Uncovers the elements of creative collaboration by examining six of the century's most extraordinary groups and distill their successful practices into lessons that virtually any organization can learn and commit to in order to transform its own management into a collaborative and successful group of leaders. Paper. DLC: Organizational effectiveness - Case studies.
Warren Gamaliel Bennis is an American scholar, organizational consultant and author, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership Studies. Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.
“His work at MIT in the 1960s on group behavior foreshadowed -- and helped bring about -- today's headlong plunge into less hierarchical, more democratic and adaptive institutions, private and public,” management expert Tom Peters wrote in 1993 in the foreword to Bennis’ An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change.
Management expert James O’Toole, in a 2005 issue of Compass, published by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, claimed that Bennis developed “an interest in a then-nonexistent field that he would ultimately make his own -- leadership -- with the publication of his ‘Revisionist Theory of Leadership’ in Harvard Business Review in 1961.” O’Toole observed that Bennis challenged the prevailing wisdom by showing that humanistic, democratic-style leaders better suited to dealing with the complexity and change that characterize the leadership environment.
SUBTITLED “THE SECRETS OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION”, BENNIS BEGINS BY TOUTING THE “END OF THE GREAT MAN”, CLAIMING THAT COLLABORATION AND COOPERATION ARE CRITICAL TO SUCCESS, SUPPLANTING THE TRIUMPHANT INDIVIDUAL. tELLING THE STORIES OF SIX GREAT GROUPS FROM A “FLY-ON-THE-WALL” PERSPECTIVE - DISNEY (FULL LENGTH ANIMATED MOVIES), XEROX/PARC AND APPLE (BIRTH OF THE PERSONAL COMPUTER), CLINTON’S ‘92 ELECTION CAMPAIGN, THE SKUNK WORKS (STEALTH FIGHTER, ETC.), BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE (JOHN CAGE AND BUCKMINSTER FULLER) AND THE MANHATTAN PROJECT (THE ATOM BOMB), BENNIS DEMONSTRATES THE UNIQUE NATURE OF THE “GENIUS GROUP”, FROM BOTH THE POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SIDE. tHE FINAL CHAPTER, “TAKE-HOME LESSONS,” PRESENTS 15 KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCH TEAMS. THE BOOK ALSO PROVIDES RESOURCE INFORMATION UPON WHICH HE BASED THE SIX GROUP CHAPTERS.
HERE ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS: 1. GREATNESS STARTS WITH GREAT PEOPLE. 2. GREAT GROUPS AND GREAT LEADERS CREATE EACH OTHER. 3. EVERY GREAT GROUP HAS A STRONG LEADER. 4. THE LEADERS OF GREAT GROUPS LOVE TALENT AND KNOW WHERE TO FIND IT. 5. GREAT GROUPS ARE FULL OF TALENTED PEOPLE WHO CAN WORK TOGETHER. 6. GREAT GROUPS THINK THEY ARE ON A MISSION FROM GOD. 7. EVERY GREAT GROUP IS AN ISLAND - BUT AN ISLAND WITH A BRIDGE TO THE MAINLAND. 8. GREAT GROUPS SEE THEMSELVES AS WINNING UNDERDOGS. 9. GREAT GROUPS ALWAYS HAVE AN ENEMY. 10. PEOPLE IN GREAT GROUPS HAVE BLINDERS ON. 11. GREAT GROUPS ARE OPTIMISTIC, NOT REALISTIC. 12. IN GREAT GROUPS, THE RIGHT PERSON HAS THE RIGHT JOB. 13. THE LEADERS OF GREAT GROUPS GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED AND FREE THEM FROM THE REST. 14. GREAT GROUPS SHIP. 15. GREAT WORK IS ITS OWN REWARD.
a VERY ENTERTAINING READ, FULL OF INSIGHTS AND EXAMPLES OF THE EXHILARATION AND (SOMETIMES) TRAGIC RESULTS OF GREAT GROUPS.
A book that takes a good, hard look at genius, thus worth exploring. It delivers some interesting observations but isn't a life-changer.
Warren Bennis noted similar patterns in the dynamics of several "great groups." His final chapter, "Take Home Notes," pulls these patterns together but was actually the least engaging chapter of the book. It didn't leave me wanting to go out and build my own great group, or even find one. It just felt like, "Hey, some people worth noting have done this great stuff."
What I did enjoy about this book was reading how the key players (Disney, Jobs, Carville, Oppenheimer, the creators of Lockheed's SR-71 Blackbird, and Black Mountain) mixed with their teams.
Until I'd read this book I'd never even heard of Black Mountain College, though I recognized a name or two of the students who'd attended there and subsequently pushed the edges of their genres. Apparently, this small college produced a disproportionate number of genius students. This was by far my favorite chapter, enough so that I may try to find and read his source material for the school.
I was especially intrigued by one of the professors, Josef Albers. Black Mountain's founder, John Andrew Rice, said as he organized the school, "Don't ask me how or why I know it, but I know it. If I can't get the right man for art, then the [school] won't work." (p. 151) So he recruited Albers from Germany (which Albers was all-too-willing to leave, it being the Nazi era and all, and he being married to a Jew). Albers taught art at the Bauhaus in Germany, which shut itself down in 1933 rather than submit to the Third Reich. Albers said his goal at Black Mountain was "To open eyes." He is said to have succeeded in this "to an extraordinary degree. ... Many of those involved with Black Mountain say that their courses with Albers changed their lives."
Quoting from pages 153-154, "Albers used a hands-on method to teach key ideas. He believed, Duberman writes [in Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community], that the nature of an object is made up of three aspects: its inner qualities, its external appearance, and how it relates to other objects. Duberman describes how Albers would have the students explore the nature of paper, for instance. Students would fold it, pin it, and create three-dimensional objects with it to discover its strength and other properties. Each student would come up with a personal solution to the problem of a sheet of paper. Albers would critique them, sometimes harshly, as would other members of the class. Finally, Albers would have the students unfold the paper, smooth it out, and return it to its original state. ... Perhaps most famous of all were the exercises he called matiere studies. Students had to find the materials, then explore such questions as how one material could be made to look like another and how surfaces differed, corresponded, and could be combined in interesting ways."
This book inspired me to reflect on high-achieving teams and visionary leaders, though perhaps not in the way that Bennis would have wanted. After reviewing his case studies of teams that achieved extraordinary results - the Disney animation troupe, PARC in invention of the personal computer, the Manhattan Project, Clinton's first Presidential election campaign, and Lockheed's Skunk Works - I came out questioning whether the Great Group or the leader of one was really a model paradigm to aspire to. Groups were often short-lived, yet the addictive intensity that characterized them generated considerable collateral damage in members' personal lives that presumably was difficult to confront after their projects were complete. And the leader's key responsibilities on the team - "inspire, communicate, and choose" - seem shallow and unfulfilling compared to doing the actual work, even while the leader claims the lion's share of credit for the end result. Certainly it's true that people want to work hard for a meaningful cause larger than themselves. But at what cost? If you, as a leader, value anything in addition to incredible achievement, can you run a team based purely on Great Group principles?
