Reinventing Organizations by Frederick Laloux is so far the best book I’ve read in 2014. Which is worth noting given that I average about 20-30 non-fiction books a year.
Laloux applies a developmental psychology lens to looking at organizations. As it turns out, every major shift in the way we, humans, viewed the world, was accompanied by major innovations in the way we collaborate and work together, as summarized by the (modified) table taken from the book below:
The vast majority of organizations today operate under an “achievement” paradigm, but a shift from “achievement” to “pluralistic” is already a noticeable trend in the industry. Laloux, however, chooses to focus on the next paradigm shift: from “pluralistic” to “evolutionary”. He studied an impressive set of organizations who have already made or are in the process of making the paradigm shift, and distilled the commonalities into three major innovations: self management, striving for wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.
But not stopping there is what turns this book from an average to a very good one. For each of these innovations, Laloux provides detailed descriptions of how the core organizational structures, processes and practices change as a result. From decision-making, through hiring, firing and promoting, all the way to the squishy topic of organizational culture (I’ll cover the latter in a separate post).
For example, he provides some of the most inspiring and detailed descriptions of self management, a term that often gets aimlessly thrown around in agile environments. In the process, he debunks, through real examples rather than theory, some of the most common misconceptions around this concept, like the belief that the lack of hierarchy automatically means that there’s no structure, no management and no leadership.
The book does have its weaknesses. The forward, by Ken Wilson, is the worst part of the book and almost made me miss out on a phenomenal read. Referencing the organizational paradigms by their colors rather than their one-word descriptions was distracting at best. But most importantly, organizations with long and deep value chains, like software companies, are not getting a lot of attention in the study and the book. Laloux acknowledges in the appendix that they require certain adaptations, but Holacracy, the one known “operating system” for such organizations, is only covered anecdotally in the book.
As an aspiring evangelist of Laloux’s thesis, the things that I’m missing the most are shorter materials that I can use to pique the interest of a boarder yet-to-be-engaged audience, for which reading a 300+ page book is asking too much. A 10-page HBR-like article or a 20-min TED-like video talk will be great.
Get it. Read it. And tell me what you think.