Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Fri 5 Mar 04 12:14
And two more questions to throw out: 1) What about Core Groups not within organizations, but across organizations? Interlocking Boards of Directors? The military-industrial complex. Or the liberal media. You mention that a common theme of both left and right politics is a sense of distrust for the Core Groups on the other side. And, in important ways, things like the Enron scandal or the Bush Administrations foreign policy dont happen just within an organization, but across organizations. Its easy to demonize small groups of players as cabals in these things, but it doesnt seem to do justice to your Core Group idea to see them just as rogue conspiracies. How do Core Group dynamics work across organizations? (It occurs to me that the emergence of Kerry through the Democratic primary process is a wonderful example of hive mind) 2) You note how society hasnt always had organizations in the modern sense, but now were up to our eyeballs in them. And that the book tries to chart a way forward from here. I have an interesting first impression, which I will probably retract later, but still maybe it makes a good question: In some ways, the book reads a bit like an ancient astronomer trying to make Ptolemys system work by adding more epicycles. The premise is that were stuck with organizations, so we have to find out how to have better ones. But is that really the case? Are they so embedded in our thinking that they preclude a Copernicus coming along and offering an alternative social form that (after a few long and bitter centuries) just supplants?
Art Kleiner (art) Sat 6 Mar 04 11:17
Keta, these are questions that are going to take a lot of thought. Particularly the last one. Because I actually feel that seeing organizations, as they are, is not like being the last Ptolemaic epicycle-spinner (according to Arthur Koestler, that WAS Copernicus), but more like being an early devotee of natural selection: Seeing an invisible process that, once seen, is now reliable as a causal factor. While I'm composing my thoughts on this one, I can at least provide the basic metaphor for the "hive mind." In trying to find the thing that sets an organizational direction as a whole, I remembered playing Loren Carpenter's multiple player computer games, the Cinematrix. (I experienced it at the Hacker's Conference, I think, in 1984.) Kevin Kelly uses the Cinematrix and the "hive mind" metaphor at the beginning of Out of Control, of course, but he doesn't link it to organizations. In the Cinematrix, each member of the audience has a joystick. Each of them exerts some pull on the direction of the cursor or paddle on the screen. The paddle moves where they send it in aggregate. In an organization, some people have greater "thrust" to their joysticks than others. Some people have the knack of being ahead of the direction that the cursor is about to move; others have the perpetual experience of trying to move the organization in the opposite direction. Some see their efforts continually canceled out, in terms of their effect on the direction of the whole. So where does the cursor move? When all the contradictory signals are cancelled out, it moves in the direction set by peoples' perceptions of where the Core Group wants to go. That's why perception of the Core Group is so important -- it represents the distinguishing factor that sets the direction of the organization's next move. .
Art Kleiner (art) Sat 6 Mar 04 11:22
Joe, you ask, What can a Core Group member do to be more effective? And this is the flip side of the question, "What distinguishes Great Core Groups from run-of-the-mill ordinary Core Groups?" I agree, Gail, this IS normative. The core group nature of organizations is (in my view) simply a description of the way they work. But the statement, "Behind every great organization is a great core group" -- well, that's a provocation. And an unprovable one. So if you're a Core Group member, how do you make the organization great? One could start by asking oneself the following set of questions (and answering them honestly).... In this organization, do I want to build for a long-term future, or simply to generate a big reward -- for instance, am I simply trying to cash out?" "If I'm simply trying to cash out (etc.), am I honest about this with the people who work here, or am I leading them on?" If I want to build for a future, do I believe that I can do this myself, or do I need a large group of others in a collaborative effort? If I believe I need others, am I committed to listening to their ideas and opinions, or have we hired them primarily to carry out my orders? If I genuinely believe I need others collaboratively, then, what kind of core group needs to take shape in this organization five to ten years from now to achieve our desired future? What do I need to do now to develop people in my organization so they are ready to take part in that future core group when it needs them?
