Margaret Heffernan: Serial Entrepreneur

Margaret Heffernan’s caree has been varied and successful – with roles in television production and leading large organisations. Her current focus is as a thought leader in the world of organisational effectiveness, where her ideas are both interesting and practical.

Margaret Heffernan

Short Biography

Born in 1955, in Texas, in the USA, Margaret Heffernan grew up in the Netherlands, finished her high school education in London, and graduated in English and Philosophy from the University of Cambridge in 1977. This gave her the perfect (and familiar) springboard for a career at the BBC, where she became a television producer, working on documentary, news and arts programmes.

She went on to run the Independent Programme Producers Association (IPPA – now a part of PACT), before heading off to the US in 1994, to work in public relations, focusing on the technology and media sectors. Through the late 1990s and early in the 2000s, Heffernan seized the opportunities of the internet and became CEO of several new businesses: InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and iCAST Corporation. In these roles she won a series of plaudits from industry commentators as a top influencer in the high tech sector.

In 2004 Heffernan entered the ‘portfolio phase’ of her career to date, combining visiting academic roles, writing business books, blogging and commentating, and speaking. She recently published her latest book and has had three appearances to date on TED (a high number – only a small handful of people have spoken three times or more).

Her books are:

  1. 2004: The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters
  2. 2007: Women on Top: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Rewriting the Rules of Business Success
    (formerly published as ‘How She Does It)
  3. 2011: Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious
  4. 2014: A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn’t Everything and How We Do Better
  5. 2015: Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes.

Heffernan’s Ideas

Margaret Heffernan has a knack for synthesising the ideas from psychology with her real-world experience as a senior executive working at the sharp end of business. This makes her ideas very appealing to business people who like to feel that  academic ideas are grounded in genuine experience and that their practical wisdom is rooted in sound research.

The clearest thread running through Heffernan’s published thinking is the importance of ‘Social Capital‘ – the network of social relationships that make business effective. Her earlier work focused on the different attitudes women have (compared to men) to ambition, power and motivation in the workplace. Their success comes about, to a fair degree, through greater levels of social interdependency, and Heffernan shows that women-led organisations statistically outperform organisations led by men and attributes the difference to that factor.

Wilful Blindness addresses a favourite topic of mine: cognitive bias in decision making. It is full of case studies, interviews, science and highly quotable sound-bites, like:

‘Stereotypes are energy-saving devices; they let us make shortcuts that feel just fine. That’s why they’re so persistent.’

‘”We have monuments for people who have displayed physical courage in war,” Lieutenant Colonel Krawchuk mused. “But where are the monuments to people who said no, we won’t do this because it’s a bad or wrong or unethical decision?”‘

‘The sooner we associate long hours and multitasking with incompetence and carelessness, the better.’

‘Because it takes less brain power to believe than to doubt, we are, when tired or distracted, gullible.’

In her next book, A Bigger Prize, Heffernan starts to look at what makes organisations successful and determines that it is not about being the best or hiring the best or nurturing the best: it is about creating a culture of helpfulness, so that everyone is comfortable with asking for help and ready and willing to offer their help. Competition is damaging and co-operation is adaptive. This is another topic I found absorbing and, when put back to back with an all-time favourite book of mine, ‘The Origins of Virtue‘, Heffernan and Ridley have covered a lot of the ground that most fascinates me in this arena.

Heffernan’s latest book seems like a continuation along the same trajectory. Indeed, the five core ideas in Beyond Measure feel like something of a summation of her thinking. Maybe this one quote summarises everything: ‘Walk around. Talk to people. Turn the other cheek. Build a network. Feed that network. Don’t get boxed in.’ Not a revolutionary idea, but a small change that can have a big impact on the way you do your work.

Margaret Heffernan’s most recent TED talk.

Heffernan is one of TED’s stars with huge viewing figures for her first two TED talks:

The subject of her latest talk, Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work, is drawn from her book, A Bigger Prize.

