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.”
Simple Complexity: a Management Book for the Rest of Us, a Guide to Systems Thinking
by William Donaldson
This book provides the cure for myopic management. It 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.”
Story Mythos: A Movie Guide to Better Business Stories
by Shane Meeker
“People are inspired and moved by stories…Story is about human emotions… Stories de-commodify your brand/product.” The premise of this book is that the same principles used by Hollywood filmmakers can be used to develop powerful brand stories. The author is the company historian and corporate storyteller at Procter & Gamble.
“What are your most powerful company stories, and how are you using them to inspire your people? How do you explain your purpose through different stories? What stories best demonstrate your company beliefs? How are you documenting and protecting the stories that matter? … How can you use a story to demonstrate a company’s culture?”
The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work That Wows and Jobs That Last
by Tom Peters
Tom Peters makes a renewed call to excellence in the context of an increasingly data-driven and dehumanized world. His “putting people first” mantra is even more on point than it was when his seminal work In Search of Excellence was published in 1982.
“The primary defenses against AI-driven job destruction are widespread, relatively unconstrained creativity and novel organizational arrangements designed to produce products and services that will stand out in an automated world. I unequivocally believe that such creativity is antithetical to algorithmic optimization of human affairs.”
“So what is this Excellence Dividend? In short, businesses that are committed to excellence in every aspect of their internal and external dealings are likely to be survivors. They are better and more spirited places to work. Their employees are engaged and growing and preparing for tomorrow. Their customers are happier and inclined to spread tales of their excellence far and wide. Their communities welcome them as good neighbors. Their vendors welcome them as reliable partners. That in turn translates directly into bottom-line results and growth. And, AI and robotics notwithstanding, it translates into jobs that last and the likely creation of new jobs as well.” Continue reading →
Fans Not Customers: How to Create Growth Companies in a No Growth World
by Vernon W. Hill II with Bob Andelman
Vernon W. Hill II founded Commerce Bank in 1973. In 2007, the bank “was sold to Toronto-based TD Bank for $8.5 billion, producing a 30-year, 23 percent annual shareholder return. Everyone profited, including shareholders and team members.” In 2010, he co-founded Metro Bank, bringing the same service culture to British banking. In Fans Not Customers he reveals the secret sauce of his business model. This book is about branding, differentiation, corporate culture, and organic growth, but the dominant theme is providing exceptional customer service. Continue reading →
Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity
by Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe
University of Michigan business school professors Weick and Sutcliffe studied common management attributes of “high reliability organizations” (HROs) such as aircraft carriers and nuclear power plants, where glitches can have deadly consequences. “The key difference between HROs and other organizations in managing the unexpected often occurs in the earliest stages, when the unexpected may give off only weak signals of trouble… Managing the unexpected is about alertness, sensemaking, updating, and staying in motion.” Continue reading →
The book is about ethics and reputation, value-based cultures vs. rule-based cultures, and as the author likes to say, “getting your hows right.” There are some valuable messages in the book. Continue reading →