Art Kleiner (art) Sat 6 Mar 04 23:47
OK, back to pick up a couple of loose ends: What makes a Great Core Group? And (implicitly, in Doug's post and some others), how do we know a great Core Group isn't just in the eye of the beholder? I think the answer lies in analyzing results. For instance, consider Springfield Remanufacturing Company (now SRC, Inc.). This is the "Great Game of Business" company (or group of companies) set up by Jack Stack. Consider these results: 1. Profitability by any standard. 2. 23+ profitable companies emerging in 25 years from a failing International Harvester plant that was about to be shut down. 3. A thriving business in remanufacturing. 4. An employee-stock-ownership plan that has engendered wealth for hundreds of employees -- real wealth. 5. A palpable degree of commitment, enthusiasm, and learning on the part of employees, and an atmosphere which reflects it. 6. One best-selling book (The Great Game of Business) and another highly acclaimed book (A Stake in the Outcome). 7. A bunch of articles in Inc. magazine. 8. Probably a lot of other results I don't have at my fingertips. 9. The CEO, Jack Stack, earns a very nice living and an international reputation without having to get on an airplane very often. (I.e, most of the company's activities take place in and around Springfield, Mo.) 10. There's a new industrial park, designed with high environmental quality, and other new institutions, including a bank, which are highly influenced by the concept of financial literacy, and which in turn are having an effect on Springfield's culture and ethos. 11. The idea of financial literacy itself may make an increasing difference.... === OK, now consider the results of Exxon-Mobil: 1. An international brand. 2. One of the top three oil companies. 3. An environmental record which is scrutinized and spotty. 4. Profits. Performance. 5. A good stock price. Which organization has the "better" results? Obviously, I'm more enthusiastic about SRC. But I also know the company better. And which would I want to be a shareholder in? I'd reserve my judgement until I really explored each company in depth. What I'd really like is an almanac that included Results and Core Group data for each company: A combination of Everybody's Business (the great Milt Moskowitz compendium) and Hoover's Guide to Corporations (but with fewer punches pulled). 'Course, that would take an enormous research effort (and budget). In the absence of such efforts, all I can do is offer guesswork, based on the meager knowledge of the companies that have been written about. Sunbeam had a terrible Core Group, both before and during Al Dunlap's era. We know this from their results -- their results are consistent with the results of companies whose core groups are virtually asleep at the switch (before) and deliberately parasitical (during). (This is based on John Byrne's great book Chainsaw.) In fairness, Dunlap (whom I met only once, and who charmed some people I respect, like Nell Minow), may have sincerely believed that his "toughlove" medicine was the right medicine for this moribund company. On the other hand, his actions all seemed to betray an intention to patch over difficulties, get the share price up at whatever cost, and then sell out to another company (after which, it's their problem to keep the enterprise going.) To me, an array of great results may or may not include satisfying stakeholders. I prefer to position myself by asking, "How would history judge this company?" For instance, "What would history ask of a for-profit corporation?" Here's my list, off the top of my head: 1. Generating real wealth for as many of its employees and shareholders as possible. 2. Creating products and services that truly ennoble customers. 3. Innovating ideas and things that make a positive difference. 4. Finding and fulfilling needs well. 5. Not just doing no environmental harm, but providing net environmental and social benefit (by some credible measure). 6. People who come home from work at the end of a day there are glad they went. And their lives are better, at the end of their time there, for having worked there. How can you learn if a company fulfills such results? By studying their record, and interviewing people who work there. And then I personally believe that every company that meets this criteria has a great Core Group. It would have to. A great Core Group isn't defined circularly as "a Core Group of a company that meets these criteria." (Tho it's tempting to do so.) A great Core Group is a core group that, in its actions and its attentions. demonstrates a genuine regard for -- and competence in -- building an organization that can produce quality and wealth in the long term. And what do I mean by "quality"? Any definition good enough for Robert Pirsig is good enough for me.
Joe Flower (bbear) Sun 7 Mar 04 23:02
So you would judge a Core Group by other than its own standards? I can easily imagine a Core Group that, by its own standards, operated wonderfully, but did not serve the greater good at all. Enron, to take the most obvious case, was held up for years as a model of good management and great esprit de corps, a prime example for all management consultants. That is an important judgment to make, in my eyes. If we were to judge core Groups solely by their own internal standards, I would be left with a lot of âYeah, butâs. My reaction to your book has been quite personal. Everywhere I look I find confirmation of why my history with organizations has been so spotty. Your chapter on schools was such a clear description of my experience: the deepest learning in schools is not the education, itâs learning that the most important thing is whether you are in the Core Group, and in what way you serve it. The experience made me never want to come near a Core Group. In my case, the usual dysfunctional nature of the school Core Group was deepened by the fact that the schools were Catholic â the Core Group was wrapped in mystery and impenetrable authority. One of the schools was a junior seminary, where the experience was made infinitely more confusing by the fact the true goal of the Core Group was not to turn these young boys into priests (as advertised and continually loudly proclaimed), but to turn them into sex toys. Values are extremely important to thinking about Core Groups. There is a moral dimension to this discussion.