 

 

Guy Kawasaki: Corporate Evangelist

It is a common cry that the internet has changed everything and almost equally common to hear that it has transformed marketing. One person leading the charge to dedefine marketing in the technology age is Guy Kawasaki; formerly, and perhaps most famously, Chief Evangelist for Apple.

Guy Kawasaki

Short Biography

Guy Kawasaki was born in 1954, in Honolulu. He says of his school that ‘it is not as well known as its rival, because no presidents of the US went there’. However, it did allow him to study psychology at Stanford University, from where he went on to UCLA, after a week at UC Davis; starting Law School, but finding it wasn’t for him. After gaining his MBA at UCLA, his first job was in the jewellery trade, which taught him how to sell.

Kawasaki’s next job took him into the milieu in which he has remained: the technology industry. It was when his employer was taken over, and he was asked to move to Atlanta, that he made the move instead to Apple, in 1983. There he took the role of ‘Software evangelist’ – his job was to convince developers to create products for a new computer that, at the time, had a tiny user-base, no backwards compatibility, and minimal sales. He stayed in this role for four years.

His next role was leading a software business, creating products for a new computer… He says deprecatingly of himself that he believed his own hype, but for a while, the database software that Acius created was among the best for the Apple system. A spell of journalism followed (in the Mac arena) and then he collaborated to set up another software company. But in 1995, Kawasaki returned to Apple as their ‘Chief Evangelist’ charged with developing and protecting the brand.

Leaving Apple again in 1997, he co-founded a technology venture capital business and gradually built up a wide portfolio of advisory positions with tech businesses. Indeed, he continued to found businesses too – most notably Alltop, and increasingly became a much in-demand speaker and author. He is currently Chief Evangelist at graphics and design software service company, Canva.

Kawasaki’s Ideas

The first thing to say is that Kawasaki’s ideas are not original, and I doubt he would claim it for them. His skill is creating a coherent narrative around ‘marketing by enchantment’ – using the ideas of soft influence to engage an audience and build a loyal customer base for a product or service. He himself likens the content of his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, to Dale Carnegie’s earlier book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He also describes himself as the author of thirteen books, or of one book, written thirteen times. Be aware of this when shopping, as it does contain a grain of truth!

For me, Enchantment is the book that contains his central thesis. He describes ‘enchantment’ as ‘to charm, delight, enrapture’, and as ‘the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization, or idea.’

So how can you create enchantment?

Kawasaki identifies three primary requirements for enchantment:

1. Greatness

Greatness is about quality – you cannot truly enchant with a sub-standard product. If you want to enchant, you need to start with the passion to create a great product that people will crave, because it goes well beyond good: in Steve Job’s words; ‘crazy good’. Canva, with which he is currently associated, has been described as ‘the easiest to use design program in the world’. Whether or not you believe this is true, the fact that people with knowledge say this is a sign of its greatness (and it is pretty good – and free to use!). It is also an example of another of Kawasaki’s points: that a grand vision is not important, drawing the supposition that Richard Branson almost certainly had no concept of ‘Virgin Group’ when he started Virgin Records – he simply set out to create a great record label. For many years, Canva has been targeted at individuals; only recently has it started to create an enterprise level offering.

2. Likeability

You need to make your product or service likeable, by being humble, generous, decent and doing what you say you’ll do. Answer your phones quickly, and do the right thing for people. Kawasaki is mistrustful of charisma and instead urges real engagement with customers and prospective customers. Show them courtesy and respect, and do nice things for them and they will surely come to like you and your brand.

3. Trust

Long-term, likeability will turn into trust. When you continually delight with both the quality of your product or service and treat people exceptionally well, they will come to trust you. Once you have that, as long as you do not squander it, you have created real and valuable capital for your brand.

I think you can see that none of this is revolutionary.

So why is it important? It is important because it works, yet is not that widely acted upon. The burden of Kawasaki’s advice is honoured more often in the breach than the observance, as the vast majority of corporations continue to invest highly in traditional forms of marketing and advertising, which fail to respectfully engage with their markets. Why? I think because it is easier. I think that you can readily hire an agency for the one, but need exceptional individuals and exceptional commitment to ‘do enchantment’ well.

