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Kleiner's Age of Heretics

Podcast with journalist, lecturer, consultant, and author, Art Kleiner

 
Art Kleiner, strategy+business Art Kleiner

A Conversation with Art Kleiner, Author, and Editor-in-Chief strategy+business Magazine

Welcome to a special Leadership Edition of Total Picture Radio with Peter Clayton reporting. Joining us today is Art Kleiner, author of The Age of Heretics - A History of the Radical Thinkers who Reinvented Management, and Editor-in-Chief of strategy+business Magazine. I had the pleasure of meeting Art at the NeuroLeadership Summit in November where we discussed NeuroLeadership and disruptive change (interview here).

I wanted to follow-up with Art and record an interview focused on the second edition of his marvelous book, The Age of Heretics. So, here it is!

"Behind many corporate ideas or practices now wearing the mantle of 'conventional wisdom, is a heretic, someone who fought for that idea when it seemed outlandish, improbable, impossible."

The Age of Heretics explores the evolution of corporate culture - through the lives of its heretics - from 1945 to the present. The book is a history of the social movement to change large mainstream corporations for the better, but it is not just that. It is also an inquiry into the precise way in which corporations have changed our world, and what it means to be a hero or heroine in a world bounded by immense institutions.

In 1996, the first edition argued that "heretical ideas could become commonplace in mainstream business."

Now, that's happened. The ideas that are most legitimate for managing today - particularly in a downturn - were countercultural in the 1990s, and downright heretical in the 1970s and 1980s. It's taken 30 years for them to become mainstream, and they still require a shift of attitude among many managers. But to a startling degree, that shift has taken place. This book is the story of its roots.

Some stories in the 2nd Edition that were not in the first:

Jack Welch and the design of GE's WorkOut program

The intellectual feud between Robert ("Balanced Scorecard") Kaplan and Tom ("profit beyond measure") Johnson

W. Edwards Deming, the quality movement, and the Toyota production system

The effect of scenario planning in South Africa's transition from apartheid

How Michael ("Reengineering") Hammer lost his way

The "Kroning" of Pacific Bell and the launch of Dilbert.

An excerpt from Chapter 1:

Beginning in the 1950s, a few heretical managers saw--or, rather, felt--the erosion of corporate purpose and the dangers of the numbers culture. They particularly felt the loss of the community feeling, but many of them had no name to give it. At heart, though they had no easy way to articulate it, they wanted to keep the best of the vernacular culture, the concern for relationships and quality, without losing the best of corporate culture either. This yearning could be vaguely heard in the taunts that managers made to each other or dimly seen in the way that executives leaned down for the scotch bottles in their bottom desk drawers. Every year a few more managers felt spurred to risk their jobs--to capture some kind of contact, some feeling of being in touch. Every year a few more managers acquainted themselves with the ferment going on outside the walls of their companies, which in the 1960s became the ferment of the counterculture. And gradually their attitudes began to change.

That was the beginning of the age of heretics. Slowly, tentatively, and with a variety of sources, new ideas began to emerge. They were simple ideas that ran against the grain of conventional management wisdom--for example:

People are basically good at heart; they are fundamentally trustworthy. Only workplaces that give their members the chance to learn and add value through their work will succeed in the long run.

Aim for quality of work, and money will follow.

Industrial growth is not always desirable. Sometimes it can be destructive.

Predictions and forecasts are mechanistic substitutes for awareness, and substitutes for awareness lead to bad decisions.

There is no such thing as "just business, nothing personal." Business is always personal, even if it isn't supposed to be. And we are better off recognizing that.

Everything in business is connected to everything else. Business is a complex living system with many interconnections. No one can control the system; one can only learn to influence it.

Many of these ideas were based on a body of intellectual work that emerged after World War II. These ideas had roots in Western and Eastern spiritual traditions, in the new types of engineering and social science practice, in humanistic psychology and role-playing theory, in the experiences of anti-Nazi resistance fighters, in the models of systems engineers, and in the counterculture of the 1960s.

At various times, the promoters of these ideas--the heretics within corporations--have been reviled on political grounds. Critics on the left see them as ineffectual apologists for a corporate system that is so corrupt it ought to be destroyed, not reformed. Critics on the right see them as disloyal, effete, snobbish, and maybe communistic. Both sides have seen them as utopian, Pollyannaish, deluded, unrealistic, silly, pretentious, or self-serving. And there's a case to be made that many heretics are snake-oil salesman (and saleswomen) of one sort or another, putting forth ideas about, say, leadership and management that don't pan out and charging enormous (or at least significant) fees in the process.

And yet corporate heretics may be the closest thing we have, in our self-contradictory time, to a true conscience of large organizations. Many of them have lost their jobs or failed to reach their potential because they would not turn back from the truth they saw. Despite all of these frustrations, it is better to be a heretic than to have one's soul wither through the denial of a truth. And in the end, the corporations of our time are much, much better because the heretics existed.

Art Kleiner Biography

Art Kleiner was appointed Editor-in-Chief of strategy+business in 2005. Mr. Kleiner, a well-known journalist, lecturer, and consultant with a background in business management, conceived the magazine's popular Culture & Change column, which he wrote for five years. He is the author of two acclaimed books about the dynamics of organizational behavior and power.

As editorial director of the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook series (developed by MIT Professor Peter Senge), Mr. Kleiner was the coauthor of three bestsellers. His writing has appeared in Harvard Business Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Wired.

His published books include The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management (Wiley, 2008, second edition) and Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success (2003, Doubleday).

He is a writer, lecturer and commentator, with a background in business management, interactive media, corporate environmentalism, education, scenario planning, and organizational learning.

As the editorial director of the best-selling Fifth Discipline Fieldbook series with Peter Senge, he was a coauthor of Schools That Learn (2000, Doubleday) and The Dance of Change (1999, Doubleday).

Kleiner is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism (1986), and a faculty member at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, where he taught scenario planning, writing for new media, and other courses between 1986 and 1995. As a lecturer or educator, he has been associated with groups that include the Shambhala Institute Authentic Leadership program, the MIT Center for Organizational Learning, Global Business Network, and the United Nations AIDS in Africa scenario project.

At strategy+business, Mr. Kleiner is supported by a remarkable group of writers, editors, and authorities on strategy and management.

Each quarter, strategy+business attracts contributors with a depth of insight that is unmatched in peer publications. Increasingly, s+b has become a magnet and networking tool for thought leaders and executive practitioners, including C.K. Prahalad, the University of Michigan scholar and author; Stewart Brand, book author and founder of the Global Business Network and the Whole Earth Catalog; Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School; Ram Charan, advisor to boards and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies; and Jeffrey E. Garten, former Dean of the Yale School of Management. strategy+business doesn't tell readers what to think. It shows them what some of the world's smartest people are thinking about.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.

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