Igniting the Invisible Tribe – designing an organization that doesn’t suck

Igniting the Invisible TribeJosh Allan Dkystra’s new book, Igniting the Invisible Tribe. It is about a new way of business and work for the 21st Century.  It’s a fabulous, must read book on how the world of ‘work’ can, and should, evolve and what we can do, with practical real questions to answer, to make that happen.  4 things are particularly remarkable to me in the book:

  1. The book itself – the physical book
  2. Unusual and powerful analogies
  3. New Rules
  4. Tools

Igniting the Invisible TribeThe Book.  Josh’s new book is one of the reasons I think e-books are great, but will not replace the real thing.  The “architecture” of the book drives its message home by its design, flow, breaks, artwork, phrasing, spacing, footnoting style, even the texture of the cover.  It’s not a typical business book and I found myself not only enjoying the “what” of the book but the overall experience of reading the physical book itself.  This greatly enhances the book’s message and importance – it makes the need for changing how and why we work in the 21st Century more palpable and real.

Analogies: I love analogies so perhaps I’m a bit more critical of the usual mundane analogies that get used to portray the need for change in the 21st Century.  Josh’s analogies capture the essence of the shift that is underway and needs to be increased in speed and depth:

  • Revolution as a complete cycle – e.g., a trip around the sun.  If you think of it in these terms, it’s a natural progression of cycles, creating and breaking traditions and evolving beyond the status quo – it’s a revolution that is also a revolution – and if we stop, and don’t complete the revolution, we are indeed stuck in the status quo.
  • Mosaics – the need for the pieces to make the whole, the different ways you see it from up close to farther away – the various perspectives you get when you look at it from different angles and depths highlighting the fact we see it from our own individual and collective perspectives make a mosaic a perfect symbol.  We need every piece of the mosaic to make it whole and complete – no piece, regardless of size, shape, color, pattern is less significant or needed.  This is especially important, and frankly poignant, in Rule 3 (see below).

Rules:  Josh has 5 rules for the new world of business,

  • Rule 1Start with Why – rarely do we question why we do things (makes me think of us as sheep – just following the shepherd blindly).  Why do we work? To make money – why? To buy the things we need and want.  Fundamentally, we should be working because it “is valuable to us and valuable to society.”  If we feel our work is valuable, it will energize us and fill us up instead of sucking the life out of us.  Stop and think – would the world miss your company if it weren’t around?
  • Rule 2Build a Mosaic – we have spent the last century breaking things down into micro-level parts – like atoms, neutrons, etc.  This isn’t bad as long as you can still see the whole – but we haven’t.  The reason for many of our ‘wicked problems’ today is that we’ve focused on the micro instead of the macro – we’ve lost sight of the big picture.  The pieces have owners but who owns the whole?  The new economy’s value is in the mosaic – in seeing how the pieces connect and interact.  It’s in the blending of the science of deconstruction (or destruction?) with the art of recombination – what I call innovation.  It’s an AND, not a false dichotomy of either/or.
  • Rule 3Dignify the Detail Doers: Respect and Dignity pretty much sum up how we should treat people no matter what.  Let’s face it, we may be friendly to janitors but do we really view them as equals? As ‘as good as’ us? What about people who are very different from us? They are ‘interesting’ – but, nah, not ‘as good as’ us.  Each person is a potential collaborator and a human being – maybe it’s time we started to view him or her accordingly.
  • Rule 4Make like a Shark and Swim – this rule really hit me.  We are all in businesses where the market or customer segments we serve are changing all the time.  So how is it that we haven’t thought to change how we are structured to align ourselves with these markets and customers? Amazing when you stop and think about it, isn’t it?  Josh uses the example of a book – we don’t re-read a page, we read the next one and next one.  But for some reason, we’ve kept on the same page in business.  The fact is, humans resist change so organizations do too.  And because of that, they not only resist, they aren’t organized to absorb and adapt to change.  Guess what? The Gen-Y & Z’ers expect change – it’s all they’ve ever known.  We better get with it or they’ll never share their talent with us.  Life and work and business are an eternal experiment – we have our hypotheses, we test them, learn, apply and iterate, if we are successful.  Otherwise we die.  That’s the theme of the Lean Startup movement as well.  So see, the Scientific Method still applies.
  • Rule 5Be Connected, Human and Meaningful – as a Network-o-Phile, I love this rule.  We need to connect to others inside and outside our organizations – at all levels – with our partners, suppliers, customers, their customers etc.  And we need to be human – not super-human, not artificial, but genuine and authentic.  Bill Taylor challenged us to be more human in his BIF8 talk this past September.  And finally, work has to have meaning – it must benefit someone in some way at some point instead of merely be a means of making money – even if you are ‘just’ the janitor.  Josh’s discussion of giving our discretionary time to our organization reminded me of Dan Pink’s “non-commissioned work” BIF7 talk – that for 2 physicists led to a Nobel Prize.

Tools: Josh concludes the book by providing 6 tools to help us create the new world of ‘work’.  Again, a few of them were significant for me:

  • Architects & Builders: instead of leaders and followers, which imply hierarchy, power, authority and subservience, what if we called people architects (designers, ‘big thinkers’ etc.) and builders (makers, doers)?  We need both – equally – and using this language starts making the inherent need for human and customer-centered design front and center.  It applies to virtual and physical, it lifts both up to their true value without diminishing their roles.  I love this!  The change in language is so very powerful, symbolic and visual
  • G-d is in the Details:  A parody on the Devil is in the Details to stress the positive side of details – we need people who worry about details, they matter.  Even little ones can make a huge difference in an organization’s culture and environment – just think of what you are saying when you have to put a code into the copy machine? When you have parking spaces reserved for the C-suite?  And imagine if you had people who worried about making it easier for you to do your job? Amazing, huh?  One of the huge ‘ahas’ for me in this tool is the natural vs. ‘forced’ shift to focus on leading indicators instead of trailing indicators.
  • The Pyramid vs. The Bridge:  This image was visceral for me.  The pyramid is a great work – created by a dictator (Pharaoh) and executed by slaves.  Talk about command-and-control!  It’s pretty much up and down.  A bridge on the other hand provides more flexibility in terms of design – there are many ways to design and build a bridge.  It spans different locations, cultures, organizations, encourages Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (RCUS), and relies on all parts contributing to the integrity of the bridge.  It’s a place to bring people, ideas, solutions together, collaboratively.
  • Drawing Better Lines: All the lines we’ve drawn have been linear, predictable and clear.  No more.  We’ve measured outputs – like revenue and profit, not outcomes – like “customer WOW”.  Josh points out that our organization’s budgets reflect our organization’s values and morals (just like our calendars and checkbooks reflect our personal values).  We need to draw the lines so they encourage value creation – at individual and organizational levels.  This is far far from trivial.
  • Fewer Armies, More Orchestras: Josh proposes a new type of organizational structure that can quickly adapt to and leverage change, led by a conductor, just like one for an orchestra, who conducts the Builders and the Architects.  Imagine the music that could be made!  Have you noticed, when you’re at a concert, you’re usually not (or shouldn’t be) doing anything else but listening, and if you enjoy that music, you’re enthralled with and in it? What if your organization could make that same kind of ‘music’ for your customers? What if they were enthralled – Wowed – with and in it? Big difference huh?

Well, I didn’t mean to go on quite so long in this book review, but I couldn’t help myself.  This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time – on many levels.  It’s a simple and profound read – one that should hopefully encourage you to look at your own organization and see how you can make “work not suck.”  Think you can? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

image credit: .asilverthread.com

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Why am I a VC?Deb, founder of Mills-Scofield LLC, is an innovator, entrepreneur and non-traditional strategist with 20 years experience in industries ranging from the Internet to Manufacturing with multinationals to start ups. She is also a partner at Glengary LLC, a Venture Capital Firm.

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