Review: A Simpler Way (Paperback)

5 Star, Intelligence (Collective & Quantum), Leadership

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Simpler way to absorb ideas from Leadership and the New Science,

September 25, 2005
Margaret J Wheatley
Margaret Wheatley is addictive. After reading “Leadership and the New Science” I have bought the rest of her books, and also those that she recommends by contributing a foreword.

This book has a great deal of white space, lots of photos, is double-spaced, but by no means is it simplistic. To play on the title, it is a “simpler way” to absorb the large deep ideas that are documented in “Leadership and the New Science.” If her primary writing were a trilogy, this is the entry-level book, “Finding Our Way” is the intermediate volume, and “Leadership” is the graduate course. However, I recommend they be read in reverse order, because the simpler books are more clearly appreciated if one has the deeper background.

What I find most compelling about this book is the manner in which it captures core ideas from a wide variety of works that have been bubbling into human consciousness in the past 20 years. The bibliography is quite good although by no means all-inclusive (missing Kurzweil, E. O. Wilson, and Stephen Wolfham, as well as Tom Atlee and Bill Moyers, among others).

Among the core ideas in this book that are presented with elegance are the absurdity of thinking that life can have a boss–or that rigid ideas and identities will lead to anything other than rigid non-adjustable organizations. The author stresses the value of diversity, passion, connectedness, humanity and humanness, and tieing it all together, the role of information and of ethics as facilitators for “being.”

There is a very useful discussion of bacteria and the manner in which human attempts to impose machine and medical solutions are ultimately defeated by bacteria. Although Howard Bloom’s “Global Brain” is not in the bibliography, everything the authors discuss here is consistent with his concerns about bacteria winning the inter-species war with humanity.

Taking this a step further, I would contrast this book, and the varied books on collective intelligence, wisdom of the crowd, ecological economics (Herman Daly) and so on, with a book I recently reviewed about the National Security Council, aptly titled “Running the World.” The stupidity and arrogance of that title reveals all that we need to know about why U.S. foreign policy is failing, and how desperately we need to take the ideas from this book and apply them to how we manage ourselves and our relationships with other nations, other tribes, other religions, other communities.

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Review: Finding Our Way–Leadership for an Uncertain Time (Hardcover)

5 Star, Leadership

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Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Humanist Counterpart to Her “Serious” Book,

September 17, 2005
Margaret J Wheatley
I am a little concerned by some of the negative commentary on this book being too “touchy feely.” That is generally a sign that it has touched a nerve among “macho shit” types who think that elegance of thought and open affection for humanity is for gays and children. “Humanness” is for all of us, and if cannot cry, you cannot be human. Feelings must, as E. O. Wilson and others have documented so well, be fully factored into the whole of the human experience.

This is the poetic humanist counterpart book, a series of essays from the past from before the author was recognized as one of the most brilliant leadership gurus in the English-language. I certainly do recommend that her “serious” book, “Leadership and the New Science,” be read first, and then this one.

The author has done a superb job of taking older essays and organizing them, putting them in context, to tell a new story. This book of essays is a new book for having been re-created in the aftermath of the success of “Leadership and the New Science,” and I am choosing to give this book out to the audience of a gala leadership dinner in Washington, D.C., rather than the first book.

The author stresses that the old story of organization is the “machine” model, where people control and domination are the management paradigm, and resistance to change is seen as obstinance rather than coherent humanist understanding of the badness of the imposed conditions. The new story, by contrast, sees that everything is connected–as the author brilliantly puts it in her preface, “Independence is a political concept, not a biological concept.”

She focuses on two fundamentals: the need for all mankind to be free to experiment, and in experimenting, create unlimited diversity; and the need to enhance and expand relationships with others as part of that diversity and sustainable mutually beneficial wealth creation.

Translating that into meaning for organizational leaders, she stresses self-organization, listening, embracing all inputs, and striving to create self-identity, information-sharing, and relationships that in turn generate discovery, sharing, and fulfillment.

This is not touchy-feely, this is common sense restored to the conversation of mankind.

The other important theme in this book is the paradox of community, which sets the stage for her rather bleak conclusions about America facing an abyss. She spends a lot of time examining how the web and nations are separating clusters of individuals, isolating groups, rather than nurturing a broadening of the communal ethos, what Paul Goodman understood so well in the 1980’s as the need for “communitas” from neighborhood to globe.

The author is one hundred per cent on the money when she says, in a notional conversation with America’s teen-agers, “We haven’t taught you well about honor, sustainability, community, or compassion. We failed to show you how to be wise stewards of the earth, how to care for one another, how to resolve conflicts peacefully, how to enjoy others creativity as well as your own. Yet miraculously, you are learning these things.”

She concludes by lamenting America’s litigous society, where everyone knows their rights, but few know how to be in a community (or fulfil their civic duties to include loyalty to the Nation and engagement in the democratic process).

