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.
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:
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.
- An Ideologue pushes normative statements – which is excellent to rouse oneself and others in a quest to make the workplace a better place.
- 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.
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.
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.”