Presenting to Enchant
A short diversion

I was very much taken, while researching this blog, with Kawasaki’s simple advice for presenters, so here it is…

The 10-20-30 Rule:

  • 10 Slides
  • 20 minutes
  • 30 point font

Use lots of graphics and images

Where you can, demonstrate rather than explain

Kawasaki Speaking

Guy Kawasaki is a much in demand speaker. Here he is at TEDx talking about ‘The Art of Innovation’. This is one of my favourite TED talks with plenty of aha moments.

Jamie Oliver: Chef Businessman

There are many celebrity chefs, and many of them operate successful businesses, so choosing one to feature as one of our management thinkers is tough. But British chef, Jamie Oliver, more than fits the bill. For nearly twenty years, he has maintained the love of the public in the UK, avoiding mis-steps as he took his celebrity career to the US, retains fierce loyalty of people who have worked for and with him, and continues to grow his businesses steadily, whilst contributing significantly to some major philanthropic initiatives, many of which he has led.

Jamie Oliver

Short Biography

Jamie Oliver was born in Essex in the UK, in 1975. He grew up in Cambridge, where his parents ran and continue to run a pub. It was in their kitchen that he first learned the skills of cooking, which developed at catering college and started to take wings when Oliver spent time in France, learning the basics of classical cuisine.

Returning to England, he worked for renowned UK-based Italian chef Antonio Carluccio, where he met long-time friend and cooking mentor, Gennaro Contaldo. From there, he moved to a role as sous chef at Fulham’s River Cafe, where he appeared, unscripted, in a one-off 1997 documentary about the restaurant, and caught the eye of numerous TV producers. After five offers, he signed a deal that led directly to two series of The Naked Chef; a title that reflected his ideas of simplicity in cooking, rather than an alternative to traditional chefs’ whites.

This kicked off a hugely successful TV and recipe book career that continues today, with the addition of massively profitable mobile apps and his own YouTube channels with nearly 2 million subscribers between them. Perhaps his most notable television endeavours are:

  • The 2002 Jamie’s Kitchen,in which he took fifteen seemingly unemployable young people and trained them to be chefs in a restaurant, Fifteen, that subsequently won awards. The model has been replicated in several places and continues to train new cohorts of apprentices under the aegis of the charitable Jamie Oliver Food Foundation
  • The 2002 Jamie’s School Dinners which saw him campaigning for better food in Britain’s schools. This has led to other public health campaigns in the UK, US and Australia. In 2013, Oliver was made Honorary fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners in recognition of his food health campaigning
  • The same year also saw the first of many culinary travelogue programmes – a format that is particularly popular in the UK. This one took him to Italy and a cuisine he seems particularly attached to
  • Other food campaigns include Atlantic fish stocks, pig farming and poultry

But hey, this is the Management Pocketblog!

Reading about Jamie Oliver’s business nous, it is hard to select a shortlist of admirable management lessons that we can learn from him. These range from the obvious, like seizing opportunities that arise, assessing choices shrewdly, and trading on an endearing personality, to those which are hard for most of us to generalise to our own practice, like keeping a large proportion of your business interests within your family and network of close and trusted friends and colleagues. One might also have added, until recently, maintain a large share of the equity in your business (I believe Oliver owns around 80% in total of his many businesses at time of writing). However, in early June 2015, the press started to report that he is trying to raise significant equity capital to fund a major global expansion of some of his restaurant brands.

So what to focus on?

Jamie Oliver is a public personality, but he has used his charm and charisma shrewdly. He has avoided all manner of scandals that attach to celebrities (including other British celebrity chefs) and seems by all accounts to be a genuinely nice and decent chap, who inspires great loyalty. Many of his close business advisors and staff have been with him from very early on, and many people rush to praise him in the press. On the other hand, there seem to be very few public feuds. This has allowed Oliver to take his personality as the basis for all of his brands, many of which have his name attached to them: most recently, Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube – his primary YouTube Channel.

