Brave New Work, by Aaron Dignan, is that wonderful mix of aspiration and “down in the trenches” practicality which gives a sense of both what can be achieved how to get there.
His approach is compelling. He talks of the death by a thousand (paper) cuts of bureaucracy, and how this virus that pervades our organisations came about through an inability to accept that people can decide for themselves, and a pernicious belief in the organisation as a machine. Complicated, but predictable nonetheless.
This metaphor is demonstrably false. Organisations are complex, not complicated. They cannot be predicted and their workings cannot be controlled. The advent of bureaucracy is an attempt to control that which should not be controlled, the make it predictable. Where this is achieved, it comes at the substantial cost of the organisation itself becoming paralysed.
Instead of these rule-bound organisations, top heavy and lumbering through the world, Dignan proposes the creation of organisations that are nimble, fulfilling, able to respond and indeed shape the fast moving world around them. The organisations Dignan describes would be anti-fragile and highly profitable.
To get there requires an understanding of systems, and specifically complex adaptive systems. It also requires a huge dose of humility from those at the top of the organisational chart, as they must cede absolute authority. It means that our organisations become “People Positive” and “Complexity Conscious”, and we pay attention to the organisations’ Operating System (OS)
Dignan develops these notions further throughout the book, first describing their influence across 12 domains of the “OS Canvas” that have been demonstrated to be important in shifting organisations to become “Evolutionary Organisations”: Purpose Authority Structure Strategy Resources Innovation Workflow Meetings Information Membership Mastery Compensation
Each domain is quickly sketched out with an anecdote, some ideas across a broad spectrum of the management literature, and then thought starters.
This is a highly approachable book written in an engaging way. It is very easy to read, and very hard to put down. It gets the weighting just right between being superficial and being so in-depth that you get bogged down in the detail.
It makes a compelling argument for moving toward an evolutionary organisation, with plentiful doses of reality to guard against naive optimism. Its closing Part describes how to gently make the transition, to introduce the change so that it is consistent with the ultimate end point of an evolutionary organisation. Which domains are worth dabbling in? How might that be done quickly? The role of small, live test beds for change. The spread of change via contagion rather than decree.
This book is important for people in positions of power, as they can transform their organisations simply by shifting their own role from one of control to one of creating and maintaining space for their people. Giving their people and their organisation the space to evolve into their best version possible, and then continuing this evolutionary process.
I could go on. I really enjoyed this book. It’s a hopeful book, and it’s a practical book. I found myself reflecting on all of the various places I have worked, including as a leader myself, and thought of where it fell down, where the Brave New Work principles could have been tested.
A book that I highly recommend if you think that work could be better, and you want to enable that change.