From Publishers Weekly
The authors of this earnest manifesto-a Chief Learning Officer and a classics professor, respectively-take ancient Athens, with its "reputation for excellence" and its "ability to generate growth" and attract talent, as the original example of a successful organization. Its achievements, they argue, flowed from its unique participatory democracy, which balanced "inspired leadership with democratic decision-making" and aligned citizens' interests to the common good without stifling individual initiative. Thus the city-state provides a model of organizational governance, one particularly suited to companies with "knowledge workers bent on 'doing their own thing.'" Although couched in ponderous management-ese, the book's praise of democracy as a management tool is backed by an interesting reading of Greek history. But the authors draw few practicable innovations from the comparison, because its implications are often too vague (they suggest "networks of networks," for instance) or radical (such as a rotation of leadership roles). The authors celebrate Athenian voting, but they don't conclude that rank-and-file workers should vote on company policy; and that time-honored institution of work-place democracy, the labor union, goes unmentioned. And while they chide Athens for excluding women and its large slave population from citizenship, they don't fully extend that argument to corporations. To the authors, corporate citizenship is an "honor" suitable for "a substantial number" of a company's workforce-a belief that suggests that true democratic citizenship is still a subversive idea, even for management theorists.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Brook Manville is Chief Learning Office and Chief Customer Evangelist at Saba, a firm that delivers human capital development and management solutions. Josiah Ober is Chair of the Department of Classics and David Magie '97 Class of 1897 Professor of Ancient History at Princeton University. He teaches courses on participatory democracy and postmodern organizations; and on the politics of learning in Ancient Athens.