What are the elements of his personality-based leadership and management approach that can be emulated, if you put the work into them? I think there are five:

  1. Care
    Care passionately about what you do, whether it is your core business, your campaigns, or your appearances in public. And don’t be afraid to let your enthusiasm engulf those around you. This is charisma. And care also about the people around you. This attitude of Oliver’s has clearly rubbed off on many of the people who give interviews and quotes about him.
  2. Inspire
    Set out a vision that you truly believe in with a passion and you can engage people to follow you. Choose your fights wisely, but do be prepared to take on a big fight, if it is important enough to commit everything. You may lose, but Oliver shows that dedication and passion can mean that a catering college educated son of publicans, with little academic background can do better than win the ear of Prime Ministers, he can create an environment where senior politicians can barely afford not to take him seriously.
  3. Work Hard
    Without a doubt, Oliver works hard. His is not a glitzy celebrity without substance. He puts in the hours and models what he expects his followers to emulate. He doesn’t tell, he shows. He doesn’t enforce standards, he sets them for himself.
  4. Learn
    At every stage, Oliver has learned from his experience and grown with that learning. This is wisdom: to become more than you were yesterday, to learn from your mistakes, to shift your approach, and to come back again and again. He has made very commercial misjudgements, but when he has done, he has acted decisively, rather than hesitating, and moved on.
  5. Have Fun
    It is hardly possible to imagine Jamie Oliver without a smile. Even in the serious portrait shot at the head of this blog, he seems to me to be about to smirk. His sense of fun is a big part of his personality and his brand, but more than that, I suspect it is a major resource for him, in maintaining his resilience.

The Power of Food

Jamie Oliver being serious, passionate, and provocative about the impact of food on health: Teach every child about food.

A New Website for Management Pocketbooks

We are pleased to announce that we have now launched our brand new website!

The domain name is still the same: www.pocketbook.co.uk but the layout and design is very different.

New Management Pocketbooks website

Easier to Buy too

There is the new shop where the books are set out six titles to a page view. Visitors can easily link through to see the book extracts/ descriptions and reviews. The ability to choose between purchasing paperback or pdf e-books is now in one place.


There are many more new and different features so please visit and let us know what you think in the comments below.

As you might expect, this has also meant a refresh for the design of the Pocketblog. We hope you like the brighter, lighter, airier look to your very favourite Management Pocketblog, as we run up to a significant milestone at the end of the summer: our 300th blog.

Ros Baynes 
Management Pocketbooks Editor


Rosabeth Moss Kanter: Change Master

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is one of the foremost academics working in the management arena. Her academic CV is second to none, and it is the sophistication of her insights and the depth of her research that have earned her the huge respect she has garnered. But hers are not merely incremental ideas – her work has charted some of the biggest issues facing organisations from the 1970s to today.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

 Short Biography

Rosabeth Moss was born in 1943 and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She was educated at the elite Bryn Mawr College, where she studied English and Sociology, where she also met her first husband, Stuart Kanter.  She graduated in 1964 and went on to earn an MA and PhD in Sociology, at the University of Michigan.

Following her PhD, Moss Kanter’s first academic appointment was at Brandeis University, as Assistant Professor of Sociology. She stayed there until 1977, during which time her first husband died and she married Barry Stein, with whom she later (1977) founded a management consultancy, called Goodmeasure Inc, to sell her consulting services to many of the largest US corporations.

1977 was a key year for Moss Kanter. She also moved to become a Professor of Sociology and Professor of Organisational Management at Yale, where she remained until 1986, when she moved to Harvard Business School as a Professor of Business Administration. From 1979 to 1986, she was also a Visiting Professor at the Sloane School of Management at MIT.

The centrality of 1977, however, is because it was the year that saw the publication of the first of Moss Kanter’s books – and one that made a huge impact. It was lauded in its own right and has been seen, in retrospect, as the first of a triptych of connected and hugely important works. We will look at them below.

