Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review - Humanize by Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter

Welcome to the desert of the real.  Morpheus - The Matrix
(This is a book review of Humanize - How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.  Just so you know, I wasn't asked to write it and received no type of compensation for doing so. The Association Subculture Blog does not accept author pitches and only writes about books we dig.)

The Short of It

Buy this book.

The Long of It

Authors Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter have hit upon what is becoming the central question of our age - how can we be more human in the workplace.  (And please - lacing it with Matrix references is catnip for nerds like myself. Finding the clips for this post wasted my entire morning and I'm heading to my DVD shelf after this post to get at the real deal.)

Frankly, I consume a lot of books during the year.  I've read some great books this year, some mediocre ones and thrown a few turkeys on the scrap heap.  Humanize is one of only three books that has earned a spot on my "re-read" list (and three is more "re-reads" than usual). The author's combined talents take us out of the out of the realm of the "is social media something we should do" (baffling to still hear that question) and pushes us into a new organizational world where trust, openness, generative action and courageous disposition reign.  They offer hope to those of us who believed the cubicle-haunting manage-o-bots of the past had won.

The best part?  They are clearly a part of our association management world but this book breaks away from the "association-centric" language we are all used to and is applicable to any organization - for-profit, non-profit or governmental.  Kudos to them for breaking out of our orbit and spanning the gap to our other structural cousins.  Hopefully they will still remember us when they hit the big time.

There are plenty of great, detailed reviews already out there so here are the top five sentences that resonated here at the Association Subculture the most.

"Each of us is part of several networks, and while the individual relationships are important, there is a quality of our relationship with the network as a whole that also requires attention and its own set of knowledge and skills."

Well said. In this section on Generative Behavior: Relationship Building Maddie and Jamie draw a distinction between interpersonal relationships and network relationships. Most of us are aware of the challenges inherent in navigating interpersonal relationships but it is important to realize the networks we are in are now interactive as well.  Associations are beginning to realize this siloed, exclusively member focused ice floe they are stranded themselves on is drifting out to sea.

"Being courageous starts by admitting you don't know and is completed by taking bold and confident action."

What an insightful point.  We have a false narrative in this country that courage is reserved for the few and is not accessible to the many. The minute you admit you don't know or you aren't sure, and you decide to act anyway - that is courage.  It starts with one word, "Yes."

"Answers (and data) should be the beginning of the conversation, not the end."

Hear, hear! Yes, good data is important.  Yes, big data is the next frontier.  Yes, quantitative and qualitative data is critical to creating understanding.  I regularly pursue appreciative inquiry research projects with associations because the data we get is so powerful.  However, we have become data obsessed and in some cases outright paralyzed over the past few years.  For the association community, I put some of the blame squarely on the "7 Measures of Success" book.  I really don't believe Jim Collins would be thrilled with the "data-driven-strategies" monsters that were created in the wake of that book. We routinely misuse the medium.

"Freeing your mind means you are not willing to be constrained by the conventional wisdom, best practices and dogma of current organizational life."

Jamie and Maddie aren't being idealistic with this statement.  They freely admit they are not talking about extreme freedom that is unconstrained by realities such as legal requirements, financial obligations and the like.  They are talking about putting everything else that is not "essential and required" on the table.  It takes skill and discipline to continually reinvent your world.  To make smart choices about what to keep and what to discard.  To mold and shape versus plan and execute.  As humans, status quo is still a powerful drive.  However, preserving the status quo has become the heroin of the corporate structure and it's time to break the cycle of addiction.

"We choose to move forward into a truly human way of organizations - not back to simpler times before technology."

Wow. This statement challenges the most primitive impulse we have - to yearn for the idealized yesteryear that never really existed. Humans have raised nostalgia to an art form. The problem with the "good old days" is they were never that good to begin with. The industrialized age treated human beings like cogs in the big wheel machine. People were interchangeable, like parts. Our entire language around management is mechanized. Why yearn for those good-old-days-that-weren't when right in front of you we have the ability to create something better than we've ever had before?

So, I tip my hat to Jamie and Maddie. You two have really hit on something here and I am a believer.  I can't wait to see what's next.

Ah, yes Neo.  You made the right choice.  The red pill was the only way to go.  Here is the scene where Morpheus offers Neo the choice....and here is an explanation about what the Matrix is.


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