She tries to end the book on an uplifting note, speaking of the urgency of creating a web of hope, and of honoring those “few people who are not afraid to be insecure.” She attributes most fear to the inherent tendency of organizations and nations to fight natural resistance to change with artificial fears of the unknown. Instead of fearing the unknown, she suggests, we should embrace the new and find new paths, new hopes, new solutions by using our collective intelligence and our new-found global community.

This is one of six books that I regard as a life-affirming, “must-read” collection for any person who aspires to contributing to a sustainable future for America, for any other nation, for any tribe, for any community, for any neighborhood. If we fail to listen to Margaret Wheatley and embrace her human values–as E. O. Wilson does in “Consilience” where he explains in detail why science must have the humanities–then we are destined to lose to the bacteria that are winning the inter-species war. We are our own worst enemy. This author, and her two books, are a very powerful intellectual, moral, and spritual antidote to all that ails us.

Five other books I recommend:
Robert Buckman, “Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization”
Clayton Christensen & Michael Raynor, “The Innovator’s Solution”
Steve Denning’s “The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations”
Don Maruska, How Great Decisions Get Made”
Margaret Wheatley, “Leadership and the New Science”

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Review: Leadership and the New Science–Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe (Hardcover)

5 Star, Leadership

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars “Tipping Point” Book, Vital for Achieving Sustainable Peace and Prosperity,

September 17, 2005
by Margaret J Wheatley
This book is beyond five stars, and not just for business, where it is receiving all the praise it is due, but within government, where it has not yet been noticed. It was recommended to me by the author of Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization and I now recommend it to everyone I know. If there are two books that can “change the world,” these are the ones.

Although the Chinese understood all this stuff centuries ago (Yin/Yang, space between the dots, the human web), the author is correct when she notes late in the book that the commoditization of the human worker (Cf. Lionel Tiger, Manufacture of Evil: Ethics, Evolution, and the Industrial System) and the emphasis on scientific objectivity and scientific manager (Cf. Jean Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West) were perhaps the greatest error we might have made in terms of long-run progress. Coincidentally, as I finished the book, on the Discovery channel in the background they were discussing how the leveeing of the Mississippi blocked the Louisiana watershed from cleansing the Mississippi naturally, as it once used to.

It’s all about systems–the author does cite Donella Meadows’ 1982 article in Stewart Brand’s Co-Evolution Quarterly, but does not pay much heed to the large body of literature that thrived in the 1970’s around the Club of Rome.

There are perhaps three bottom lines in this book that I would recommend to any government leader who hopes to stabilize and reconstruct our world:

1) Information is what defines who we are, what we can become, what we can perceive, what we are capable of achieving. Blocking or controlling information flows stunts our growth and virtually assures defeat if not death. It is the optimization of listening–being open to *all* information (and especially all the information the secret world now ignores)–that optimizes our ability to adjust, evolve, and grow.

2) Command & control is history, block and wire diagrams are history. General Al Gray had it right in the 1990’s when he talked about “commander’s intent” as the baseline. Leaders today need to be disruptive, to look for dissonant views and news, and to empower all individuals at all levels with both information, and the authority to act on that information.

3) Disorder is an *opportunity*. We have the power to define ourselves, our “opponents,” and our circumstances in ways that can either inspire protective, constricted, secretive, “armed” responses, or inclusive, open, sharing “pro-active” peaceful responses.

EDIT of 12 Dec 07: Haver ordered and will be reviewing several books that highlight the importance of diversity as a foundation for innovation.

The author is to be praised for noting early on in the book that “Ethical and moral questions are no longer fuzzy religious concepts but key elements in the relationship any organization has with colleagues, stakeholders, and communities.” I would extend that to note that social ethics and foreign policy ethics are the foundation for sustainable life on the planet, and we appear to be a long way from understanding that it is ethics, not guns, that will stabilize and fertilize…Cf Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People.

It also merits comment that the author essentially kills the industry of forecasting, scenarios, modeling, and futures simulations. I agree with her view (and that of others) that early warning is achieved, not through the theft of secret plans and intentions or the forecasting of behavior, but rather by casting a very wide net, listening carefully to all that is openly available, sharing it very widely (as the LINUX guys say, put enough eyeballs on it, and no bug will be invisible), and then being open to changed relationships. Trying to maintain the status quo will simply not do.

I give the author credit for carrying out an extraordinary survey of the literature on quantum mechanics, and for developing a PhD-level explanation of why old organization theory, based on the linear concepts of Newtonian physics, is bad for us, and how the new emergent organization theory, understood by too few, is let about the things and more about the relationships between and among the things.

