by Sandy Kendall

The Power of Minds at Work: Organizational Intelligence in Action

Nov 15, 20024 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsIT Leadership

A plea to fight collective stupidity and a look forward to a Web services world.

Working Smart

The Power of Minds at Work: Organizational Intelligence in Action

By Karl Albrecht

Amacom, 2002, $24.95

When grouped together in an organization, intelligent people tend toward collective stupidity. Although you may have already concluded this for yourself, in organizational consultant Karl Albrecht’s The Power of Minds at Work, this assertion is posited as Albrecht’s Law.

The book begins with a brief discussion of the dynamics that lead to collective stupidity—or “learned incapacity,” as he politely describes it. That incapacity includes various forms of dysfunction, groupthink or denial that may result from faulty leadership or outmoded and rigid systems. This discussion turns out to be a prologue to the book’s real subject matter—the dynamics of the opposite of collective stupidity, namely, organizational intelligence (OI), which he defines as “the capacity of an organization to mobilize all of its brainpower and focus that brainpower on achieving the mission.”

That sounds good, but is there any way of determining if a company has OI? Yes, says Albrecht; by scoring it using his seven aspects or “traits” of OI. Those traits are strategic vision, shared fate, appetite for change, energy or “heart,” alignment and congruence, knowledge deployment and performance pressure.

Albrecht devotes a chapter to each trait and provides loads of anecdotes to illustrate his points. Although some are old chestnuts of business lore, some feel new and up-to-date, including the recent predicaments of Enron and the U.S. Catholic church.

It sometimes feels as if the author has just taken a good metaphor and turned it into a long book. He tells the reader early on that not even he has a method for making an organization highly intelligent. The best he can do, he says, is to call attention to the things that an enterprise can do—or should avoid doing—to build OI. It would have been better had he given the reader a little less food for thought and a few more recipes for action.

Slow and Steady

Out of the Box: Strategies for Achieving Profits Today and Growth Tomorrow Through Web Services

By John Hagel III

Harvard Business School Press, 2002, $29.95

The cover image—a snail with a box tied to its back—seems to say it all. The much-touted arena of Web services is going to force many of us to think outside the box, but since it’s advancing on us at a snail’s pace, we have some time to get ready. In Out of the Box, author and noted former McKinsey consultant John Hagel presents one of the clearer explanations of Web services available (for further enlightenment, check out The Limits of Web Services).

Hagel suggests that organizations will need a good shaking up to take advantage of this new technology. Just as Web services employs a loosely coupled environment, the organization of the future will greatly benefit from management that employs a similarly loosened structure. Information and ideas flow better with an “orchestrator” rather than a “controller” at the helm, Hagel states. Employees with specializations in world-class capabilities will excel over those with all-purpose service abilities. Web services technology will free employees from the burdens of mundane administrative tasks so that they can better focus on problem-solving and exception-handling.

Sound like a tall order? Maybe not for snails.

—Janice Brand

CIO Best-Seller List

5 The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics

by William Easterly

MIT Press, 2001 4 The Art of Possibilityby

Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin ZanderHarvard

Business School Press, 2000 3 Globalization and Its Discontents

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

W.W. Norton & Co., 2002 2 Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As a Pilgrimage of Identity

by David Whyte

Penguin Putnam, 2001 1 The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

by Malcolm Gladwell

Little, Brown & Co., 2000

SOURCE: September 2002 data compiled by WordsWorth Books, Cambridge, Mass.