Issue #34

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Each issue we offer reviews of books, tapes and videos by leaders in the ever expanding field of consciousness in business and the workplace.

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The Biology
of Business:
Decoding the
Natural Laws
of Enterprise

John Henry Clippinger

$28.50 Hardcover
304 pages


and the world of commerce
are living organisms,
not static, fixed structures.

How can we expect to successfully use traditional management strategies in an extremely non-traditional business world? In this increasingly high-speed, interconnected, and turbulent economic world, traditional top-down, hierarchical management models are no longer the best way to deal with complex, dynamic companies.

In the new book, The Biology of Business: Decoding the Natural Laws of Enterprise, John Henry Clippinger and a host of experts introduce a “new business science” to bridge the gap from the abstract and conceptual (Complex Adaptive SystemsCAS) to the concrete and applied (how we deal with organizations). The book presents the new biological metaphor for business and shows how managers and leaders are already applying this new thinking to shape strategy and build their businesses. The core concept is that each company is a self-organizing system and that there is a set of common factors for how self-organization works.

“From this new thinking,” says Clippinger, “a new model of management emerges in which the job of the manager is to act as a steward of fitness” for a manufacturing process, a market, a firm, a legal systemthat is neither so chaotic and disorganized that it cannot fulfill its purpose, nor so rigid that it cannot innovate and adapt to a constantly changing environment, but that instead occupies a comfortable medium between inadequate and excessive control.”

This book is for those individuals who are responsible for organizations that have become so interconnected, so volatile, and so complex that they have become unmanageable by conventional means. Traditional tools have failed these managers; they have been through multiple planning cycles; they have re-engineered; they have reorganized. Yet somehow the problems remain the same. How can you manage when you cannot control the particulars or the resources? How can you manage when the future is too uncertain and too unstable to plan for? How can you manage when simple changes have enormous and unanticipated consequences? The truth is that you cannot; not by any classic definition of management.

“If we are to manage in this age of hyper-change and hyper-competition,” Clippinger writes, “then we are going to have to fundamentally redefine what we mean by management. This book is intended to help provide a new definition of what it means to manage, based upon the application of principles and insights taken from the science of complex adaptive systems (CAS).

This “science of sciences” contains a collection of principles and methods that apply across a broad range of sciencesphysics, biology, economics, genetics, computer scienceand they provide powerful insights into how complex systems can evolve from relatively simple principles to become well-ordered, adaptive systems.”

Drawing upon the groundbreaking CAS research of John Holland and his colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute, the book provides a framework to help companies adopt a self-organizing mind set for management:

  • AggregationRefers to the fact that collections or groups display properties that are more than the sum of the parts.
  • Non-LinearityThe property of non-linearity is displayed when small increments of change can cause enormous and unexpected threshold changes.
  • FlowThe webs or networks of interactions, such as resources, orders, goods, capital, or people.
  • DiversityA measure of variety; the more diverse an organization, in general, the more fit and adaptable it is, up to the “edge of chaos” beyond which too much diversity precludes the formation of order or organization.
  • TaggingRefers to the naming or labeling of a thing of quality so as to give it certain significance or link it to action; prices are tags, andso are job titles, reputations, and definitions of all kinds
  • Internal ModelsSimplified representations of the environment that anticipate future action or events. Stereotypes are types of internal models that simplify the complexity of the environment to anticipate specific behaviors.
  • Building BlocksComponents that can be endlessly recombined to make new components or actions; think of the four proteins that make up all DNA, or the words that make up the English language, or a library of code objects that can be used in programming new software.

These seven principles are explored by the various authors in the book. They modify them, elaborate upon them, and show how they can be applied to a variety of business and organization situations. Our world is changing dramatically and with unprecedented rapidity. This high-tech, knowledge-based workplace must be catered to, and The Biology of Business shows progressive managers a new way of doing business.

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