Joe Flower (bbear) Sun 7 Mar 04 23:03
I was reminded, as well, of the way I got fired from one of my first jobs. I worked for a small chain of boutiques in the Bay Area. I was in charge of all the transportation, to get the dresses and purses and such out to the stores in the suburbs. But I only had one truck. It was deeply and repeatedly impressed on me the importance of getting the merchandise to the stores on Friday for the weekend shopping. If a shopper did not find what she wanted, she wouldnât come back next week, she would just go to another store. One Friday afternoon I had the truck all loaded and ready to go, when one of the three partners called. He wanted a desk moved. Now. I explained the situation: only one truck, all loaded, gotta get the merchandise out there . . . He wanted it now. Was he going to use it over the weekend? No. Would there be any difference between Friday afternoon and Monday morning for moving the desk? No. But he wanted it now. I was stuck between the good of the company (as explicitly laid out to me), and the demands of one of its Core Group. I delivered the dresses on Friday, the desk first thing Monday morning, and got fired. The other partners agreed I had done the right thing, but shrugged their shoulders at his outrageous behavior, and could not be inconvenienced to confront it. He was in the Core Group and I was not.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 9 Mar 04 14:32
Yes, I wonder if anyone can ever really answer the question of where their contribution fits into what comes before and after. I like that question, "What would history ask of a for-profit corporation?" And I agree that there's a moral dimension to the discussion. Here's a question - how can an organization welcome (and keep) "The Seventh Generation" in its core group? I laughed at the comment in the book about how at magazines either the production staff is the core group (in which case deadlines are sacrosanct), or editorial is (in which case last-minute brilliance comes through). I, too, had a couple of stints at the Whole Earth Review, and one of my lasting memories is working on the Essential Catalog and having the job of asking Peter Warshall every morning if he had his assigned pages done yet. He ended up blowing every deadline, and then turning in a huge brilliant integrated chunk right before it was time for him to leave. That's what everyone apparently knew he would do, except for the earnest new guy.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 9 Mar 04 14:49
I know this is a bit off the subject of the book, but thinking back to my Whole Earth days gets me thinking about Stewart Brand's trajectory, and what his career has to say about "who matters." With the Whole Earth Catalog, the publication cultivated the vision that perhaps the Core Group included everyone. And even in the mid 80's, when I was there, there was still a sense of the power and significance of the "over-the-transom" contributions from strangers. Someone would just come by and leave a tool or an idea or a piece of writing, and it was welcomed and incorporated. Then, the WELL. My image of Stewart is the guy who spent most of the time holed up in his boat, and came out with a faraway look in his eye. Little did I know how much time he was spending in there as <sbb>, and he was one of the first people to have a core group of compelling phantasms from far and wide. Then the Global Business Network. I don't know a lot about what they do, but I know it costs $4000 just to read the website. What I wonder, I guess, is how to interpret that vision of Core Groups.
Joe Flower (bbear) Tue 9 Mar 04 22:19
Come to think of it, GBN is a fascinating riff on the whole Core Group idea. I wonder what you make of that, ART?
from RON BEAN (tnf) Wed 10 Mar 04 13:30
Ron Bean writes: Art writes: >Ron, I couldn't agree more with everything in #23. Your throwaway >line, "Don't ask me how I know this!" makes me curious to know >more about the circumstances under which you decided to leave one >place (I assume)... just curious,.... It's a long story, but I used to do purchasing for a local branch of a large company where the salesmen were the core group (to get promoted beyond a certain point you had to be in sales). It was actually a type of leasing company, so we had some leeway on exactly what we delivered-- what we were actually selling was the service. The corporate purchasing guys were always trying to get everything for the lowest price, even if they had to cut a few corners. I was supposed to tell the salesmen that it was an equivalent product (even if it wasn't). They didn't always fall for it, and it was very frustrating because I sometimes agreed with them, but I was supposed to follow orders from headquarters. It often seemed like the company was at war with itself (or at least, they were trying to follow two different strategies at once), and I was stuck in the middle. Now that I think about it, I wonder if the corporate headquarters had a different core group than the local branch. I thought some cross-training would have helped a lot-- I got the impression that the people at the corporate level hadn't worked in a local branch for a long time (or ever). Some companies have their executives periodically spend a day or two in some front-line job for exactly this reason (I think you could tell a lot about a company just by asking the execs if they'd be willing to do this). Cross-training is one of those things that a lot of people talk about but somehow never get around to doing-- I don't know why, the benefits seem obvious. >I don't know Po Bronson's book. I've heard of it, of course, but >I haven't read it. It's interesting to read Bronson's book ("What Should I Do With My Life") along side Herminia Ibarra's book ("Working Identity"). Bronson is a journalist and Ibarra is an academic, but they come to very similar conclusions, namely that the story of your life only makes sense in hindsight, and you won't necessarily know what you're looking for until after you've found it (as opposed to the "parachute theory" which says that there must be something in your past that gives you a clue about the future). So instead of thinking about it, they say just go do something and see what happens, and *then* think about it (but not too much). >Does Silicon Valley thrive because it attracts smart people or >because it fosters a community among them? Or are those >reinforcing? (I am not sure they are; lots of places attract >smart people without having much of a community in them.) I think the community attracts the people-- if not, then you have to ask why they go there in the first place.
