the org: the underlying logic of the office
Good books on organizations are hard to come by. Really hard. As an orgs scholar, I see lots and lots of soft mush out there; you know, empty calories and slogans about “change this” or “lead that.” Who needs a theory or actual research when a Steve Jobs story will do just fine? See, it’s easy: Apple did this, Steve Jobs was like that and just give everyone 20% free time and be like Google. Yada, yada, yada.
Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan’s new book The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office is a welcome antidote to the hogwash that crowds the business bestseller lists. Their book is an engaging, but theoretically- and empirically-grounded, book about orgs.
Organizations are complex systems that pervade our everyday behavior and interactions, but it is striking to me how illiterate we are about organizations. Organizations are everywhere, they color everything we do, they are ubiquitous. I think we ought to be savvier consumers of organization. Understanding orgs should be part of everyone’s general education. Fisman and Sullivan’s book fills this void.
Their book is an excellent review of some of the central aspects of organizations: the nature and purpose of organizations, organizational boundaries, etc. In short, the book touches on many key theories and empirical findings about why organizations are the way they are and the nature of work in organizations. The authors do a particularly brilliant job of pointing out how many of the seeming dysfunctions of organization are in fact rooted in necessities. Organizations, after all, face constant choices about how to structure activities, how to incentivize, what activities they should engage in (and which not), etc. These and many other tradeoffs are discussed. The book also touches on hot topics such as CEO pay.
The book is peppered with lots of interesting examples (Cold War, Al Qaeda, HP, police work, etc) that illustrate the authors’ key points. Discerning managers will also find many nuggets of insight that can readily be applied to matters of strategy and managing orgs. In short, the book is a great read.
If you belong to an org—any org—you should read this book. And, if you and your book club are reading “Blink,” “Splot,” “Goop” or any number of other such books, just set them aside. You’re better than that. Step away from the goop. Respect yourself. Read The Org instead.
That’s my quick two cents.
Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan will actually be guest blogging for us at orgtheory.net in the next two-three weeks - so go out and buy the book. Look for additional posts here soon.
The book has received well-deserved accolades and attention from many outlets. For example, here’s the NPR interview with the authors, here’s the Wall Street Journal review. Click below the fold for additional reviews and coverage.
Reviews and coverage of the book
- BusinessWeek: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-08/em-the-org-em-stands-by-the-status-quo-for-business-management
- INC: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201212/leigh-buchanan/why-some-bureaucracy-is-good-for-business.html
- Diane Coyle: http://www.enlightenmenteconomics.com/blog/index.php/2013/01/the-tough-life/
- Oliver Burkeman at The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/feb/02/oliver-burkeman-truth-about-managers
- Eduardo Porter at the New York Times on orgs & privatization: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/business/when-privatization-works-and-why-it-doesnt-always.html?_r=0
Recent book-related articles written by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan
- WSJ piece on CEO pay (with a misleading headline that made people angry): http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324081704578233601161769648.html
- Slate piece picking on Davos (which also made people angry): http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2013/01/management_consulting_how_middle_managers_make_countries_and_businesses.html
- Excerpt on policing at Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2013/01/baltimore_police_excerpt_from_the_org_by_ray_fisman_and_tim_sullivan.html
- A history of the cubicle: http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2013/01/where_your_cubicle_came_from.html
- Wired piece on IT and firm growth: http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/01/st_essay-insourcing/
- Freakonomics Q&A: http://www.freakonomics.com/2013/01/18/the-authors-of-the-org-answer-your-questions/