I discovered The Conductive Organization: Building Beyond Sustainability on my bookshelf when doing some rearranging. It's from Hubert Saint-Onge and Charles Armstrong and brings together many themes that I've been reading and hearing in the last year or so. And it was published in 2004 - and the ideas within the book have been percolating for even longer. (I might have received this book at a KM conference where Saint-Onge spoke.)
The cover has a spiral sentence description of a conductive organization that gives a quick summary of the book:
An organization that dynamically generates the capabilities it needs to achieve breakthrough performance based on increasing the quality and accelerating the flow of knowledge, synchronizing its strategy, culture, structure and systems - all calibrated to the needs of its customers and marketplace.
Pick apart that statement, and you have the book. Dynamically generates has to do with the idea that we don't know today what capabilities will be needed in the future. These are all depend upon the flow of knowledge through the organization. And to make that happen the organization needs strategy, culture, structure and systems all in alignment. The alignment is formed and created by active leadership. I also heard strains of continuous improvement throughout the introductory materials: sharpen the capabilities to be ready for the next challenge.
There were several references to knowledge-related topics within the book. This makes sense, both from the perspective that Saint-Onge has been involved in the KM world, and in the perspective that knowledge is a key to creating the capabilities that conductive organizations will need. The authors put together a nice, simple model of knowledge that ties together the explicit and tacit elements via learning loops. Of course, you need to have stuff written down, but it only gets there through applied learning and discussions amongst your colleagues, customers and other partners. And there is a great discussion of the cultural elements that are required to build the knowledge systems - not only trust but self-initiation, partnerships and interdependence.
The authors also discussed knowledge network mapping and the new-to-me Knetmap system that collects the network data via weekly single-question surveys, instead of via a massive one-time survey. The results are the same either way, but the weekly effort seems to make more sense from a people perspective. The result is the familiar network maps across various domains. They talked about doing the same with knowledge artifacts, but I would have loved to see a picture of this to get a better sense of what it does.
It took me a chapter or two before I realized the book was about the conductive organization, rather than the conducive organization. Interesting word choice.
I must admit to skimming some sections that weren't as interesting to me, though. This book is not intended to read like those business novels I've been flying through. I suspect there is some more recent writing that covers these topics in more engaging ways - and the authors also admitted that they don't know what's coming, but that their model seems like the right one.
In that sense, all those parallels I saw in the writing seem to bear this out. Here are a few of those.
I started reading this just after attending a talk by John Hagel, related to his new The Power of Pull, and it seemed there were many parallels. In particular, the idea of the Conductive Organization is one which extends beyond traditional boundaries to bring in partners and other collaborators; the authors even talk about changing organizational structure to better fit knowledge-era principles. I thought of pull again in the discussion of interdependence and partnering in the section on the characteristics of a high-performance culture. The other elements of high-performance cultures were interesting too: trust and self-initiation. Trust is always there, but these other elements were new to me in this context.
I also saw parallels to recent work on leadership with the way this book talked about leadership as being responsible for detecting patterns, creating partnerships, infusing meaning, generating capability, and responding with speed. The leadership section also highlighted the importance of integrity: acting and speaking in ways that are fully expected and understood by the organization. This idea of integrity of the leader was paralleled in the discussion of culture and that the culture has to correspond with the values espoused by the organization as well.
The section on branding and the character of a conductive organization made me think back to the Duct Tape Marketing podcast with Sally Hogshead, Do You Fascinate? where they discussed the idea of what makes people and businesses interesting. And then there was the Simon Sinek TED talk on How great leaders inspire action, where he talked about the importance of asking and describing why first, instead of what.