Art Kleiner (art) Wed 10 Mar 04 20:42
Well, its been a frenetic couple of days, but now the kids are asleep, and the frenzy has died down a bit, and theres nothing Id rather do than tie up the loose ends here or some of them Re #50: Keta writes: > It looks like your book doesnt presume that theres always something profound to the source of the distinctions the example of an organization in a ski area where being a non-skiier (or even a non-natural at it) keeps people out of the core group. I mostly buy Robert Fullers notion in Somebodies and Nobodies that racism and sexism arent really visceral ends in themselves, but rather means to the deeper, shadowy desire to always have a scapegoat or other to blame and outrank. And then you really provide a kicker: > An organization is on a trajectory, but there is a whole realm of work/activity that is cyclic. It doesnt have to be discussed in gender terms, but in some ways, thats easiest. The saying, a womans work is never done, originally referred to the fact that as soon as you feed someone, they are already becoming hungry again; as soon as you clean, dirt is arising; sustaining life is tending a birth-growth-flowering-seed-decay-renewal cycle. I wonder if organizations inherently define cyclic work as not mattering? And then: > Do organizations systematically evolve a consensus that sustaining life doesnt matter? Do they act as if trajectory can exist without the background field? In I Ching terms, Where is the yin? Boy, I wish Id heard that (or thought it) before writing the book. I think youve nailed a critical difference between organizations and communities. I think this is why its appropriate for organizations to have Core Groups, but abusive for communities to have them. Organizations are going somewhere. Communities are living through the cycles. Very nice. Course, you can have an organization and a community in the same space. David, you and I both worked in such an enterprise Whole Earth. (Not quite at the same time; I think you entered about a year after I left.) One of the interesting things about Whole Earth, in retrospect, was the way in which it struggled to define itself as both. I think of Stewart, myself, Stephanie, and Kathleen as pursuers of the organization (when I was there); Anne, JD Smith, Ben, Lorrie, Susan, and Dick as the keepers of the community. And most of the others as sort of on the fence sometimes quite eloquently on the fence (like J. Baldwin). So while theres a certain yin quality to community and a yang quality to organization, Im not sure their passionate acolytes can be divided by gender Re#51: How do Core Group dynamics work across organizations? (It occurs to me that the emergence of Kerry through the Democratic primary process is a wonderful example of hive mind) When I talked to Robert Monks (the patrician shareholder activist and former Republican candidate for US Senator from Maine) about the Core Group idea, he immediately focused on the national Core Group the one that covertly runs the country. But I have a hard time believing in just one Core Group in a system as complex as a cross-organizational structure. Thats why I like Robert Dahls book Who Governs? And Tom Wolfes Bonfire of the Vanities so much they both depict cities (New Haven and New York, respectively) rife with Core Groups, that are almost unconscious of each other (and of the effects they have on each other). I dont think theres one ruling elite, not even Skull and Bones members. I think there are a lot of ruling elites, each with their own dominance on different peoples cognitive maps, and they often come in for rude awakenings when they discover the limits on their influence. (One reason I dont like A Man in Full as much is that Wolfes Atlanta is a lot less rich in Core Groups than his New York.) Also re: 51: 2) The premise is that were stuck with organizations, so we have to find out how to have better ones. But is that really the case? Are they so embedded in our thinking that they preclude a Copernicus coming along and offering an alternative social form that (after a few long and bitter centuries) just supplants? Ill believe it when I see it, keta. I still remember all the excitement about alternatives to hierarchy in the 1970s. But I never saw an alternative. I think there are very few (probably no) pure hierarchies, in the sense of a social system that follows the lines of command and control precisely. But there is a natural tendency toward hierarchy that may well be ingrained in human nature. (Sociobiology again and Elliot Jaques.) I dont presume to know, myself. But if there were in fact some kind of new supplanting social form slouching toward Santa Cruz to be born (forgive me), I think wed see more signs of it by now. Re #208: Joe writes: >So you would judge a Core Group by other than its own standards? Yes, and I would judge individual people that way too. In fact, thats what the study of human systems is all about, in my view the study of peoples intentions and effectiveness (singly and in groups) by other standards than their own. (I am coming to think that social psychology, sociology, management science, organizational studies, some aspects of anthropology and probably a few other fields of study should all be lumped together into a big department called human studies, mix up their jargon together, and try to sort out some better set of theories.) ÿ Enron, to take the most obvious case, was held up for years as a model of good management and great esprit de corps, a prime example for all management consultants. Yeah, we dont hear a lot about that now, do we? I remember being in BP and hearing a middle-level manager make a case that they should all be acting a lot more like Enron. Later on, I found out, the senior executives of the company were already seeing the writing on the wall, and very deliberately distancing themselves from Enron-like moves. ÿ One of the schools was a junior seminary, where the experience was made infinitely more confusing by the fact the true goal of the Core Group was not to turn these young boys into priests (as advertised