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Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World (Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition) Paperback – January 15, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Margaret J. Wheatley's Leadership and the New Science was initially published in 1992, it outlined an unquestionably unique but extremely challenging view of change, leadership, and the structure of groups. Many readers immediately embraced its cutting-edge perspective, but others just could not understand how the complicated scientific tenets it described could be used to reshape institutions. Now Wheatley, an organizational specialist who has since coauthored A Simpler Way, updates the original by including additional material (such as an epilogue addressing her personal experiences during the past decade) and reconstructing some of her more challenging concepts. The result is a much clearer work that first explores the implications of quantum physics on organizational practice, then investigates ways that biology and chemistry affect living systems, and finally focuses on chaos theory, the creation of a new order, and the manner that scientific principles affect leadership. "Our old ways of relating to each other don't support us any longer," she writes. "It is up to us to journey forth in search of new practices and new ideas that will enable us to create lives and organizations worthy of human habitation." --Howard Rothman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A book like Leadership and the New Science only comes along once in a decade. Margaret Wheatley pushes our thinking about people and organizations to a new dimension. You will never think about organizational life in the same way again."-Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, Raving Fans, and Empowerment Takes More than a Minute

"If there's a single book that sets the stage for the future of organizations, this is it.... Wheatley makes complex ideas simple, and then shows how those simple ideas can be used as powerful tools." -Stephen E. Ewing, President and CEO, Michigan Consolidated Gas Company

"An extraordinary book. The new physics is opening frontiers of knowledge that are among the most significant of this century. Applying these discoveries to management and leadership is extraordinarily eye-opening." -Marjorie Kelly, Founder and Publisher, Business Ethics magazine -- Marjorie Kelly, Founder and Publisher Business Ethics magazine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 197 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; Second Revised & enlarged edition (January 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576751198
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576751190
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 22, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

This book is beyond five stars, and not just for business, where it is receiving all the praise it is due, but within government, where it has not yet been noticed. It was recommended to me by the author of Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization and I now recommend it to everyone I know. If there are two books that can "change the world," these are the ones.

Although the Chinese understood all this stuff centuries ago (Yin/Yang, space between the dots, the human web), the author is correct when she notes late in the book that the commoditization of the human worker (Cf. Lionel Tiger, Manufacture of Evil: Ethics, Evolution, and the Industrial System) and the emphasis on scientific objectivity and scientific manager (Cf. Jean Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West) were perhaps the greatest error we might have made in terms of long-run progress. Coincidentally, as I finished the book, on the Discovery channel in the background they were discussing how the leveeing of the Mississippi blocked the Louisiana watershed from cleansing the Mississippi naturally, as it once used to.

It's all about systems--the author does cite Donella Meadows' 1982 article in Stewart Brand's Co-Evolution Quarterly, but does not pay much heed to the large body of literature that thrived in the 1970's around the Club of Rome.
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On its face, this book seems to be on to something. The social sciences have long adapted ideas from the natural sciences, so why not look to current natural science and see what it could teach us? Unfortunately, she misquotes many parts of the scientific theories she examines and takes them in directions that they do not warrant. This is not good science.

First and foremost, Wheatley completely ignores the fact that the seventeenth century science she disparages was not wrong. It was incomplete, yes. But most of the modern theories she explores cover natural phenomenon beyond the margins of our everyday world. Newtonian mechanics continues to be a very accurate, widely used method. It is only at the margins - very small objects (quantum mechanics), very large objects (relativity), and very fast objects (special relativity) - that many of the new theories take over. It might be more appropriate, then, to try to discover how ideas from the new sciences could extend our ideas about leadership and organizations rather than replace them.

The first modern theory she discusses is quantum physics. She paints a metaphysical world where we all get to create our own realities, where nothing is real outside of our relationships, and where the idea of objective reality is a myth. This is not what quantum physics says. It does not say that there isn't an objective world out there. It says that it behaves in a probabilistic way. We don't get to create our own realities. Instead, at the quantum level there is no such thing as passive observation; our observation influences a reality that is already there.

Her treatment of thermodynamics is similarly skewed, and her understanding of open versus closed systems is in places flat wrong.
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In this brilliant book, Margaret J. Weathley brings parallels between the theory of leadership and the quantum physics. Being an organizational consultant, not the physical by herself, she
encourages "to stop seeking after the universe of the seventeenth century and begin to explore what has become known to us during the twentieth century".
She exposes the bright conclusions from her experience of working as a consultant, and these conclusions are confirmed by quantum physics as well:
- The things we fear most in organizations - disruptions, confusion, chaos - need not be interpreted as signs that we are about to be destroyed. Instead, these conditions are necessary to awaken creativity.
- What is critical is the relationship created between two or more elements. Systems influence individuals, and individuals call form systems.
- There is no objective reality; the environment we experience does not exist "out there". It is co-created through our acts of observation, what we choose to notice and worry about.
- Acting should precede planning.
- Instead of the ability to analyze and predict, we need to know how to stay acutely aware of what's happening now, and we need to be better, faster learners from what just happened.
- We need fewer descriptions of tasks and instead learn how to facilitate process.
- Power becomes a problem, not a capacity. People use their creativity to work against these leaders, or in spite of them; they refuse to contribute positively to the organization.
- Those who have used music metaphors to describe working together, especially jazz metaphors, are sensing to the nature of this quantum world. This world demands that we be present together, and be willing to improvise.
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