As well as being an academic and consultant, Moss Kanter has a slew of prestigious awards,and is also notable as the last academic to edit the Harvard Business Review (1989-92) and as an advisor to presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

But it is the breadth and depth of Moss Kanter’s work we need to focus on. And there is so much of note that we need to get started right away.

Moss Kanter’s Big-three Works

1977 saw the publication of a revolutionary book; Men and Women of the Corporation. It analyses the distribution of power within a large US corporation and how white men dominated, leaving women and ethnic minorities disempowered. Her research demonstrated that it was not the behaviours of women and minorities that created this power gap, but the very system within which they worked, and the structures of power and opportunity. At the time, this was a revolutionary insight. Moss Kanter showed the importance of creating change to empower everyone.

With the great pressures for change that she identified, we can see a logical progression in Moss Kanter’s next book, 1983’s The Change Masters: Corporate Entrepreneurs at Work. Shockingly, this astonishingly good and important book is out of print; to me, it is her most important. It describes how some companies and some individuals master the process of change through integrating and innovating, moving right to the edge of their capabilities, and benchmarking themselves against their aspirations, rather than against the status quo in their market place.  She refers to ‘New Entrepreneurs'; change masters within a business that radically improve it, rather than leaving and starting afresh somewhere else. They transform vision into reality. Once again, the concept of empowerment features strongly, as does the need for joined up networks of communication, and decentralisation of resources.

The third book in the triptych looks at the changes US corporations needed to make to remain competitive in the global environment of the 1980s and 90s. Published in 1989, ‘When Giants Learn to Dance‘ likens the global economy to a sporting competition. What struck me was her articulation of seven skills that characterise the most successful ‘business athletes';

  1. ability to get results without authority, through influence alone
  2. competing positively, through co-operation, rather than negatively through aggression
  3. maintaining the highest ethical standards
  4. self confidence tempered by humility
  5. an understanding of the importance of process for getting things done
  6. relationship building, across functions, departments, and organisations
  7. achievement focus – what McClelland would describe as a high nAch

More Recent Work

It is only space, not a critique on the works themselves, that prevents me from detailing Moss Kanter’s works, from 1992’s ‘The Challenge of Organizational Change‘ to ‘Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead‘, published a few months before this blog, in spring of 2015. Along the way, there have been:

A Summary of Moss Kanter’s Themes

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is notable as an academic of business, but her approach has always remained a staunchly sociological one. Her focus on empowerment has followed closely on that of previous thinkers in humanistic management and particularly echoes the work of Mary Parker Follett, whom she admires greatly. Like Follett, she takes a very much integrative attitude, valuing holistic management structures, rather than segmented corporations. This is a theme that comes out strongly in both Change Masters and Giants. She describes these as characteristics of a ‘post-entrepreneurial firm’, where innovation is the principle benefit of combining the the strength of a large organisation with the agility of a small one.

Her writing is characterised by three admirable characteristics that are often not found together: subtle and complex ideas, detailed research evidence, and a highly readable writing style.

The Advanced Leadership Initiative

I want to end with a short reference to Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, which Moss Kanter leads, as Chair and Director. It aims to prepare ‘a leadership force of experienced leaders who can address challenging national and global problems in their next stage of life’. These are men and women who, after their primary income-earning years, want to contribute to community and public service for their next years of life, using the skills they already have, to make an impact on significant social problems, in health, welfare, children, and the environment. I know little more about it than this, but what a wonderful initiative. A kind of lower-key version of The Elders, I guess.

 


 

Moss Kanter talks about leadership as being about leading positive change in this 17 minute TED talk, ‘Six keys to leading positive change‘.

And more…

There is a good selection of short videos and articles by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, on some of her latest thinking, on the Big Think website.

 

 

Philip Green: Risk & Control

Sir Philip Green is rarely out of the news. A self-made business man, he has long been a dominant figure in the UK retail scene and a figure with much to admire and much to criticise. When a TV audience is split 50:50 in loving and loathing a programme, it usually becomes a hit. On those grounds, Philip Green is a business hit!

