map.

During the last couple of years I have assembled a library of Work Designs of both traditional and more progressive organizations. All these Agile Work-hacks, New Work or Self-Managed Practices were too intolerably disordered for my limited teutonic mind. So here is my roster for ordering them. It consists of three criteria.

First, all work designs have a primary function, a target that they are used for. I have clustered these targets into nine functions of management in a 3*3 matrix. That order is inspired largely by Henry Fayols classic six functions of management.

The nine types of management practices

Please note that “Management Practices” are a subset of work designs – more on that in later posts, I do not want to get bogged down in theoretical discussions here.

Second, work designs are ordered by the size of the power differential that exists between people. By doing this, I am assuming that the amount of discretionary power that bosses have over employees has a critical influence on a persons behavior. People in more hierarchical, authoritarian companies will weigh every word and deed to not upset superiors, wherelse people in more self-managed organizations will find it easier to disagree and speak up. There is much more psychological safety in more self-managed organizations, and that causes work designs that foster on intrinsic motivation and social team dynamics to work much better than they would work in an enviromment of conformity and fear. I clustered the size of the power differential in four levels.

Companies can be distinguished by the size of the power differential between people

With increasing liberation level, the power shifts away from a manager towards employees and groups. This way of ordering companies is based on a scale proposed by Renis Likert, an American business professor, and is similar to other popular ordering systems, like Laloux’s Teal Model.

Developmental stages of organizational systems: 4 models

Last, I use the severity of a work design as an ordering criteria. The “severity” is the risk of a major backlash occuring if things go wrong with the use of a work design. For example, there is usually no harm in using pratices like “Daily Standups” or “Kanban Boards” but immense harm is done by using “Elected Superiors” or “Self-Service Remuneration” out of place, i.e. without a suitable company environment and other supporting work designs being in place.

Putting it all together, here is the map. It uses the 3*3 Layout of the nine management practice categories, subdivides each of the nine quadrant’s into four sub-quadrants by liberation level, and orders the list of practices in these sub-quadrants by severity. I call this the Liberated Company Map.

The Liberated Company Map

It’s a big map: You need to zoom in to see the details; you won’t know some practices and you might disagree with some of the mapping. I can offer you some help right now: If you want to dig into the practices, here is a complete list. Howeever, there is more to it, more to the art of configuring companies with work designs. But I leave that for the next posts.

I like to close with a preview. Any company can be mapped on the Liberated Company Map: Amazon, Google, Haier, Netflix, Buurtzorg or Siemens and Ford – any company. So here is a mapping of Bridgewater, a company of about 3500 employees and the worlds successful Hedgefund, known for its radically progressive organizational design.

All the management pratices not used by Bridgewater are left out in this graphic.

In the next posts, I will go through configurations of progressive companies and explain how they work. Companies on the very edge of organizational design, such as Buurtzorg, Haier and Bridgewater – but also more traditional companies.

I have just finished a manuscript for a book called “Liberated Companies: A Map and a Compass to Better Organisations in the Digital Age” that explains the topic in about 300 pages and 45 graphics and tables. If you are interested in learning more, sign up to my blog.

And spread the word, if you like what you see.

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Featured Picture by aitoff, https://pixabay.com/users/aitoff-388338/

I Was Wrong: Holacracy is The Thing!

Holacracy is dead. It is has been abandoned by prominent companies such as Medium or has problems (Zappos); it’s is too rigid; it puts processes over people; it’s unnatural and mechanistic. I myself did a comparison of Holacracy to Management 3.0 and Liberated Management Practices two years ago, followed up by a series of posts and did not judge it favorably.

I was wrong. Two years have passed since then. Time, I almost exclusively dedicated to learn and practice the art of mastering more self-managed organizations. My advice for those seeking to improve companies or teams is to read Brian Robertson’s “Holacracy”, just after you read Frederick Laloux’s “Reinventing Organizations” or listened to his excellent new video series. Mr. Laloux’s work fills you motivation and Robertson’s work will give you as close a view on the future of management as you will ever get.

The crucial thing which I got wrong in 2017 is that implementing Holacracy is not the thing. It is understanding Holacracy that is crucial for a move towards more self-management. Implementing Holacracy without having gone through a journey towards more self-managed for a couple of years before that, will properly get your company, team and yourself into deep trouble. It is simply too radical for most people in an organization to understand. Still, there is no better way to understanding a possible vision for the destination of the journey to “Management in the Digital Age” than Holacracy. The one approach on par with Holacracy is Sociocracy3.0, an updated and now very accessible version of another, similar “Self-management” Operating system. But beside it, I see no equals, no better way to understand Self-Management thoroughly.

Management 3.0 is certainly much more easily digestible with its colorful Mindsettlers app and has its merits to get more agile, liberated ways of management going, but it is ultimately less useful as a vision. It is something that you can use to start your journey but will not sustain you for long, as it lacks consistency and perspective.

Liberated Management Practices, is a term I use (inspired by Issac Geetz and Brian Carney’s book Freedom.Inc), to describe all the various management practices of progressive, more self-managed companies. They are not part of a system at all. Instead, they are just a diverse bunch of practices used at Buurtzorg, Gore, Patagonia, Haier, Bridgewater, and many more progressive companies. They lack order and consistency.

