The work renaissance

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As everybody is surely aware by now, big things are afoot in how we think about work and management. Agile has spilled out of IT into the enterprise. Complex systems theory is finally shifting how we think. Safety culture is revealing the value in failure. Less widely known (yet), Open culture is flipping the hierarchy.

This is a work Renaissance. It is the biggest paradigm shift in management thinking in generations – certainly since the ideas of iterative improvement to flow rooted in TWI and blossoming in Lean; and maybe the biggest shift since Scientific Management a century ago. (I wrote in similar terms about the shift in IT, “the IT Renaissance”, a few years ago.)

Sound like an exaggeration? I don’t think so. Let’s look at the actual European Renaissance, paraphrased from Wikipedia (so it must be true) in our new book The agile Manager:

Consider the characteristics of the Renaissance :

1. A focus on humanism: personkind as the driver of all thought, not abstract entities.

2. A resurfacing of learning from classical sources.

3. A flowering of literature, a greater sharing of ideas.

4. Depicting a more natural reality, model things on how they are not how we might stylise or imagine them.

5. Reform for learning for everybody, not just elites.

6. Emphasise observation, data, and inductive reasoning.

7. Upheaval, reform, disrupting the status quo.

The new ways of managing do the same:

1. Making work human again, treating people like people not resources, adults not children, as if we are all on the same side.

2. Building on work that goes back a century: scientific management (1900s), statistical production (1930s), Training Within Industry TWI (1940s), Toyota Production System (1960s), Total Quality Management TQM (1980s), Lean (1990s), complex systems (2000s), Agile (2000s).

3. A flow of management ideas flourishing on the internet, coming from all directions: e-commerce, war, information technology, space travel, robotics, medicine, social policy, politics…

4. Overcoming our cognitive biases and defeating the myth of simple systems; modelling how the world really works, not how we would like it to.

5. Freeing knowledge workers to invent their own solutions instead of imposing models from gurus and consultancies.

6. Making observation and experiment the centre of our work.

7. Flipping the hierarchy, getting out of the way, bringing real work to the fore. Communications and networked ways of working breaking down hierarchies.

The Renaissance brought new ideas, a new culture, new ways of doing, and a fresh start. The same is happening to management around the world, and has been for two decades – it’s a management renaissance.

This is important to you, to us all, for three reasons:

  • It’s time we got more humanity back into work. People aren’t resources, they’re colleagues.
  • Repeatedly, we see organisations fail to advance (“transform”) their work systems. These failures leave damage (including poisoning “DevOps” and “Agile”) .
  • The world urgently needs higher productivity to weather the coming economic storm.

We believe the key to unlock advancement to new ways of working is changing the ways we manage. That’s why we wrote our book. We are trying to express and facilitate this Renaissance.