and continually loudly proclaimed), but to turn them into sex toys. Stories like this consistently hit me hard. I included one of them in the book: the West Coast town where a high school teacher consistently hit on the field hockey players, and the superintendent told each of their parents, You know, youre the first to complain. The priest sex scandals were breaking when I was composing my first draft, and I consciously decided not to include them. I didnt feel I knew enough about them to reliably point to them as examples of Core Group dynamics. (Had I talked to you about it, I might have.) The distinction that makes it a Core Group dynamic, of course, is the line between individual and institutional culpability. If an individual exploits another individual, thats one kind of culpability. But if the abuse is consistently enabled by the rest of the organization, then we have an abusive Core Group structure. And of course one of the primary purposes of the organization will then become to keep the abuses going and to keep them from coming to light. ÿ Values are extremely important to thinking about Core Groups. There is a moral dimension to this discussion. Yes, Core Groups (in my view) are inevitable. But the values with which the Core Group operates are not inevitable at all. And I resonated with your desk story. Actually, I have to admit Ive been in the other side of that story sacrificing the overall profit of the enterprise for my convenience, and having the whole enterprise buy into that convenience as its purpose. Its supremely self-indulgent, but it hurts so good Re #57: Keta writes - How can an organization welcome (and keep) "The Seventh Generation" in its core group? I challenge anyone to answer that question without putting themselves in the shoes of tobacco company executives in 1953. They saw the reports that their product was addictive and carcinogenic. They chose to keep making it. What would YOU do? Im not sure too many people would have chosen the seventh-generation solution. Im not sure there IS an obvious seventh-generation solution. (The closest I can think of is to package and market cigarettes as expensive, heightened-sensation two-per-day luxuries. But I dont know if that is even technically possible.) Re #57: Keta, I had to go look you up and find out that you were David Finacom. >[Peter Warshall] ended up blowing every deadline, and then turning in a huge brilliant integrated chunk right before it was time for him to leave. Some things never change. In the Next Whole Earth Catalog (1980), we called Peters material the rat coming through the snake. Incidentally, Peter spent years trying to get into the Core Group at Whole Earth. He never quite made it (in my view at least) until Stewart left. And for good reason: He wanted to change the ethos of the whole publication, and everybody knew it. People colluded in dozens of subtle ways to keep Peter out of the Core Group, without being fully conscious that we were doing this. But then Stewart left and Peter ultimately stepped in and DID change the ethos and (in my view) Peters stint as editor was one of the magazines richest and most interesting periods. It was also fascinating to see how he was quickly adopted into the Core Group at GBN for a while in its early days. Arie de Geus had a lot to do with that. Re #58: It would be fascinating to hear from other Whole Earth alumnae about this. (Should I email Stewart? Or Peter? Or JB? Or HLR? Im a little scared to do it ) During my time, I remember explicitly saying and thinking that the Core Group of the publication did NOT include everyone and we were sometimes downright rude to people who came through the front door. Some of that was Stewarts influence; a lot of it was Anne Herberts; and probably some of it was mine. (I was in the Core Group there, Id judge, for about three years, and a Core-Group-in-training for about two years before that. I was sort of thrust into a prominent role there very fast, and went through a trial by fire in the first Catalog, but it wasnt until we startled to settle into the software stuff that I ever realized that anyone was taking my priorities seriously.) > Little did I know how much time [Stewart] was spending in [his boat] as <sbb>, and he was one of the first people to have a core group of compelling phantasms from far and wide. You know Clay Shirkys theory about online communities having Core Groups that 20% of the members are the ones whose perceptions and priorities drive the system? The link is: Its probably generally true. But I dont think it was true of the WELL. (Im not sure if its true today.) Re #208: And then theres GBN. Yes. Um. Hm. GBN. Er. Um. How much do I dare write about GBN in this venue? GBN was one of several organizations that made me aware of the Core Group concept in the first place. Five partners who came together with a common interest in scenario planning (but very different ideas about how it should be packaged and sold), with (in Jungian terms) a king (Peter Schwartz), a magician (Stewart), a lover (of humanity) (Napier Collyns, the generally acknowledged mentor to three generations of writers and thinkers), a warrior knight (Jay Ogilvy), and Lawrence Wilkinson, who bounced among all those roles. Or at least thats how I would tell it if I were writing a novel about it. Originally the idea was to make money by drawing a network together and selling access to it, in a scenario/futures context. And that IDEA has held steady, even as the Core Group of GBN has (dramatically) shifted over the years. I was very conscious of NOT being in the Core Group of GBN, while doing one or two projects for them per year. Nor was I ever close enough to it to really see how the place worked. But I did notice, around 1990, that there was a funny dynamic going on. The five partners were at the center, but there was a tension between the office staff (the magnet) and the various far-flung network members (the iron filings.) Both groups genuinely liked each other, but they were set against each other by the organizations business model. The magnet had to bulk up