A way to picture all the ways to manage companies these days looks like this.

Agile, The Lean Start-up and Management3.0 are focused on the team level within more open hierarchical companies. The three main methods to scale Agile to the company level, SAFe, LeSS, and Nexus, ended up to be more classical portfolio management methods than anything that amounts to a management system.

Management as we know it — a lax way to describe all the paternalizing ways of organizing the work of individuals — is focused, well, on the individual level. It pays just lip service to teams. Its twin sister “Leadership as we know it”, is more aspirational in its whish to empower people and set good examples, but is ultimately stuck with inwards reflection on one’s own “leadership abilities and styles” or Michel Porter like strategizing and business model-talk.

That’s why Holacracy and Sociocracy 3.0 are so important: Only they light the way to run companies and teams that are truly self-managed. Oh, why do I think self-management is important?

  • Digital Technology will only spread and inundate Organizations if they become networks of people who are free to be critical and creative, with no hierarchy of submission standing in the way. To adopt digital technology ever better is what will give any company an edge. Therefore, it is a question of performance that leads to self-management.
  • In the age of the Extinction Crisis, we will need to see fundamental changes in the way we run companies, too. Letting people work in an environment based on exploitation is doing immense damage to peoples psychology and societies fabric. It is no good way of enlarging anyone’s concerns for the limits of the planet. Therefore, it is a question of survival that leads to self-management.

Holacracy is a great vision to aspire to, as is Sociocracy 3.0. They are well-rounded systems that finally do away with the industrial age’s exploitative hierarchy. They will allow companies and people to flourish more, by replacing coercion with motivation and exploitation with consideration.

The time is ripe for such systems. But companies are overwhelmingly not ripe for the big leap to self-management. Still, every company needs to start on its journey to the digital, green age. If only we could identify a great transformation path to more self-managed, liberated companies! All the Liberated Management Practices that Frederick Laloux propagates, that are the hype in New Work and Agile conferences, are great — but where are the map and the compass which could provide orientation?

 

I have a suggestion to make. But not now. In the next post.

Let me know what you think.

Great Books on Designing Work in the Digital Age

During 2018 I become unsure if “management” is still a thing. I was suspicious of the word “leadership” before – after all, there are far more people wanting to lead than to those who want to follow.

The aspect of management which become suspect to me is the notion that people must be managed. Things surely need to be organized in order to reach anything meaningful but do people need to be managed? Isn’t it enough to build an environment where people can prosper and organize themselves as deem best to reach the target of the company?  Is the provision of an organizational environment still management or should it better be called work design?

Now, on the 1st of January 2019, I tend towards ditching the term “management” and talk about “work-design” more. Words matter and people often have either a negative connotation of management or an attitude towards management that leads to overbearing behavior.

In the digital age is might often be wiser to think of yourself as a work-designer than a manager.

That way you might keep yourself from interfering too much.

New Years Day is a great time to reflect on the past year. As most of my time in 2018 has been devoted to reading and writing about “organizing companies in the digital age”, I decided to update my list of favorite books on this big topic.  The ones that most influenced my thinking can be found on top of the list

GreatBooks.png

Legend:

  • Grey Background: Essential Reads
  • Yellow Highlight: New Entries in 2018
  • Green Highlight: Books which I came to value more in 2018 – they took time to take root in my thoughts
  • Red Highlights: Books which I came to value less in 2018 – these are still very good books, though

Books that Describe the Workings of the Individual Mind

This Category is about Mindfulness,  Vulnerability, Bias,  Mental Focus and all those things that make up the intrinsic motivation of people. What has proved to be quite consequential in my daily work is “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. I think that the ability to deeply focus is not only a personal working technique – it is a quintessential design criterion of an organization seeking to maximize improve knowledge work.

Books about Teams

Oh my, how many years did I delay reading the works of Robert J. Hackman. His work has been cited so often and everywhere, that I thought I already knew everything Mr. Hackman had to teach. How mistaken have I been! “Leading Teams” by Robert J. Hackman is a must read. As is Amy Edmondson’s “Teaming”, which is delivering important underpinnings to ones understanding of teams from the realm of psychology.

“SCRUM” by Jeff Sutherland is still a great book, but I became a lot more skeptical about the rigidity of the method and the dogmatic way SCRUM it is used. SCRUM is so often executed with no understanding to its inner working, that it lends itself pretty well to being corrupted with the conventional, corrosive workings of excessive power differentials between people. Often SCRUM becomes a method of exploitative productivity rather than customer value and excellence.

Books about Organization

Henry Mintzberg fortified his position on the top spot in my mind in this category with his extremely wise book “Simply Managing”. I don’t think that anyone will come close to that. But be warned: Simply Managing does not, despite the title, supply any recipe for management. Rather, you will end up not knowing what to do now in face of all the complexity.

The same feeling will haunt you after you have finished Philp Rosenzweig’s “The Halo Effect”: Crushing complexity and no easy solutions.  Do not despair – hope is just two columns to the right: Liberated Companies.

Books about Digitalization

So many things are written about Digitalization, yet so little new is added. Over the last year, I came to value the challenges posed by the intersection of technological challenges (Companies IT-infrastructure and IT-Architectures) and the way that people are organized more and more: The collaboration of Man and Machine. I came to value these seemingly so techie topics of “DevOps” and “Continous Delivery” even more. Although the understanding of those topics requires quite a bit of insight on the work of software engineers, I believe more and more that there is no alternative for managers than to understand tech.

Digitalization without understanding Technology from a genuine Technology perspective is crucial –  a User/ Strategist/Entrepreneur perspective alone is not enough.

Managers, Organizers, Work designer – however, you might call them to need to immerse themselves in the realm of technology or be left out.

Sorry about that, you techno-agnostic writers on digitalization or you organizational psychologists. It far from “nerdy” to know what “DevOps” is. I am convinced that understanding concepts like DevOps is a necessity is a technology to lead companies in a technology-saturated world.

Books about Liberated Companies

What Laloux manages to deliver on examples and theories, Peter Block underpins with spiritual insight in “Stewardship“. The discovery of the word “spiritual” was central for me in 2018, as all more advanced organizations need people to hold open space where performance can prosper, where people can self-direct themselves more.  And the conviction that “holding open a space for self-management” is worthwhile doesn’t come out of the blue. It is, strangely enough, a spiritual process.

Now, “spiritual” is not a word often used in management literature. Yet a state of mind naturally precedes any action. A wonderful example which is focused on ACTION but is essentially a spiritual journey is delivered by David Marquet’s “Turn the Ship Around“. A book about a nuclear attack submarine and its crew – a setting like in a Tom Clancy thriller.

If you want something futuristic to read, read Yangfeng Cao’s “The Haier Model”: Haier’s organizational model is probably the most sophisticated company on earth.

Books About Work Designs

The skeleton of today’s companies is the hierarchy and the process. With self-management on the rise, the hierarchy will be replaced with work-designs that ensure checks and balances that allow people to govern themselves. Some of these work designs can be gleaned from the books on Liberated Companies or Teams. Deeper insights into microstructures that make up work can be found in books like “Liberating Structures” from Keith McCandless et al. It is full of practical recipes, too.

Books about Strategy

A company is a purposeful system and cannot be seen disconnected from its purpose. That is why understanding strategy is important for anyone in charge of organizing. A strategy is nothing else than the way for a company to work towards its purpose. Therefore, read Henry Mintzberg’s “Strategy Safari” if you want to manage purposefully – and you want to show those consultants of McKinsey’s and Boston Consulting Group how outdated their analytical way of approaching strategy really is.

Books about Data Science

In a VUCA World, it is indispensable to get a grip on understanding and using uncertainty to the advantage of a company. Running experiments will never suffice is not supported by the capability to understand such thing as volatility, variance, covariance and the difference between causation and correlation.

Nissam Taleb’s “The Black Swan” focusses one’s views on the things that really matter, i.e. when events occur that may be very unlikely but have so much impact, that all other event’s do to really matter.

On the other hand, the small events matter, too, especially in those shorter time frames that most companies use to focus on.  Nate Silver’s “The Signal and The Noise” is still my favorite classic for this field. It has very practical implications for the set-up of teams, technology, and processes.

Books about the Digital Age

I read Kevin Kelly’s “What Technology Wants” for a second time in 2018 because I was looking for an answer to the question “What does Technology want from Companies?”. A strange question at first glance, but I suspect that the impact that technology, the cooperation of Men and Machine, has on human collaboration is still undervalued.

In the Digital Age companies must not only solve the problem of human engagement – they must solve the problem of human-machine engagement, too

A special mention goes to “White Working Class” from Joan Williams for explaining the downsides of globalization and digitalization:  The divide of society into many have-nots and the few prosperous.  This economic and cultural divide cannot be solved by Silicon Valley’s Elitism.

Biographies – Long, Deep Reads

Last not least I have added my three favorite biographies that shaped by view on many of the topics of work design:

  • Seize the Fire” by Adam Nicholson – how Lord Nelson, 1st Sealord of the British Admiralty made the Navy. Fundamentally, a book about intrinsic motivation.
  • “The One Best Way” by Robert Kanigel – a biography of the “worlds first business consultant” Frederick Taylor. He came up with “Scientific Management”, which still dominates companies today. A voluminous book about a thinking process which went on around 1900 and  is to thank and to blame for today’s, often inhuman and underperforming state of companies
  • “The Undoing Project” by star-author Michael Lewis – a biography of the collaboration between Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnemann, two of the most important organizational psychologists.  The essence, as I see it,  is: We can’t trust our brain and judgment alone. Human judgement benefits from checks and balances that companies may weave into their work designs.

That’s my year 2018 in books. Let me know what you read and have been fascinated by! I sincerely like to hear from you.

Have a Liberating 2019!

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Next post will be continuing the long series on “Effective Teams” – to be found in your mailbox at the end of January.