ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - March 2001


Issue Highlight — Someone To Watch Over Me
- Peter Block discusses how technology and aggressive measuring can damage learning behaviors and the importance of human connection to the education of a child.

 In This Issue...
With A Little Bit Of Luck
Using Both Eyes
In The Face Of Change
Answering A Big "What If?" In Chicago

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Heard on the Street

Return to NFC Index

    Pageturners        Book Reviews with a Twist

“The Biology of Business—
Decoding the Natural Laws of Enterprise”

By John Henry Clippinger III, Editor

John Henry Clippinger states that today’s organizations are so interconnected and complex that conventional management cannot control them. Should a manager just give up because it is too difficult? Clippinger and others have developed suggestions for thriving in ever-increasing complexity. Clippinger has assembled nine essayists’ writings to introduce managers to Complex Adaptive System (CAS), a science that offers a new mindset for managing complexity using the principles of self-organization. Examples from Biology help us understand.

  Clippinger introduces the biological term “fitness” to characterize the capabilities and the state of a company at a given point in time. The challenge of an organization is how to survive in a particular “fitness landscape” in which they find themselves. Every complex system has a “sweet spot” between excessive disorder and excessive order where the system is responsive to the variety of its environment, but sufficiently structured that it can act and perpetuate itself. The goal of this book is to help managers apply and understand the CAS principles in order to move organizations toward that “sweet spot.”
Clippinger references Holland’s “Hidden Order” which outlines seven basic characteristics for self-organizing: four properties—aggregation; diversity; nonlinearity; and flows—and three mechanisms—tagging; internal models; and building blocks. Clippinger explains each and how they apply. He reports that the role of the manager in the Complex Adaptive System is one of tagger, labeler and keeper of boundaries. The manager will be someone who can facilitate the spontaneous generation of effective teams, rather than the figure of authority for the team.

  In Chapter 2, the author explains economic uncertainty and reviews a stock market simulation that demonstrated that the economy is cognitive. It can be viewed as a complicated set of objects with linkages between them emerging from our subjective beliefs; he labels this the DNA of the economy. Chapter 3 has Andy Clark suggesting that managers need to be a coach, nanny and artificial DNA. In Chapter 5, Brook Manville explains how McKinsey & Company utilized an adaptive knowledge management system. Philip Anderson describes seven levers for guiding an evolving enterprise in Chapter 6. Other chapters and authors further illustrate CAS applications to business.

Favorite quote: “Good things—self-organizing processes that lead to adaptive and productive structures—happen automatically in any part of the system that is poised at the midway point, on the ‘edge of chaos.’ “

Message that left a lasting impression: Manager as artificial DNA.
This book has many interesting examples and concepts. The references to Biology are interesting and novel. It is difficult to read because of the different authors of each chapter. Clippinger and others have done a masterful job of assembling and editing which makes it flow better than it might have.

“The Biology of Business,” John Henry Clippinger III, Editor. (c) 1999 Jossey-Bass Publishers. ISBN 0-7879-4324-x 277 pages.

Reviewed by Chuck Spooner, General Manager, MidAmerican Energy Company, Muscatine, Iowa.

Book Ratings:

= Pick it up today
  **** = Overnight it
*** = Snail mail it
** = At a library?
        * = Never mind

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