Recommended reading

Modern, practical

Each of the following three books treats, in a very practical way, the kinds of work that organizations need to go through to deal well with change.

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization, by Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Richard Ross, Bryan Smith and Charlotte Roberts (Doubleday, 1994), takes systems thinking into the field, tries it out, shows what works and what doesn't. Besides the five co-authors, it incorporates directly the experience of 52 others who have put the ideas of systems thinking into practice in organizations.

Discovering Common Ground, by Marvin Weisbord and 35 co-authors (Berrett-Koehler, 1992), brings together some 30 years of experience by a great many people to spell out how to conduct a "future search conference" as a method of exploring the future, finding common goals, and building consensus and energy toward them. The method works both with organizations and with communities.

On the other hand, People Skills, by Robert Bolton, Ph.D. (Simon and Schuster, 1979), focuses on individual communication skills. It's a tough, practical, comprehensive course -- the best I've found -- in the one-on-one and group skills necessary to guide an organization through change.

Building Communities From The Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding And Mobilizing A Community's Assets, by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, is oriented toward community work, but its core idea could be used to explore the latent possibilities in an ailing, underpowered organization as well. The authors show in detail how to approach a community to ask not "What do you need?" but "What can you do? What are your gifts and capacities?" The Senge/Kleiner book shows organizations discovering capacities they did not know they had. This book provides one possible technique for discovering and nurturing these capacities. It is not available in bookstores. Send $12 to the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Neighborhood Innovations Network, Northwestern University, 2040 Sheridan Road, Evanston IL 60208.

Two books deal directly and skillfully with clarifying your deep values as a guide through turbulence. First Things First, by Covey, Merrill, and Merrill (Simon and Schuster) is practical, thorough, and powerful. The Path, by Laurie Beth Jones, is similar, but more spiritual, with a Christian bent, illustrated by stories from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Modern, theoretical, philosophical

The new studies of chaos and complexity are proving enormously fruitful for people who focus on the way people and organizations change. For the first cut at it, we recommend Margaret Wheatley's Leadership and the New Sciences (Berrett-Koehler 1992). It provides an overview of these studies, along with Wheatley's beginning explorations of the kind of insights that they offer for organizations.

For a next step, a closer look at the studies themselves, try John Briggs' and F. David Peat's Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness (Harper and Row, 1989) and Mitchell Waldrop's Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (Simon and Schuster, 1992). Briggs and Peat are quirky, funny, and brief, but they provide a good introduction. Waldrop's book, built around the founding of the Santa Fe Institute, provides a deeper cut, and takes the studies beyond mathematics and physics into such areas as economics and social planning.

But the most comprehensive and well-written book on the emerging sciences is Kevin Kelly's rather dazzling Out Of Control (Addison Wesley 1994), which steps well beyond reportage to attempt a broad and deep synthesis of these new ideas. The book takes a deep cut at the nature of biological intelligence, and at the theories of complex, adaptive, organic systems that underly what we talk about in these pages. You can read a few annotated extracts or a complete interview with Kelly.

Art Kleiner's The Age of Heretics (Doubleday 1996) tracks the developing path of organizational and corporate change from World War II to 1980 - a highly recommended book for those who would understand the long and difficult path toward shifting the corporate world.

James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras' Built To Last ( HarperCollins 1994) recounts a fascinating study: the authors, both Stamford business professors, set out to find what allows a great corporation to survive and thrive. Through an elaborate survey process, they settled on 18 major corporations that had lasted at least 50 years, had gone through major changes of management and product, and had all maintained a position as industry leaders, widely admired and imitated - companies such as Disney, Sony, Motorola, and Boeing. They analyzed these companies to find what they had in common, and in the process exploded a number of myths about what makes an organization resilient. Finally, I would recommend two books that come out of Aikido. The Magic of Conflict, by Thomas Crum (Simon and Schuster 1987) extracts the principles of Aikido into the everyday, practical world. It's A Lot Like Dancing, by Terry Dobson, Riki Moss, and Jan Watson (North Atlantic 1993) is more evocative, and metaphorical, yet deeply challenging. For instance, one quote: "Just because someone wants to have a conflict doesn't mean you have to agree to enter into it. Put the phone down and walk away. Get your center. Come back and say, `Sorry to have kept you waiting.' This might drive people nuts, but it's legal."

Classic sources:

Change has confronted human beings for a long time. The ancient books of wisdom have a lot to say about it. The Bible is filled with stories of personal transformation, of people becoming new and dealing with extraordinary change, through their connection with all that is most deep and constant. Take a renewed look, particularly, at The Gospel According to John, the Book of Job ("Where were you when I wrestled Leviathan and settled the foundations of the deep?"), and the story of Moses in Genesis

The Bhagavad Gita, part of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, is a long discussion between Arjuna the war hero and his charioteer, the Lord Krishna on the futility of shrinking from the shifts and challenges that life lays before us.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus bent all his thought to the nature of change, and left behind a body of sayings, including the most famous: "You cannot step in the same river twice."

Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu founded Taoism, the Chinese philosophy based on a deep understanding of change. TheTao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu (or Lao Tse) is one of the most beautiful, and certainly one of the most succinct, of the great wisdom books ("The softest, most pliable thing in the world runs roughshod over the firmest thing in the world. That which has no substance gets into that which has no spaces or cracks."). The best translation is by Robert Henricks (Ballantine 1989). The essence of Chuang Tzu can be found in the widely-available Chuang Tsu: Inner Chapters (tr. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Vintage, 1974).

Sun Tzu's The Art of War, though several thousand years old, is still studied at West Point and Sandhurst. Like martial arts, the study of war is the study of human change on the largest, most overt scale, and Sun Tzu's meditations have long been considered the most profound. Since there are times that modern healthcare seems like war conducted with different weapons, consider Master Sun's basic belief that as soon as you fire the first shot, you have lost, since war is the most risky and costly way to get what you want, and he who goes to war has either failed at, or abandoned, every method more sure. The best translation that I have found is by Roger Ames (Ballantine 1993)

The name of Niccolo Machiavelli has long been equated with an amoral and devious lust for power worthy of Richard III. In fact, he was something much more valuable: an astute and dispassionate observer of how people work together in organizations and political structures. The Prince is more succinct, and Discourses on the Histories of Livy more detailed, but his unclouded mind comes clearly through both of them across the intervening half millennium.

Finally, Miyamoto Musashi's A Book of Five Rings (tr. Victor Harris, Overlook Press, 1974) is on the surface a manual of Japanese swordcraft by a late medieval master. It sold briskly throughout the 1980s as a wildly extended metaphor for Japanese business practices. Yet it can be read much more fruitfully for insights into the nature of change and conflict.

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