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It is better
to not be on
the web than
to be on and
not know why

John Sumser

is more
it seems.
John Gall


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November 19, 2002) - You've probably encountered Art Kleiner's work and just didn't know it. Often billed as the world's greatest living Ghost Writer, Art had a deep hand in Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline, Peter Schwartz's The Art of The Long View and a large number of others. He co-authored The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, The Dance of Change and Schools That Learn with Senge. Kleiner's own The Age of Heretics is a comprehensive view of the role of the counterculture in corporate history.

These days, Art is making waves with a new organizational theory that is bound to be a conference room topic next year. The Core Group posits the intelligent argument that there is a simpler reason for the existence of organizations. They don't exist for profit or productivity, they exist to satisfy the needs of the ruling Core Group. Period.

Either you're in, and being served or you're out and you're serving. Either you want to be or you don't.

According to Kleiner (who generously provides an ongoing library of descriptions of specific corporate Core Groups), decisions are made within organizations to satisfy 3 Criteria:

  1. Fulfilling the perceived desires and needs of a Core Group of elite people. 
    The makeup of the Core Group varies from one organization to the next. Some are huge, including hundreds of people; others are limited to a pair of key partners. Some Core Groups are stable; others in constant flux. Some Core Groups are good for their organizations; others are highly dysfunctional. Whatever its particulars may be, the Core Group is the source of the organization's energy and drive.
  2. Fulfilling a Creative Imperative 
    People come to organizations to "do stuff" at a scale larger than any individual could manage alone. Organizations amplify our power; most of us can't realize our creative goals without them. An organization's creative potential determines the quality of its actions and the capabilities of its people.
  3.  What is the Right Thing to Do? 
    What do the organization's employees and executives tell themselves about the appropriate ways to operate amidst the complexities of money, the good life, fairness, quality, performance, society, and their relationship with the rest of the world? For instance, some organizations maintain the prevailing belief that people are basically good and need to be nurtured to be developed; others, no matter what they espouse, hold the prevailing belief that most people must be tightly controlled to get anything good out of them. Either of these views suggests a "right" way to treat people, and the organization will attract people who concur. No matter how craven or criminal an organization seems to outsiders, the people inside it are driven by their own conception of honor and service. We cannot influence any organization unless we understand how its people perceive their own noble purpose. Different people in an organization will hear this "calling" differently; some will be oblivious to it. More often than not, leaders won't respond to it. But the organization will gradually go where the noble purpose leads it.

Although we're tempted to dismiss it as overly simplistic, there is something powerfully appealing about Kleiner's argument. Certainly a single-cause theory of organizational behavior is a tempting piece of insight. But we wonder if things are so simple.

While we mull the validity of the idea, we suggest that you think about it as well. If the idea that organizations exist simply to satisfy the needs of their core leadership catches on, we'd expect a corresponding growth in the sorts of employment contract revisions described by Work 2.0.

That Kleiner has turned his enormous energy towards such a cynical view suggests that there may be a stronger trend in the workforce. With corporate distrust at an all time high, the idea just might sell broadly with serious growth limiting consequences. After all, who wants to be the servant of a core group no matter how elite?

Our own view is that organizations have much more complex footings and that culture is not as simple as an in-group definition. But, some of the things we've seen during the downturn are better explained by Kleiner's view than ours.

However you see your organization, one scenario you ought to build for your team is based on this notion. What if the only reason our group exists is to serve the core elite group in our company? What would we do differently?

-John Sumser

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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         Materials written
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         © TwoColorHat.
         All Rights Reserved.