to sell consulting, and then the iron filings became weaker (sometimes they seemed almost irrelevant to GBNs mission.) But then the organization would somehow collectively remember that the iron filings were part of its unique advantage, and they would take on more weight and importance, and the magnet would get scattered and disorganized. The magnet was trying to do what central administrative staffs do in all services firms become part of the Core Group. And the existing Core Group resisted. That tug-of-war persisted, in my opinion, throughout the 1990s. The first real Core Group shakeup at GBN occurred right around the time Stewart left. (Come to think of it, thats when it happened at Whole Earth as well.) (Again, remember, this was just my view, akin to judging the life of a person by occasionally peering in their kitchen window.) Re #60: Ron, thanks for this story and for these insights. Im still thinking about them. As I said, the column I am just starting to put together (I do four per year on culture and change for strategy+business) is on Andrew Hargadons theory of the community nature of innovation. I was going to post these all in separate items, but one of my daughters just woke up and I need to hurry and put her back to bed. ArtK
Ron Bean (bumbaugh) Thu 11 Mar 04 08:18
Ron writes, from off-Well Douglas Weinfield writes: >This points me towards what is most poignant for me about "Who >Really Matters." I want more. I want more about what >distinguishes a good Core Group from a bad Core Group. I don't think there's any one definitive work, but several authors have described various aspects of it. What they have in common is what Art mentioned earlier: great core groups are *inclusive*. They think anyone important enough to be on the payroll is important enough to at least have some influence on the core group (that is, the group doesn't have to literally include everyone, but it does have to take them seriously). Conversely, anyone not important enough to merit that kind of consideration doesn't stay on the payroll very long (in other words, they don't take advantage of people who aren't really "on the bus"). One of the key traits of great managers is that they have the ability to see things from other people's points of view, including people they don't agree with. They say the entire Bible can be summed up in the Golden Rule. I'm not sure great core groups are much more complicated than that (OTOH, bad ones can be really complicated-- maybe because they don't want to admit what they're doing, even to themselves. Art's six questions in #53 seem to be aimed at this). Somewhere there's a quote which I can't find right now (maybe from Deming?) saying that the more people you include in your "system", the more effort it will require, but the greater the potential payoff (this might include suppliers and even customers-- as Art mentioned earlier, great salesmen often treat customers as if they were in the core group). For what it's worth, here's my "short list": Jack Stack: The Great Game of Business (1992) A Stake in the Outcome (2002) (Stack doesn't seem to be interested in being a "top dog"-- he wants to be on a great *team*, and the Game is his way of building one.) Douglas McGregor: The Professional Manager (1967) (This is one of the best books I've ever read, and IT'S OUT OF PRINT, DAMMIT! Get This Book Back In Print!) (If the first chapter seems overly abstract, keep reading, it gets better.) Saul Gellerman: Motivation and Productivity (1963, out of print) Motivation in the Real World (1992) ("You have to make their work into an instrument for getting what they want. And most people want a great deal more out of life than just money.") Robert Wright: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (Civilization advances whenever people find "nonzero sum" solutions to any given problem, and the effect is cumulative.) Benjamin Zablocki: Alienation and Charisma: A Study of American Communes (1980) (Communes aren't run like businesses, but they do have core groups. I mention this one because it's a fascinating study and you won't find it in the Business section). Ricardo Semler: Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace (1993) (Semler's motivation seems to be similar to Jack Stack's, but he takes an entirely different approach. The "Most Unusual Workplace" claim is not just hype. The "core group" is open to criticism from other employees.) Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee: Primal Leadership (2002) (Emotional aspects of leadership; McGregor mentioned this but didn't develop it as fully. This isn't really about core groups, but it may be a prerequisite to building a great one.) James O'Toole: Leading Change (1995) (This is an attempt to figure out why existing core groups often resist being inclusive: "For any system to change peacefully, the majority must willingly admit the position of the minority. Peaceful change thus requires acquiescence in upsetting the dominant worldview-- in effect, the collective eating of crow by those who have the most power to resist change." O'Toole claims that only a moral argument will carry enough weight to do this, practical arguments alone will not produce action.)
Joe Flower (bbear) Thu 11 Mar 04 09:09
Wow, Ron, thanks for that interesting list. >priest sex scandals . . . one of the primary >"purposes" of the organization will then become to keep the abuses >going and to keep them from coming to light. I couldn't enlighten you much more about that, except to note that there _must_ have been some institutional backing for the abuse: In time, a dozen priests were indicted, defrocked, or reprimanded in some other way for the abuse during those yearsn (out of a faculty that probably had no more than a dozen priests at any one time). And there were signs and hints that the priests abetted one another. I wish there were some way to know the whole inside story.
Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Thu 11 Mar 04 09:28
Art, what was your involvement in the Whole Earth Software Catalog? What years was that? Any memorable moments?
Art Kleiner (art) Thu 11 Mar 04 10:31
Yes, Ron, that's a great list. I think I'll reflect a bit on books about management from this perspective -- where's the advice to truly help you create a great core group? My involvement in the Whole Earth Software Catalog -- well, I was one of the primal players. Wrote a draft of the book proposal. Participated in hiring many of the principal players (including Matthew McClure). Was tentatively offered the job of editing the whole thing, and demurred, feeling that I didn't know enough about computers (I was right). Stewart brought in Tom Hargadon's partner, Richard Dalton, instead. And I got to take on the "domain" of telecommunications, which meant I was right in the thick of the emerging realm of personal computer communications. At the time, this was very much a sort of orphan stepchild of computer applications; the excitement was all around writing, spreadsheet, and data base programs. Andrew Fluegelman was alive then; most of the exciting telecom software was freeware. There were a lot of Core Group problems in the organization at that time, many of which were engendered by the Software Catalog and the way it was approached. I can think of a lot of things I wish we'd done differently. But as learning experiences, it was remarkable. My only (!) regret is that it didn't last a couple of years longer.
Gerry Feeney (gerry) Thu 11 Mar 04 10:33
Ron Bean (NOTW) presents an interesting list in <62>. I'm unfamiliar with most of them, but I, too, was very impressed with McGregor's work. I was an undergraduate business student at the University of Southern California (1977-80), and though my emphasis was Marketing, I took three Management courses, including a senior elective in Organizational Behavior. But I spent too much fooling around in the computer center and wound becoming a programmer. For most of my 25 years as a programmer, I've worked as a consultant and/or contract programmer and, therefore, have seen the inside of an awful lot of companies and organizations. And one of the things that has most baffled me in observing managers is how little they seem to know or care about what I learned in management courses as the new school of thought - and I assume they must have learned the same things, yet never practiced them. Despite the widespread adoption of new school jargon - e.g., changing "Personnel" to "Human Resources" was supposed to reflect progressive management thinking, moving away from the old-fashioned militaristic model to the modern organization - yet old-fashioned management based on rank, hierarchy, and motivation by threats and coercion still seems to be the most prevalent form of management. In light of your book, Art, I've been analyzing my experiences with various organizations and trying to determine if the Core Group Theory explains that behavior. I can see ways that it does, but in some cases, it's not clear to me.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Thu 11 Mar 04 12:34
Sorry Art, I forget my name is obscured. I dropped out of online life for a few years (also due to family), then came back after 911 hence the Rip Van Winkle pseud. Ah yes, the way you peg who at Whole Earth was a pursuer of organization, and who a keeper of community it instantly brings richness back to the memories. Especially J Baldwin as quite eloquently on the fence. I remember many conversations with him that had the feel of the device of Camelot (Arthur talking to Young Tom through the eve of the great battle, telling the story of once there was a spot ) I never put it into these terms before, but I think the thing I took away from working with him was how much it mattered that someone had (and was still trying to) bridge the gap between those two (organization and community). Peter Warshall yes, the one who was subtly intuited to be too dangerous to let into the core group. (I think Kevin Kelly also fit that category in some ways. And eventually, off he went to Wired.) Again, putting it into these terms gives me a new frame of reference to look at some of my work experiences. Im similar to Peter in many ways, and Ive gotten a lot of similar subtle arms-length treatment over the years. And had breakthrough experiences too. What is interesting to me is that the organizational ante-room for indigestible ethos-changers (at least in my case) seems to be jobs attending to other peoples details.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Thu 11 Mar 04 13:02
>What is interesting to me is that the organizational ante-room for indigestible ethos-changers (at least in my case) seems to be jobs attending to other peoples details. Insight on my own thought: Maybe what makes someone dangerous to an existing core group is their facility with moving between Details and Big Picture. I remember picking Peter up from the airport, and as we were driving up a curved freeway onramp, he pointed out a rare bird in the bleak, barren circle. Then went on to explain what it was doing, and generally bringing the whole landscape alive with that detail.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 11 Mar 04 13:49
Another similar inside-outsider role is the kind of person who is the rational but pessimistic brakes to an organizational sportscar. If the organization knows the brakes are valuable, that person or people can be in the core group, from my experience. But often that very valuable role is kept at arm's distance and the brakes is/are made to be even more contrarian. That's my impression anyway.
