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The Living Company Hardcover – January, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press; 1 edition (January 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087584782X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875847825
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #316,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The average life span of a Fortune 500 company is less than half a century, yet there also are corporations around the world that have been in business for 200, 500, even 700 years. Arie de Geus, a retired Royal Dutch/Shell Group executive, maintains after studying both extremes that the most enduring treat their companies as "living work communities" rather than pure economic machines. The Living Company: Habits for Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment persuasively outlines his resultant prescription for organizational longevity.

From Library Journal

According to a study conducted by Royal Dutch Shell, where the author worked for 38 years, the average life expectancy of Fortune 500 firms is 40 to 50 years. Many such companies don't survive beyond a few years, while others have existed for over 200. Why? De Geus, widely credited with originating the concept of the learning organization, writes: "Companies die because their managers focus on the economic activity of producing goods and services, and they forget that their organizations' true nature is that of a community of humans." He summarizes the components of the long-lived company as sensitivity to the environment, cohesion and identity, tolerance and decentralization, and conservative financing. In this insightful study, he describes how today's managers and staff should strive to develop a living company and increase its life expectancy. An important work; recommended for academic libraries.?Lucy T. Heckman, St. John's Univ. Lib., Queens Village, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

This book provide tremendous insight and motivation for getting beyond the burn out many of us experience in corporate life today.
John P. Freymann Jr.
This book needs to read by entreprenuers, business people and academicians to look at their organizations as some thing else apart from a money making machine !
Gautam Ghosh
He successfully challenges the limits of the mechanical view of human interactions, and provides a great vision into what is possible.
Loren G. Carlson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gautam Ghosh on August 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Arie de Gues is known to some management students as the person whose research spurred Peter Senge to do work on the "learning Organisation". In this book Arie talks about the evolving notion of the organization as a living being, instead of just an "economic entity" whose main purpose of existence is to survive, fulfill its potential, and to become great. Plain talking and cutting free from jargon, Arie illustrates this idea with examples from his career in Royal Dutch Shell and the studies Shell had carried out on long lasting and big organizations (they found only around 40 odd !!). This book needs to read by entreprenuers, business people and academicians to look at their organizations as some thing else apart from a money making machine ! Revolutionary!!
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Romulo Corrêa on February 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If I have to stay with only one business book in my shelf( I have more than 300 in the last count), the living company would be this book. My review will be more emotional I think. This is so, because the way this book touched me. I read it three times and some time think I have to read it again.
This is a very similar with the "Built to last", one of the bestsellers of Amazon. If you liked that book this will be an excellent complement of your reading and thoughts.
Perhaps this is the book that a Startup's CEOs should had read before launch their enterprise, because one of the characteristic of a living company is that they are conservative in their finances.
De Geus wrote a book that it is not limit to a period of time like recent books dot com books. By this I mean that you can go back to it and reapply its contents in your business reality again and again.
An import thing to say is that this is a book of principles, not rules or easy steps to success. Although the author is going to show you that there is a pattern in all the living company, he goes beyond that, showing the root that origin these patterns. The principles was constructed by observing companies, specially Royal Doutch/shell, were Arie de Geus worked for many years, but with the help of other disciplines like psychology and biology, which study the behavior and life of humans and animals. To discuss about innovation for instance, you will observe how a specie of bird is very smart to pass a learning to the whole specie. And to understand how we react or anticipate an external change in our business, it will be useful to look some psychology's theories about the human mind, and so on.
Don't think this is a book for academic public, it is not.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Arie de Geus is probably the most unique business thinker around. He combines the pragmatism of someone who had a very successful career at Shell with the curiosity of a talented academic. Behind this unique perspective is a deep appreciation for people. Most of us automatically relate to organizations like Newton related to the natural world, as one big physical mechanism. We casually talk about "aligning parts of the organization", "operating in organizational smokestacks or silos", and "fixing communications channels". Mr. de Geus helps us learn to think about organizations from the natural perspective, as living organisms, subject to many of the same limitations and forces as individual people are. When you read this book, you will become a much better and more effective person in all parts of your life. You will also feel better about yourself, and make those around you feel better about themselves. Read THE LIVING COMPANY today. This book is a wonderful gift to us all!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Graham Lawes on January 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Companies die all the time. The current business climate favors short term profit over long term survival, and most companies don't adapt fast enough. De Geus explains why this is, and what we can do about it, but what makes this book an essential read is that he gives us a new way of looking at organizations and the meaning of work.

The problem is that, in management, you get what you reward. This is a well-known truth and explains the dysfunction we see in most companies. As de Geus puts it, "The difficulty lies in our definition of corporate success...the dominant school of thought in business administration measures success purely in terms of quantity: the maximization of revenues, market share, share value, or proceeds."

The solution de Geus comes up with is novel and revolutionary. It is to look at companies differently -- not as machines, but as living beings. In fact, he goes even further than this, saying that companies actually are living beings. It is only because they are living that they can learn and adapt and hence sustain themselves over long periods of time.

This view seems extreme, but it is soundly based in philosophical argument and it is preferable to the alternate view that companies operate like clockwork and their employees are simply assets. The complexity of organizations can indeed be understood better by analogy with human psychology and biological ecosystems. And a company is able to survive and learn only because it has an identity that outlives any of the people working within it.

de Geus draws on the work of leaders in the fields of psychology, philosophy, evolutionary biology and immunology.
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