The references to personal sacrifice are sprinkled throughout Organizing Genius in a way you may not recognize them unless you're looking. In Bennis' mind, the requirement for personal sacrifice is directly related to the under-representation of women in Great Groups: - "Members of Great Groups are famous for having no lives outside the project. Who has time for real life, when you are making history?" - "(We will never know how many members of Great Groups remain in them as a way to avoid more traditional, less intense involvements and responsibilities, including caring for their children and interacting with their spouses.)" - "Again and again, we have asked ourselves why women weren’t present in greater numbers at Los Alamos, PARC, and many other extraordinary collaborations. Clearly, a tragic waste of female talent was tolerated at Los Alamos, as it was virtually everywhere in the Western world before the relatively recent rise of feminism. That this happened even in groups as creative and boundary busting as this one is especially distressing." - "Again and again, they have been excluded, or, more properly, marginalized, in some of the most important collaborations of our time. A tradition of exclusion, no less despicable for being time-honored, is one obvious reason. But we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t look beyond that to find other possible reasons as well. Do we educate women differently？ (Surely the answer is yes.) Do we continue to have different expectations for men and women visa-vis familial obligations—and do men and women continue to have different expectations in these important matters for themselves?" - "Great Groups often have a dark side. Members frequently make a Faustian bargain, trading the quiet pleasures of normal life for the thrill of discovery. Their families often pay the price. For some group members, the frenzied labor of the project is their drug of choice, a way to evade other responsibilities or to deaden loss or pain." If being engulfed by the mission is a prerequisite to achieving ground-breaking results, then people only can do so through the contemporaneous sacrifice of their friends and families. Perhaps this is why Great Groups tend not to be long-standing; there's only so long those you love will tolerate your inability to meet their needs in favor of your own personal achievements. As a leader, under what conditions can you ask your team to pay this price, and for how long?
In examples of individuals, I tended to gravitate toward the facilitators mentioned on several projects, those who insulated the creative group from the forces of reality and overcame those constraints on behalf of the group. Roy Disney, "was the guardian, the protector who allowed genius to flourish. Roy played a crucial role in the organization from the beginning, not only freeing Walt to make creative decisions, but running the business side of Disney with great skill." Within Lockheed, " 'Rich's contribution was to let us do our own thing and smooth our way with the Air Force and Lockheed management. . . . He would defend and protect us if we screwed up and keep us viable by getting new projects and more money.' ” For other leaders, you'd have to read carefully to see whether Bennis is idolizing or simply noting the preponderance of immaturity: - "The most important thing that young members bring to a Great Group is their often delusional confidence." - "The Ragin’ Cajun was decidedly adolescent. He dressed like a willful teenager, favoring jeans so tattered you could see his boxer shorts through them. He was capable of remarkable insights and obsessional focus, but he also had a childish tendency to get bored in meetings. The staff would provide him with toys to amuse himself with when his attention began to wander." - Jobs is also discussed as being verbally abusive and intrusive into his colleagues' personal lives. Bennis concludes that leader's unfiltered personality becomes destructive when its constrains talent - paramount in the Great Group. But it seemed to me like the real conclusion was that Great Group leaders can get away with being terrible managers and sometimes horrible people so long as they can identify great talent and seduce them with an ambitious mission. Surely leading amazing people must mean more than just being a master manipulator?
After reading this, I'm not certain I'd want to lead or work for a Great Group; I'd like to believe it's still possible to derive meaning from your work and inspire great collective achievement through less extreme tactics... even if the cost is that you'll effect change over a longer period of time. Since Bennis published Organizing Genius 20 years ago, I'd wonder how some of these observations compare to additional, more current examples of revolutionary teams, and especially more diverse ones.
I liked this book. Bennis aims to bust the myth of the Genius solo leader.
He tells the story of 5 great organisations/projects (the Manhattan project, the skunk works, Black Mountain College, the PARC project, and Disney) and makes the case that they were great because of the collection of great people around a leader. Furthermore the the leaders effectiveness was not just their individual intelligence, but their ability to organise and delegate to the people around them.
Lots of interesting insights on notable collaborative groups in the 20th century who accomplished something of tremendous note, whether Lockheed’s Skunk Works, Disney’s animation department, or the Manhattan Project/Los Alamos effort. Easy read, I certainly learned a few things about the history of the different achievements while refreshing on the virtues of a collaborative environment.
It shares some interesting history and anecdotes in putting together the stories of various groups, so for me it was worthwhile to read, but the framing and takeaways seem at odds with reality at times, like maybe it was written to make executives feel good rather than learn from history.