from ROBERT WORRILL (tnf) Thu 11 Mar 04 17:42
Robert Worrill writes: Re: A conversation with Art Kleiner Twenty years ago I read a book called something like "The Social Psychology of Organisations" in which was said, as I interpreted, that all organisations run with two agendas, the one they were set up to carry out and a 'Dark Agenda' made up of at least two factors. Because human beings are not completely integrated beings they tend to work on two levels. Rational goals and more basic ones, see the priests mentioned above. This is because we are some sort of evolutionary ape running "high level software" in our more than animal brain. We therfore as individuals try to inprove our situation because that is a rational thing to do ie Ivory Tower Syndrome, the more people you have underneath you the better off you are. Plus expanding the organisation in general ensures more choices and opportunities for all in the group and reduces competition from outside by overcoming competing groups and eventually becoming a monopoly. Also individuals have motives not well understood even by themselves but carried through nevertheless following "gut instincts". These individuals also work together understanding each others motives, your "core group" perhaps, and go on to influence the destiny of all around them in all sorts of ways not expected by the original setup group. All of these motives result in a malign influence on the overall society and can only be combatted by overseeing and regulation as they cannot be trusted to do this themselves, as we all know. CU Robert Worrill
from LAVINIA WEISSMAN (tnf) Thu 11 Mar 04 20:40
Lavinia Weissman writes: I am a bit of latecomer to this conversation. It is truly a great read. I have spent the last 5 months or so thinking about the practical aspects of Core Group and Jobs and what this theory means to HR. Art, I have been giving som ethought to what Core Group Theory means to the decline in jobs as productivity continues to grow. Makes for an interesting paradox in an economy burdened by deficits, job loss and other chaos. I recently did some benchmarking of a few core groups at CXO Media (CIO and CSO Magazine) that I have drafted into an article that will be posted on www.hr.com in April. Anyone can email me for an advance copy. In benchmarking this core groups thinking relative to layoffs, I learned that thought was given to best performance and how to keep the best performers that could give 150%. It made me think, are layoffs simply shave away barriers to productivity as Core Group work harder and get smarter? I see another paradox that is about work/life balance. As companies strip away resources for education and professional development and more and more workers examine how to counteract stress, how will people find and identify resources for professional development where they can learn how to professionally develop into an effective core group. Could a core group be the best approach in the long term to employment and career stability? Isn't a core group an opportunity for creating a balanced practice of work that is not completely reliant on how a leader directs his subordinates? And does a core group help an individual find balance? Clearly with the growing amount of work related stress and health issues, there is something to learn from this. It's something I am looking at in my forthcoming book Beginners Mind Core Group Theory and Practice For Leaders, Organizations and Community scheduled for publication by April 2005. I would love to interview anyone who has examples of highly functioning core groups and or is an individual that has found career stability with a core group. Contact me at email@example.com. Cordially, Lavinia Weissman www.workecology.com
Queen Amygdala (tinymonster) Fri 12 Mar 04 08:43
(Good luck, Lavinia!) <70> -- <All of these motives result in a malign influence on the overall society and can only be combatted by overseeing and regulation as they cannot be trusted to do this themselves, as we all know.> And then that raises the question of who is going to do the regulating, if all organizations, presumably governmental as well as private, are inherently corrupt. Any thoughts, Robert or anyone?
Joe Flower (bbear) Fri 12 Mar 04 08:55
>an individual that has found career stability with a core group What this brings to mind: Core Groups can actually survive the death of organizations. My ex-wife worked in San Francisco for a not-for-profit healthcare organization. In the last few years it underwnet drastic change. It merged with a much-larger Chicago-based organization, which then gutted the San Francisco operation, laid off almost everyone, and moved all major functions to Chicago. At the same time the organization's charismatic founder retired. So what happened to the core group at the original not-for-profit? Most of them moved to a different, unrelated San Francisco not-for-profit, where they seem to be replicating many of the roles and relationships they had been in for years.
Joe Flower (bbear) Fri 12 Mar 04 09:05
>if all organizations . . . are inherently corrupt I am not sure anyone here has said that -- unless you mean by "corrupt" that they are following both personal and public agendae. In that sense, the level of "corruption" would be defined by how divergent those two agendae are. In the case of Enron, for instance, or the priests at my seminary, they were wildly divergent. In other cases, they are only divergent in some ways, and complementary in others. In the case of Apple, for instance, the Core Group seems to have an agenda of being an extension of Steve Jobs -- his will, his taste, his strategic guesses. This could be called "corrupt" in the sense that it aggrandizes Jobs, and makes him rich and respected, and gives him lots of jollies. On the other hand, it seems to work for Apple -- producing great products, establishing new markets, strengthening its brand, adn getting out of debt. But the answer to how one organization can regulate another if both are "corrupt" is more complex. The complexity comes from the question: How do their Core Group agendae interact? It may well be that it serves the Core Group agenda of organization A very well to be a meticulous and thoughtful regulator of organization B. Right now, for instance, it suits the agenda of the office of the Attorney General of the state of New York to be a ferocious regulator of the securities markets -- and that says nothing about whether the Attorney General has other private agendae that might be at odds with good public policy. In this particular circumstance, his agenda seems to be serving us all.
Queen Amygdala (tinymonster) Fri 12 Mar 04 09:15
Good points. > I am not sure anyone here has said that That was just my reduction of Robert's "malign influence... cannot be trusted to do it themselves" idea. In my desire to be concise, I probably oversimplify more often than I think.
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