Sir Philip Green

Short Biography

Philip Green was born in the Surrey (now South London) town of Croydon in 1952, where his parents were both involved in property and retail businesses. At the age of twelve, while at boarding school, his father died, leaving his mother to continue to run the family businesses – something she carried on into her eighties. Green, who had been used to earning money from a young age on the forecourt of the family’s petrol (gas in the US) station, left school as soon as he could, to enter the world of work.

His endeavour allowed him to work his way up through all levels of a shoe importer, to discover a real talent for selling. When he left the company he travelled the world, learning practical lessons in business, which he brought back to the UK. Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, he became adept at deals involving buying stock nobody else wanted and selling it quickly. He operated primarily in the retail apparel market. He then turned this acumen towards buying and selling companies. His deals got larger and more profitable, his reputation for rapid deal-making grew, and so did his asset base.

In 2000, Green acquired BHS – the former British Home Stores – which he rapidly transferred to his wife, Tina Green. He followed this acquisition in 2002 with the purchase of the Arcadia Group of fashion retail companies, that included some of the big names on the UK high street: Topshop, Burton, Wallis, Evans, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins. This was also transferred to his wife’s name. As a Monaco resident, the tax implications of this ownership structure have attracted much criticism in the UK.

Already owning the second largest share of the UK clothes retail market, Green tried in 2004 to acquire Marks & Spencer – the largest clothes retailer. His bid failed with much vitriol between him and the then M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose. In 2006, Green was knighted for services to the retail industry. The 2010 general election saw him coming out strongly for the Conservative party – a move that was reciprocated by the new Conservative/Liberal coalition with his appointment to chair a review into Government procurement – of which he was highly critical.

Perhaps Green’s largest business was BHS, so his business story is not one of total success. By 2012, the company’s fortunes were waning and in March 2015, Green sold the now loss-making business – debt free but with substantial pensions liabilities – for £1.

As a multi-billionaire (with his wife), Green’s spending and tax affairs attract as much media attention as his business activities. He is famed for lavish parties (spending several million pounds at a time) and equally known for his charitable and philanthropic spending. Forbes rate the couple’s joint wealth in 2015 at US $5 billion.

Business Lessons from Sir Philip Green

Whatever your view of him, Sir Philip has a talent for making decisions and turning a profit. Here are some lessons I draw from his experiences and choices.

Pace and Decisiveness

Green built his business on fast deals: rapidly doing the deal (often making a multi-million pound acquisition in days) and quickly turning that deal into a profit. Yes, Green is adept at risk taking, but taking risks is not a secret to success. Quickly assessing the risk and understanding your own capacity to handle it is what matters, and Green was a master – particularly during the 1980s and 90s.

The Rich get Richer

Money begets money, and Green used a very simple ploy (conceptually) time and time again, to grow his wealth. He would convince banks to lend him money to make his acquisitions – of stock in the early days and of businesses later – and then turn a profit and repay his debt quickly. On one occasion in 1985, he bought a bankrupt business with a large loan, traded for a short while and sold it six months later for nearly twice as much as he’d borrowed.  He then went to his bank and asked ‘what do I owe you?’ They replied ‘3 million 430 thousand pounds’ and so Green wrote a cheque there and then, putting it on the counter and saying ‘Done.’

Discipline and Control

Green has a fiendish attention to every detail of his business, devoting much of his energy to driving efficiency into every last nook and cranny. Why did BHS fail, then? I wish I could ferret that one out, because his regal processes through his London Oxford Street empire of shops are well known within the business for ferreting out even tiny discrepancies in the selling process.

Customers first: Owners second

Perhaps Green’s most closely held business belief is that shareholders drive the wrong decisions. Everything should be about giving your customers what they want, rather than pandering to shareholders. This is why he turned both BHS and Arcadia from publicly listed to privately owned companies. Maybe it is also why BHS failed for him: he could no longer figure out how to give customers what they want in a general purpose multi product store. It will be interesting to see if and how its new owners can square the circle that Green could not.

