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Book Summary:

Leadership and the New Science:
Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe

By Margaret Wheatley

1992, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, CA

ABSTRACT: An examination of current thinking in science and the ways it effects what we know about the world. These ideas are developed around the impact on management thinking.

Key Points:
Mechanical Age Thinking                           New Scientific Thinking
Control Order
Machine Chaos
Boundary Open Borders
Reacting to the environment Creating the environment
Pre-planning Just-in-time
Task description Process Facilitation
Rugged Individual Team Player
Unconnected Relationships
Analyze parts Awareness of whole
Cause & Effect timelines Rhythm, Flow, Direction, Shape
Problems, Issues and Decisions without solutions Solutions and choices looking for a place to be used
Manager as a crafter of organization Broadcaster of messages; messages we care about.
Assembles pieces Fields develop
Personal Position Personal Integrity
Fit into existing structures Use new information to determine choices
Look for big, statistical trends; Major variances Encourage slight variations
Limit control and information Allow all information to flow where it needs to go
Measurement Qualities
Activities/Quantities Shapes/Motions
Isolated causes Themes/Patterns


From Newtonian To Quantum Physics

Key Point: Quantum physics gives an entirely different view on the world that can be incorporated in our thinking.

  • We have structured our organizations around Newtonian ideas and as a result they have taken on the characteristics of the machines we have envisioned them to be. We move pieces around and rely on being able to fully understand and control the parts.

  • With the advent of quantum theory we see that structures and the boundaries between them dissolve. We begin to get a truer picture of the universe, but still have no descriptors or guideposts to make sense of where we are or where we are going. We can no longer predict our universe, which is both unsettling and exciting.

  • In the quantum world, relationships are everything. We must learn communication and nurturing and build relationships. Power in organizations is the capacity generated by relationships. It cannot be stuck in one place, but must flow throughout the organization. Love in organizations is the most potent source of power.

Fields And The Holographic Universe

Key Points: The universe is totally connected and our best course is to foster the connections and relationships that are important.

  • It is important to remain aware of the whole. Do not rely on cause and effect anymore. Do not try to describe what is "real". Instead of planning, focus on facilitating relationships. The universe laughs at determinism.

  • Fields are the connections in this quantum world. They are recognized by the qualities we experience in an organization. Vision, culture and direction affect the field of an organization. Creating fields are essential and the fields must involve everyone. Managers must broadcast the messages everywhere by stating, clarifying, discussing, modeling and filling space with the messages we care about. If we do not create fields, employees will latch onto the existing, unintentional and casual fields instead. It becomes an act of faith to plant seeds and let them develop.

A Participative Universe

Key Points:  A participative universe means a multitude of perspectives and there is constant change and exchange of information.

The universe is a participative one. There must be a broad distribution of information, viewpoints, and interpretations. Equilibrium means you are heading toward a death. Self renewing systems create structures to fit the moment (phenotypic plasticity?). An organization must have new information if it is to act in this fluid fashion. Useful boundaries develop through openness to the environment. As participators, they create the environment.

The entire system displays a stability as it develops a rhythm to the fluctuations. Small disturbances are not suppressed, but tolerated. Freedom and order work together as partners. It is not the law of large numbers that drives change, rather a small disturbance which becomes amplified.

Information is not a thing. Information cannot be controlled and quantified. Information is a dynamic element. Information gives order, prompts growth, and defines what is alive. If there is to be a self-organization , information must be unencumbered and flow everywhere. Whereas we try to build systems layer upon layer, natural systems unfold.

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