Making Organizations Awesome

Leadership lessons from a motivational listener

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The Point

Most big organizations don’t work. The result is crappy products, lost profits, and environmental destruction. Even smart people with the best intentions have blind spots, and in groups those blind spots slow work down and undermine good ideas. We’ve all worked in situations where the solution was obvious, but “the system won’t let us do that” or “Bob didn’t like the idea so we can’t do it.” Even teams that function well do so in larger organizations and societies where inefficiency, ineffectiveness and injustice are everywhere.

My name for this phenomenon is massive institutional failure.  It spans the private sector, government, and charities alike, and it doesn’t matter if you believe in capitalism or socialism – we just don’t know how to work well in large groups. Period.

This problem is not going away. We won’t be rescued by pocket computers, groovier design, or curbside recycling. And while small often IS beautiful, we are not going to wake up tomorrow in a paradise of self-organization where everyone farms their own vegetables and lives in a solar-powered hexayurt. Humans form groups. We just don’t know how to make those groups as intelligent, fair, and effective once they pass a certain size.

Until we learn to make groups and institutions awesome, we won’t be able to solve any of the major problems confronting us or even get reliable service in everyday transactions with banks, schools, city government, and our dry cleaners.

So my job, along with yours if you share this view, is to discover how to scale up the awesome. How to take all the power and energy of a great individual or pair of collaborators, and turn that into a place like Zappos, the Acumen Fund, or the Mayo Clinic. And to turn these exceptional organizations into the norm, and make bureaucracy, bad service, and unfairness the glaring, intolerable exception.

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