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« What HBR won’t say: Why BPR failed | Main | Steve Denning on YouTube »

July 04, 2010


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Robert Flynn


Robert Flynn

Agree with our Melbourne mate that this is definitely one "for the pool room!" Well thought out and articulated argument. My enduring concern relates to your choice of the term "radical" as the designation for your alternative to traditional management. The very guys (and they are mostly 'guys') who need to heed your message won't get past their first encounter with this word. A whole bunch of unconsciously-held shutters will drop down and prevent further engagement with your thesis. I would suggest you give some thought to another term. For my part, I'll think further on it also, and follow up if I conjure up something compelling.

Steve Denning

Robert--As you might imagine, I have spent the last 18 months discussing with the publisher and many, many people what to call this way of managing. I found that when I used less eye-catching terms, managers just didn't get the point that this was something very, very different. It's "radical" in the sense that it goes to the root of how to manage. For those "guys" who are basically satisfied with management as it is, with perhaps a tweak or two here or there, neither the term nor the substance is likely to appeal. My audience is really different: people who want change. There are now a number of authors like Gary Hamel who have written that something revolutionary is needed (see e.g. Moonshots for Management in Feb 2009 HBR). This is a book for those people. