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 / Summer 2013 / Issue 71(originally published by Booz & Company)


Toward a Better-Informed Cynicism

“You really find that book interesting,” Dorothy said.

Indeed, this may be the most relentlessly realistic, wide-ranging book on orgs I have ever read. To reveal the “underlying logic of the office,” the authors visit Mumbai’s textile mills, West Point’s classrooms, the Hewlett-Packard garage, Baltimore’s mean streets, and a Carnegie Mellon computer lab. They use the word office as a metaphor for any setting where snowballing complexity propels people to make trade-offs (the least onerous selections from a menu of fraught options) and every choice conceals unforeseen outcomes. When competitors began poaching the best and brightest from employee-friendly Google, for example, the company refused to make counteroffers. After the brain drain became intolerable, however, Google reversed its stance. Problem solved, right? Not quite. The company “was also setting up clear signals to its entire staff: if you want a big raise, get a Facebook offer and we’ll counter. Google was paying for trolling and disloyalty.”

It’s fitting that the authors conclude the book with a variation on the Serenity Prayer. In org life, we need to accept what we cannot change, and to change what we can. The wisdom is in realizing that few changes will ever be wholly satisfying because they always require trade-offs. 

Author Profile:

  • Marvin Weisbord is codirector of Future Search Network and a visiting scholar in the University of Pennsylvania’s Organizational Dynamics program. He is the author of the 25th anniversary edition of Productive Workplaces: Dignity, Meaning, and Community in the 21st Century (Jossey-Bass, 2012), s+b’s pick for best business book on organizational culture in 2012.


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