Review: The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management–Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century

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5.0 out of 5 stars Startling clarity, common sense, and immediate relevance

September 21, 2010

Steve Denning

I received a copy of this book as a galley from the publisher, and I strongly recommend it in any form. I first met Steve Denning when he was recently retired from being program director of knowledge management at the World Bank, and had created no-cost global networks for multinational information sharing decades before the term M4IS2 came into vogue (Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making). His first book, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations (KMCI Press) remains an essential reference for any leader at any level.

This book grabbed me right away, and while it reminds me of Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, and Gifford Pinchot, with a strong leavening from all the books I have been reading in the Collective Intelligence, Evolutionary Activism, Human Scale, and Epoch B Leadership arenas, this is clearly his own unique work and I would venture to say that this is the first book that captures the essence of 21st Century leadership.

My only negative thought is that the book is not “green” in any way, shape, or form, but I have absolute faith that the best of the leaders who read this book will understand thats when the author talks about “Radical Transparency,” this should be applied to the entire life cycle of any product or service, and all “true costs” represented.

Amazon Page (Hard Copy)

Oddly enough, this book is a perfect complement to the book I just finished reviewing a couple of days ago, Rethink: A Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation and I recommend the two together–or at least read my summary of the latter book before you buy and read this one.

“Look Inside the Book” is visible at the hard copy page but not here, so here are the seven principles, each a chapter with anecdotes, each worth reading many times over. This is a book/e-book to be shared or bought in bulk for entry level, mid-career, and senior executives.

Principle #1: Delighting Clients. The author has studied others and noted the three layers of corporate performance, the lowest being you’ll take what we give you; the second being we know what you need here it is; and the third being what do you need today, we’ll do it faster, better, cheaper. Impossible to go wrong with this principle, especially if your clients are the five billion poor and they can only afford a $2 refrigerator. See The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Revised and Updated 5th Anniversary Edition: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits.

Principle #2: Self-Organizing Teams. This was a riveting chapter for me, and where I recollected the 1996 two hour presentation by Gifford Pinchot to an audience that received End of Bureaucracy and the Rise of the Intelligent Organization. This is so very current with what Digital Natives demand and Analog Leaders do not get–leadership is about nurturing teams, not about top-down micro-management. See my 90+ reviews at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog on complexity & catastrophe (top down micro management) and on complexity & resilience (self-adapting teams, always).

Principle #3: Client-Driven Iterations. This is a very important chapter, and most existing “leaders” (actually more like administrators without any innovative spirit left) will simply not get it. Better is the enemy of good enough, something now that is 70% complete without waste is better than 120% three weeks late with functions we cannot understand.

Principle #4: Delivering Value to Clients in Each Iteration. Carries on from above with more depth. This really is a “hand-book” for natural capitalism that also creates happiness–see my reviews of Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution and of The Hidden Wealth of Nations as well as Derek Bok’s new book, The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being.

Principle #5: Radical Transparency. Here is important to note that the author uses the words “radical” and “agile” interchangeably. This is less about revealing the naked emperor and more about getting the truth on the table and really digging deep into both the true costs and needed value propositions. I like what the Chairman of Satchi and Satchi says: “until you get the truth on the table, no matter how ugly, you cannot deal with it.” As Ben Gilad notes in Business Blindspots: Replacing Your Company’s Entrenched and Outdated Myths, Beliefs and Assumptions With the Realities of Today’s Markets a book that I strongly recommend used or in any other form, most CEO’s are out of touch with reality–the information reaching them is filtered, late, biased, and generally incomplete. Customers today want businesses that do not waste, do not sweat children, do not avoid taxes, and ideally that also support a cause or a Millenium Goal or whatever. Everyone on the team needs to see everything inside and out.

Principle #6: Continuous Self-Improvement. This may strike some as old hat, but the reality is that in the US we do not do this well. Instead, we have a culture of cheating (see The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead). This is a good point to observe that if there were one word to describe this book’s focus, it would be: INTEGRITY. Integrity in dealing with the client’s needs; integrity in dealing with employees, the facts, and sources; integrity in follow-through.

Principle #7: Interactive Communication. This chapter alone could be made mandatory reading in every MBA program where they still do not teach commercial intelligence (decision-support) and the fundamentals of cross-boundary information sharing and sense-making. In my 25 years as a professional intelligence officer, I learned that the written word is largely worthless–you have to walk around and see the body language and hear between the lines; and I was taught by the head of the South African intelligence community, speaking to a very large gathering in the 1990′s when I was there to teach, that organizational communication must be “like a DNA spiral,” interacting at every level, across every function, etcetera. This need is given lip service by so many. The author is deeply authentic and very very relevant to today’s challenges in his discourse on this point.

He concludes the book with several offerings including a mind-boggling list of specific practices related to each principle that could easily be another book if spelled out, but the apt reader will be like a graduate round-table, expanding and emphasizing.

Along with this book I recommend Tom Atlee’s Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change and Peggy Holman’s latest book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity.

All of my books are free online as well as on sale, of them all I will just mention the latest one for this simple reason: in the information age, no organization can stand alone. It MUST be constantly sharing information with all others, and it MUST be constantly engaged in real time sense-making. Most governments and corporations are absolutely clueless on this point, so if you want to read up on this, I recommend INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainaabilty.

The author is a humanist, not a technocrat, as engaging in person as he is in the written word. I regard him as an ethical and practical leader for our times.

Amazon limits me to 10 links–ALL links are active at Phi Beta Iota, where I also point to the book lists across the 98 categories in which I read. I do believe I am going to elevate this book to 6 Stars and Beyond. It is a must read for anyone serious about getting their organization into the next decade.

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