And…

Of course there are other things too, but most of them are what any manager would tell you are obvious ‘no-brainer’ habits; like: know your business inside out, respect and trust your people, keep working hard, stay alert for opportunities, and protect your supply chain. But the fact that Green does all of these does not make him different from many other successful business leaders. It’s the fact that he does them well and consistently, on top of the differentiators that make him exceptional.

Kim Cameron: Positive Deviance

Positive Psychology is an important component of modern workplace thinking and has become a powerful force in organisational thinking with its off-shoot, ‘Positive Organisational Scholarship’. At the forefront of this rapidly developing field is Kim Cameron.

Kim Cameron

 

Short Biography

Kim S Cameron was born in 1946 and earned his bachelors and masters degrees in sociology and social psychology at Brigham Young University in 1970 and 71. He went on to take higher degrees in Administrative Sciences at Yale, gaining an MA in 1976 and his PhD in 1978.

From there he held a number of academic posts, at the Universities of Wisconsin, Colorado, Brigham Young, and Case Western, before taking his current dual post as Professor in both the School of Education and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in 2001.

There, he co-founded the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship; now the Center for Positive Organizations. This is the hub of Cameron’s research on Positive Organizational Scholarship, with a mission to help design high-performing organisations that bring out the best in people.

There was clearly a sea-change in Cameron’s thinking in the run-up to this. Between 1980 and 1988, he co-wrote five books on management and organisations, followed by a gap of 15 years, before ‘Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline‘ came out, co-edited with Jane Dutton and Robert Quinn. This is a collation of 23 scholarly papers that set about defining the discipline. This is brought up to date by the mammoth Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, which Cameron co-edited for publication in 2012.

What is Positive Organizational Scholarship?

Positive Organizational Scholarship (or POS) is a synthesis of many strands of research and thinking:

  • the organisational process that produces extraordinary outcomes (‘Positive Deviance’)
  • Organisational Design (OD)
  • Leadership
  • Positive Psychology
  • Creativity
  • Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
  • Citizenship behaviours and community psychology
  • Ethics and prosocial behaviour

Together, these things examine how to harness and develop human strengths in an organisational setting. At the core is the idea of ‘positive deviance’ and it advocates a focus on noticing, celebrating, and institutionalising behaviours, attitudes and processes that lead to extra-ordinary positive results. This is in contrast to a lot of organisational behaviours that currently focus around under-performance and finding corrective procedures.

This more familiar approach can certainly bring a poor organisation up to a baseline adequate standard of performance. POS suggests that to achieve excellence, organisations and their leaders and managers need to switch to an ‘affirmative bias’ and start to endorse the best, rather than critique the poor performances.

Culture Change

Back in 1988, Cameron co-authored Paradox and Transformation: Toward a Theory of Change in Organization and Management with Robert Quinn, but it was Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance – the Rocky Flats Story that caught my attention (having been recommended it by project management blogger Positive Deviance.

This book searches out lessons to learn from the spectacular transformation of the project to clean up a highly contaminated nuclear site at Rocky Flats, Colorado. In the book, the authors, Cameron and his PhD student, Marc Levine, assert that a huge transformation in performance was generated by simultaneously pursuing four conflicting strategies.

They use the ‘Competing Values Framework’ developed by Cameron’s long-time collaborator, Robert Quinn. This suggests that organisations have a prevailing culture dictated by their values, along two dimensions of:

  1. Either: efficient internal processes or competitive external positioning
  2. Either: flexibility and adaptability or stability and incrementalism

The four cultures that result are oriented towards prevailing behaviours:

  • Clan Culture – internal/flexible – oriented towards collaboration
  • Adhocracy – external/flexible – oriented towards creation
  • Market culture – external/stable – oriented towards competing
  • Hierarchy – internal/stable – oriented towards control

The positive deviance that led to the phenomenal objective success* of the project was ascribed by Cameron and Levine to building an environment that equally valued all four elements of culture, and therefore demonstrated collaboration, creativity, competition, and control at the same time.


 

* Closure and decontamination of the facility was forecast to take 70 years and cost $36 billion. Out-turn cost was $6 billion, and the project was complete in 10 years