The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

by Peter M. Senge

Senge writes, “I believe that, the prevailing system of management is, at its core, dedicated to mediocrity. It forces people to work harder and harder to compensate for failing to tap the spirit and collective intelligence that characterizes working together at their best.”

The subtitle is about the learning organization, but the book is also very much about systems thinking. 

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When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency

When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency

by Roger L. Martin

Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto from 1998 to 2013, writes about a fragile imbalance in the U.S. economy and the erosion of the middle class. Major themes include efficiency vs. resilience, reductionist thinking vs. complex adaptive systems, and gaming the system. He cites examples of companies where an obsession with efficiency was catastrophic, and conversely, where slack is the secret sauce. He offers policy solutions in such areas as antitrust, taxation, stockholder voting rights, and education.

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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

by David Epstein

“The response, in every field, to a ballooning library of human knowledge and an interconnected world has been to exalt increasingly narrow focus… Both training and professional incentives are aligning to accelerate specialization, creating intellectual archipelagos.”

In Range, David Epstein examines the advantages of having a range of experiences, a broader perspective, an interdisciplinary approach, and the value of flexible thinking and reasoning in a world full complexity and uncertainty where precise, deterministic solutions are unknowable.

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2021 Castlin Manifesto: Strategy in Polemy

2021 Castlin Manifesto: Strategy in Polemy

by JP Castlin

JP Castlin is a strategic thinker and consultant based in Sweden. Major themes in his Manifesto are complexity and emergent strategy. In the chapter on marketing, he is not shy about challenging prominent figures. The paper is 71 pages including an impressive 9-page bibliography with academic papers, articles, and books cited throughout the text. Continue reading “2021 Castlin Manifesto: Strategy in Polemy”

Agility: How to Navigate the Unknown and Seize Opportunity in a World of Disruption

Agility: How to Navigate the Unknown and Seize Opportunity in a World of Disruption

by Leo M. Tilman and Gen. Charles Jacoby (Ret.)

“The need for agility in business, government and warfare arises precisely from the uncertainty and complexity of the competitive environment.”

I imagine both co-authors of Agility have some battle scars—Tilman from Bear Stearns during the 2008 financial industry crisis and Jacoby from his career in the U.S. Army where he achieved the rank of 4-star general. Kidding aside, this book goes beyond military metaphors and presents a fusion of military and business thinking about risk intelligence and uncertainty as well as a leadership approach that emphasizes truth (as opposed to assumptions), trust, clear communication, and executional dexterity throughout the organization.

Complex adaptive systems “are constantly changing and evolving. They lack centralized control. They are inhabited by a multitude of stakeholders driven by distinct objectives, risk tolerances and modes of operation. These players interact in dynamic tension with one another, alternating between the urge to recoil from and engage in risk-taking and aggression. Their actions and adaptations lead to entirely unpredictable patterns and outcomes.” Continue reading “Agility: How to Navigate the Unknown and Seize Opportunity in a World of Disruption”

Rethinking Risk Management: Critically Examining Old Ideas and New Concepts

Rethinking Risk Management: Critically Examining Old Ideas and New Concepts

by Rick Nason

Rick Nason challenges the status quo of risk management which mindlessly follows third-party frameworks and does too little independent thinking. He argues that risk management acts as “The Department of No” while ignoring upside risk. He envisions risk management as a strategic player in value creation rather than a cost center. Continue reading “Rethinking Risk Management: Critically Examining Old Ideas and New Concepts”

Organize for Complexity

Organize for Complexity: How to get life back into work to build the high-performance organization

by Niels Pflaeging

“As we have seen, the world has already changed—high complexity in value creation has become the norm.” This book proposes a cell-based organizational structure (Beta) better suited to a complex, unpredictable world than the traditional hierarchical system (Alpha).  Continue reading “Organize for Complexity”

Humble Inquiry

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

by Edgar H. Schein

Retired MIT Sloan School of Management professor Edgar Schein asserts, “Without good upward communication, organizations can be neither effective nor safe… Your organization may be underperforming because various employees or groups do not recognize the degree to which they are, in fact, interdependent.” The gist of this book is about creating a trusting environment with open communication across hierarchical boundaries. This entails less telling, more asking, and better listening.

“The U.S. culture is strongly built on the tacit assumptions of pragmatism, individualism, and status through achievement… Given those cultural biases, doing and telling are inevitably valued more than asking and relationship building. However, as tasks become more complex and interdependent, collaboration, teamwork, and relationship building will become more necessary. That, in turn, will require leaders to become more skilled in humble inquiry.”

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Simple Complexity: a Management Book for the Rest of Us, a Guide to Systems Thinking

Simple Complexity: a Management Book for the Rest of Us, a Guide to Systems Thinking

by William Donaldson

This book is about applying the principles of complexity and systems thinking to management. “Every organization is a system—in fact, a system of systems, perfectly designed to get the results it is getting today… Systems thinking is the unifying discipline that brings clarity to all of the other disciplines at work in your enterprise… The key, defining concept of systems thinking to remember is that nothing in the system is ever unconnected.”

Donaldson emphasizes the importance of context. “You have to ensure everyone has shared mental models of the enterprise and its management system… Remembering that context can enhance learning and comprehension by 50-100 percent, you must give employees context for both the part of the system they play a role in and the whole system.”

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