This is an elegant essay and a heroic personal work of discovery, interpretation, and integration. While I would have liked to see more credit given to Kuhn, Drucker, Garfield, Brand, Rheingold, and numerous others that I have reviewed here for Amazon, on balance, given the academic narrowness of her Harvard PhD, I think the author has performed at the Olympic level. This is a radical book, somewhat reminiscent of Charles Hampden-Turner’s book, Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development. which as I recall was not accepted by Harvard as a thesis at the time. Perhaps Harvard is evolving (smile).

For other key books that complement and precede this book, see my lists on information society, collective intelligence, business intelligence, and intelligence qua spies and secrecy in an open world.

Read this book BEFORE you read her new collection of essays, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time

EDIT of 12 Dec 07: I must say, I am both astonished and disappointed that more of us have not found and absorbed this great work. Margaret Wheatley, whom I have not met (but I have met Tom Atlee, Juanita Brown, and Robert Buckman) strikes me as the “Mother” of a new form of continuous global education and innovation. Not sure what the answer is, but we have to pay more attention to this person’s reflections.

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Review: Leadership and the New Science–Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised

5 Star, Complexity & Resilience, Leadership

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars “Tipping Point” Book Vital to Government, Not Just Business,

January 22, 2005
Margaret J. Wheatley
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

This book is beyond five stars, and not just for business, where it is receiving all the praise it is due, but within government, where it has not yet been noticed. It was recommended to me by the author of Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization and I now recommend it to everyone I know. If there are two books that can “change the world,” these are the ones.

Although the Chinese understood all this stuff centuries ago (Yin/Yang, space between the dots, the human web), the author is correct when she notes late in the book that the commoditization of the human worker (Cf. Lionel Tiger, Manufacture of Evil: Ethics, Evolution, and the Industrial System) and the emphasis on scientific objectivity and scientific manager (Cf. Jean Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West) were perhaps the greatest error we might have made in terms of long-run progress. Coincidentally, as I finished the book, on the Discovery channel in the background they were discussing how the leveeing of the Mississippi blocked the Louisiana watershed from cleansing the Mississippi naturally, as it once used to.

It’s all about systems–the author does cite Donella Meadows’ 1982 article in Stewart Brand’s Co-Evolution Quarterly, but does not pay much heed to the large body of literature that thrived in the 1970’s around the Club of Rome.

There are perhaps three bottom lines in this book that I would recommend to any government leader who hopes to stabilize and reconstruct our world:

1) Information is what defines who we are, what we can become, what we can perceive, what we are capable of achieving. Blocking or controlling information flows stunts our growth and virtually assures defeat if not death. It is the optimization of listening–being open to *all* information (and especially all the information the secret world now ignores)–that optimizes our ability to adjust, evolve, and grow.

2) Command & control is history, block and wire diagrams are history. General Al Gray had it right in the 1990’s when he talked about “commander’s intent” as the baseline. Leaders today need to be disruptive, to look for dissonant views and news, and to empower all individuals at all levels with both information, and the authority to act on that information.

3) Disorder is an *opportunity*. We have the power to define ourselves, our “opponents,” and our circumstances in ways that can either inspire protective, constricted, secretive, “armed” responses, or inclusive, open, sharing “pro-active” peaceful responses.

The author is to be praised for noting early on in the book that “Ethical and moral questions are no longer fuzzy religious concepts but key elements in the relationship any organization has with colleagues, stakeholders, and communities.” I would extend that to note that social ethics and foreign policy ethics are the foundation for sustainable life on the planet, and we appear to be a long way from understanding that it is ethics, not guns, that will stabilize and fertilize…Cf Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People.

It also merits comment that the author essentially kills the industry of forecasting, scenarios, modeling, and futures simulations. I agree with her view (and that of others) that early warning is achieved, not through the theft of secret plans and intentions or the forecasting of behavior, but rather by casting a very wide net, listening carefully to all that is openly available, sharing it very widely (as the LINUX guys say, put enough eyeballs on it, and no bug will be invisible), and then being open to changed relationships. Trying to maintain the status quo will simply not do.

I give the author credit for carrying out an extraordinary survey of the literature on quantum mechanics, and for developing a PhD-level explanation of why old organization theory, based on the linear concepts of Newtonian physics, is bad for us, and how the new emergent organization theory, understood by too few, is let about the things and more about the relationships between and among the things.

This is an elegant essay and a heroic personal work of discovery, interpretation, and integration. While I would have liked to see more credit given to Kuhn, Drucker, Garfield, Brand, Rheingold, and numerous others that I have reviewed here for Amazon, on balance, given the academic narrowness of her Harvard PhD, I think the author has performed at the Olympic level. This is a radical book, somewhat reminiscent of Charles Hampden-Turner’s book, Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development. which as I recall was not accepted by Harvard as a thesis at the time. Perhaps Harvard is evolving (smile).

For other key books that complement and precede this book, see my lists on information society, collective intelligence, business intelligence, and intelligence qua spies and secrecy in an open world.

A handful of other amazing books (am limited to ten total):
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration

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