A lot of the principles outlined here remain true, and it remains a great argument for Westerners on why framing innovation in terms of the collective will prove to be more useful than the current weighting in favor of the story of the individual inventor.
Warren Bennis has been writing and working this territory for so long he could write this book in his sleep. Maybe he did, for the amount of slack and the lack of energy in it.
His team looked at seven high-powered groups for similarities in process, and wouldn't you know it--he found some! From Disney Studios to the Clinton campaign for President, here are the elements of a successful group, or at least, this kind of group.
Because so few groups will be able to attain the level of givens and assumptions required for this kind of process to succeed, it winds up being more a curiosity than a prescriptive.
While it is interesting to get some insider's view of how these groups functioned, we could probably have done with two or three examples, stripped back free of redundancy, and cut to the chase. Here are the fifteen elements these groups had in common.
Written in 1996 and read in 2012, it also is surprisingly time-bound. Each of the groups was essentially an all-man group, for instance.
Read the opening and the closing chapters, then skim the seven group profiles. You'll get what he offers.
I found this book very repetitive and semi-interesting. I grasped the concepts after the 1st few chapters. The only reason I continued reading was out of interest of the history of the "Great Groups" themselves. The anecdotes about the Apple Team and the Manhattan Project from a historical perspective were quite interesting. As a Disney fan, I knew most of the stories that were shared in the book about Walt Disney being more of an "idea" guy and not the executor of his vision. This was the same theme through each chapter. I wouldn't recommend this book to others unless you have a particular interest in one of the "Great Groups" profiled in the book. I think you can glean the lessons of the book just be reading the first and last chapters.
Warren Bennis and his colleagues narrate a series of "great group" case studies including Disney, the Manhattan Project, and Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. The premise behind the book is that great groups share certain characteristics in common that could be replicated to produce other great groups. The book is very well-written, but I started to get bored in the latter chapters. The case studies just weren't that compelling. Overall, I thought the book was a worthwhile read. I would recommend it to someone interested in putting together a creative team or to anyone who is generally interested in teamwork.
The stories in this book make you want to belong to a Great Group - or, if you have been part of a Good or Great Group, brings back memories of a special time. Truly what many would want 'work' to be - fun, focused, really part of the whole, and changing 'something.'
For managers or those looking for ways to get teams of very smart and/or very dedicated and/or very focused people to work together, this provides some guidelines about how it really does take all kinds to accomplish big things, and that synergy can be achieved despite the makeup of the parts.
The companies described in this book were all start-ups which brought together incredibly talented and passionate people, and the stories are insightfully told. There are five or six examples (if I remember correctly) of amazing business ventures, some of which became incredible successes (Apple, Skunkworks), and some which were failures (Black Mountain [art] College). This was one of the small handful of valuable books I got from my college education. I found it very interesting and very well written.
The stories that make up the core of this Bennis/Biederman work span twentieth century organizational innovators. The footprint of the leaders and their Great Groups on our business think as well as day-to-day life is encased like a fossilized marker of time. I often wondered while reading how the Great Groups could sustain their creative edge. Each Great Group rose to a call by a leader and delivered their products with total abandon. Picking through the mountain of mental ore of each page, I found the nuggets I was looking for.
Really a 3.5, this book does a good job of analyzing specific greats groups for insight into the elements of a great group. The author also does a great job of summarizing the top 15 things you need to make a great group of your own in the end. With that said you have to wonder what came first in the creation of this book, the top 15 things or the selection of great groups...
I recommend this book to anyone that wants to do something amazing and is in the process of forming the team to do so.
This was a good book and I've gone back to it many times to re-read a chapter or brush up on a cool factoid. It breaks down some of the countries greatest groups and why they were so great. It reviews the Walt Disney Studios that created Snow White to the Manhattan Project, and many others.