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The Heretic's Guide To Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations Paperback – December 2, 2011
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From the Author
We humans are a bizarre lot because our ability to work together on complex endeavours - a skill that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom - can also operate in negative ways. For example, we can put a man on the moon, yet many couples who have committed to a partnership based on love, fidelity, trust, respect and mutual support, cannot so much as rearrange furniture without having a domestic dispute.
Why do some projects end up like domestic disputes, yet others that are infinitely more complicated succeed, and thus push the boundaries of what humanity is capable of? Can we learn something about what makes successful projects by focussing on (seemingly) trivial matters such as who does the dishes after dinner or who holds the remote control while watching TV? We believe so. Our book justifies this claim, and provides rigorous, field-tested ways to tackle such social complexity in organisations and projects.
We assert that the number one reason organisational initiatives fail is because they attempt to implement solutions without first developing a shared (or common) understanding of the problem. This leads to chaos, confusion and unhappy stakeholders. Yet even when these symptoms are recognised, the solutions that are applied generally hinder rather than help. Whilst there is substantial published research that offers insights and answers as to why this happens only truly nerdy people ever bother to read it. Consequently there is a gap between professional practice and research.
We've studied the work of many academics who have recognised and written about this. The problem is that these works challenge many widely accepted managerial practices. As a result these ideas have been rejected, ignored or considered outright heretical, and thus languish (largely unread) in journals.
We love heretical ideas - particularly when they support conclusions we have reached through our professional experiences. However we like readability even more - interesting ideas are no good if they can only be understood by PhDs. We believe such insights are best conveyed through stories and analogies that people can relate to and so we have written this book in an accessible, relaxed and conversational style.
From the Back Cover
When it comes to solving complex problems, we often perform elaborate rituals in the guise of best practices that promise a world of order, certainty, and control. But reality paints a far different picture, which practitioners are often reluctant to discuss. A witty yet rigorous journey through the seedy underbelly of organisational problem solving, The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices pinpoints the reasons why best practices don't work as advertised and what can be done about it.
"Hugely enjoyable, deeply reflective, and intensely practical. This book is about weaving human artistry and improvisation, with appropriate methods and technologies, in order to pool collective intelligence and wisdom under pressure." - Simon Buckingham Shum, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK
"This is a terrific piece of work: important, insightful, and very entertaining. Culmsee and Awati have produced a refreshing take on the problems that plague organisations... If you're trying deal with wicked problems in your organisation, then drop everything read this book." - Tim Van Gelder, Principal Consultant, Austhink Consulting
Top customer reviews
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The first couple of chapters of this book launch a critique of "best practices" in project management, and of related organizational platitudes; the second and third chapters give an overview of cognitive biases and methodological myths; the fourth and fifth chapters discuss the "demise of command and control" in management and the challenge of wicked problems; the sixth chapter argues that ideals of communicative rationality are important and can be realized, to some degree, in organizations, depending on certain conditions; the seventh and eighth chapters, which are profusely illustrated, demonstrate the importance of visualizing reasoning using simple argumentation-based graphical notation; the ninth chapter is an overview of a number of semi-formal problem-structuring methods; the tenth chapter discusses rationality and relationships in complex inter-organizational projects such as large construction projects; chapters eleven and twelve present some case studies; and the last chapter presents tips and tricks for the practice of dialogue mapping.
Despite the title, the book's critique of "best practices" is just a prelude or pretext for the book's principal teaching: how to reason more effectively in groups about difficult practical problems. Many books have already been published on this topic, and I've read a few of them. But I think this book stands out from the crowd in the way it homes in on the most important practical conditions for effective reasoning in groups. A couple of these conditions come straight from Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom: (1) lots of face-to-face communication involving exchange of mutual commitments, and (2) a governance structure (or group norms) for the group's work that is designed by the group itself. Examples of how this can be done are given in detail.
The book's discussion of methods for visualizing reasoning is one of the most thought-provoking analyses of this topic that I've read, and I consider myself well read in this area. I would call this book a "must read" for anyone who wants to learn how to create a better world through practical argument mapping or dialogue mapping.
The authors state, "A key factor that mainstream management ignores is that organizations consist of people, and that the smooth functioning of organizations depends critically on the commitments people make to each other. People will genuinely commit only to things they truly believe in. Consequently they have to be convinced of what they are committing to." Within organizations, communication is generally seen as a one-way push of information to employees. The main point of the book however, is that communication plays a deeper, less appreciated role in organizations: building shared understanding and commitment to action via collective deliberation - not a one way push of information.
Why is collective deliberation important? The authors argue individuals or groups can commit to something only after they understand it and feel that their contributions have been taken seriously. Collective deliberation is needed because organizational initiatives are collective efforts - and shared understanding and commitment to action must precede such efforts.
This book will give you the tools to explain what needs to change to get your projects moving in the right direction, to make your professional life more fulfilling, and how to go about changing the "way we do things around here" mentality. If you are happy with the status quo of your day-to-day professional life, this book isn't for you. If you know there has to be a better way to work than what you are currently experiencing, and want to learn how to make positive change, then this book needs to be in your possession.