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The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0787902773
ISBN-10: 0787902772
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Harvey's meditations are a joy. They are the most exquisite essays on management that I've read in over a decade. In fact, this is the only book about management that I've really loved." --Warren Bennis, coauthor of Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge and author of Why Leaders Can't Lead

"Jerry Harvey has become a legend in his own time with the success of The Abilene Paradox--a principle of group behavior that has application in corporations, government, academia, and family alike. Now he takes aim at a host of other sacred organizational norms and, in succession, dismantles each. You'll smile at his insight and laugh at his wit." --Kenneth H. Blanchard, coauthor of The One-Minute Manager

From the Back Cover

When Jerry B. Harvey first coined the phrase "Abilene Paradox? in 1974 , he set off shock waves among business people across the country. Using a common family experience, he pointed out that events often gather momentum and take on lives of their own, in spite of the fact that nobody wants to take part in them.Harvey offers insightful and often uproariously funny "meditations? on the craziness of this paradox in our daily work lives. With familiar stories presented in surprising ways, Harvey reveals how organizations set themselves up for failure by fostering an atmosphere of alienation, distrust, and fear of risk-taking among their members.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1st edition (August 23, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787902772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787902773
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Brilliant, wise, humane and funny, Harvey's classic book on organizational behavior is entertaining and thought provoking. Many of his explanations about corporate behavior struck a chord with me--I read this one with a pen in hand, jotting down notes about specific experiences that I have had in phrog farms. If you are unhappy at work, maybe it is not your fault--maybe you are stuck in a degrading and unhealthy work environment.
Harvey expects a great deal from leaders in business, politics, and even education, and is not reticent to criticize them for abusing their position of authority. He characterizes contemporary corporate culture as being a virtual conspiracy, assisted by a higher-education system that teaches students not to cooperate, but to actively resist working together. A radical idea that deserves some consideration.
This is almost--but not quite--a spiritual book, and the author even claims the attributes of a preacher. It is a secular take on the theme Edward Welch discusses in "When People are Big and God is Small." The fear of other people has tremendous negative consequences--both personally and organizationally. Like Welch, Harvey's highlights the benefit of overcoming that fear and provides practical advice on how to do it.
Anyone manager with a conscience should read Harvey, just to ensure that they are not perpetuating an unethical system.
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In this age of silicon and snake oil, Dr Harvey's insights are right on the mark. Committees and boards frantically and often irrationally fund high-risk technology projects that, in years past, would be considered suspect if not insane. Amazingly, organizations can't wait to get on that road. Perhaps the Information Highway has an offramp to Abilene!
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A friend of mine recommended that I read this book to better learn about organizational behavior. This was not only a quick, funny read, it was filled with some real "takeaways." I've since shared this book with others in our organization, and we have added phrases like "we're having an Abilene moment" and "ribbet!" to our vocabularies!!
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MBAs are taught to view business as a world of profit/loss, accounting, and cost control. Occasionally one might hear about humanity in a course, but it's always a secondary consideration. Dr. Harvey makes the case that business is about heart and soul human beings, and discusses ethics and decisions based on that view. Other insights are included as well.
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The Abilene Paradox makes great sense. I recommend it to every business leader at any level in a corporation. It is just as good for educators, medical professionals, government bureaucrats, those in the food industry, hospitality industry, real estate, finance, you get where I'm going. It is good for everyone. The first time I heard about the Abilene Paradox it was explained to me by a professor at UCLA, Professor Robert Tannebaum. He was a friend of Jerry Harvey and Harvey had told him the story. Years later I was telling the story to a client, expecting the client to understand what the paradox was when I casually mentioned it to him. When he was perplexed I went on the Internet and discovered that Professor Harvey had written a book about the incident.
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These "Meditations" provide great thinking into how to be a more effective manager. As "Meditiations", this is not a how to cookbook on management, or checklist. There are no promises of improved customer service, or increased efficiency. Rather, by reading them, your thinking about management will improve.

Two examples on the meditations:

1 - The Abilene Paradox essay talks about a family vacation to Abilene. Nobody really wants to go there, but everyone thinks everyone else wants to go there, but is affraid to speak up. The lesson is self evident, but the story conveys it in a manner much more memorable than a directive to "Create an organization with open communication"

2 - The writings of Elliott Jaques. Harvey introduces the concept of the "Requisite Organization", an idea developed by Jaques. This highlights the imnportance of understanding complexity (as defined by the time horizon of projects one is capable of thinking of) and designing an organization where that is the key component to success. That's a deep thought in today's quarter-driven business.

Reading and pondering these meditations will make one a better manager and leader. But it isn't spoon feeding, it takes some thought as well.
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I was the subject of what I call bullying and mobbing in the workplace. I found in reading this book that it was really helpful to keep me grounded teaching me more about human nature and why people go along with the crowd even when they would not normally do so.
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Having read this book, I have mixed feelings about how I feel about this book. On one hand, the emphasis on honesty, forgiveness and teamwork was positive, but then on the other, the unwillingness to make any concessions for the bottom line makes this book come off as socialist. That's why I rate this book three stars.
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