2 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever had a job where you felt like all you ever accomplished was writing reports, which never received follow-up? Perhaps you felt like you were always following protocols that seemed to have no sense or purpose and made it harder to do your job? Have you felt like nobody had any idea what was going on, and miscommunication or lack of communication was the norm? Have you ever had good ideas to make your company more productive, yet no one to hear those ideas? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you and your company may be just who Peter Leeson is addressing in his book Orchestrated Knowledge.
Orchestrated Knowledge is aimed at workplaces with employees who do “intellectual” or “creative” work, rather than those who do labor-centered jobs, so if you work on a factory floor, many of the concepts found in this book won’t quite apply. The very basic premise of the Orchestrated Knowledge technique is that those who produce the product need to be given the tools and methodologies to increase quality, however you determine what “quality” means.
Part of this technique requires managers to trust the people they have hired to do the job they have been hired to do: Creating a high-quality product. A second aspect of this technique is to realize that happy employees create a much better product, while demoralized employees create diminishing returns. A third part of this technique is the realization that managers and leaders are working for their teams (not their shareholders), much like a car works to enable the tires to go where the car needs to go. Take away the tires (those who produce the product), and the car (the company, management, and leadership) goes nowhere. When you get these things right, your shareholders, your employees, and your customers will all be happy.
Leeson discusses the changes both in culture and processes that need to happen to get an improved result and a much higher quality. He explains specific things that get in the way of change, key focal points for successful change, how to measure this change, and the potential impact (both negative and positive) of change.
First, there is a lot of useful information in this book. He goes into in-depth detail on things like why employees aren’t happy, how to effect change, and how to create effective “cell” groups, which is one of his solutions for effective communication. He covers the challenges of changing the culture (which he calls “intelligent evolution”) of a business, how to communicate change with the clients, and even addresses when this “evolution” attempt fails.
What I would have liked to see, however, are more case studies. Some of the best books I have read on management and leadership have been organized like this: Problem-Solution-Case study where this worked-Case study where this failed. Now, he does not need to follow this organizational style, but case studies are helpful to see how it worked in specific, real-world situations. Unfortunately, there are few examples of successful implementation of this technique. Leeson tends to use the same example multiple times. There also seems to be much more of a “why this won’t work” slant to the book, which I do not think was at all intentional. This problem is fairly easily fixed by balancing each negative statement or example with a positive example, or reason why the technique will work. After all, he wants the reader to follow his technique!
Although usually well-cited, he is not always as precise as I would like if I want to explore a topic more. For instance, this quote from the end of chapter notes:
I understand that sometimes we don’t always remember where we get ideas that we are writing or teaching about, mainly if we read a lot, but I would still prefer that he take the time to look it up! In this case particularly, because he has cited a specific book. Additionally, his chapter endnotes are not always useful. Sometimes they are important, but other times they are rambling, or even distracting from his purpose, for example when he goes on about not being a “petrol-head” and the kind of car he likes. (p. 30) It doesn’t add value to the book.I believe it was in his 1947 novel “L’écume des jours”, Éditions Fayard; anyway, it is worth reading even if this book does not contain the quote. (p. 30)
My favorite elements of the book are these three things: Trust your employees (after all, you hired them!), encourage dissent, and let them be messy. All of these get their very own treatment with an individual section, and it is easy to see that some of them are quite revolutionary. He makes fantastic points and gives practical advice on how to follow through.
My least favorite element of this book was how it was organized. Leeson forgoes traditional chapters and just has section titles. Lots of section titles. And there are times when he is juggling back and forth between ideas because there is some crossover in thought. I believe that an edit that breaks things into clear chapters would make these more usable. Ideally, this will be a resource for managers and leaders. If you want it to be used that way, you will make it as easy as possible to find what the reader is looking for. The table of contents does help, but he has so many section titles that it is overwhelming.
Leeson has used conclusions for some, but not all, of his sections. Integrating these conclusions into how he breaks the book into chapter would also be helpful. Also, as it is the table of contents read more like titles in a PowerPoint presentation, which works great for that, but not as well in a book. An added benefit of re-working this a bit is that it would help with retention of the information. I found myself having to backtrack a lot to understand his point or remember what was said.
Finally, this book did not seem professionally edited. There were many errors, such as misused words, comma-splices, confusing sentences, tense disagreements, and missing or misplaced commas, periods, parenthesis, and quotations.
I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. I think this could be a handy book with a strong edit for clarity and grammar. If the author were to do this, and add a few more positive case studies, I would have no hesitation giving it four stars. People who would find this useful are those who are interested in leadership and management. In spite of the issues with this book, those who are willing to dig a little will still be able to find great information within its pages.
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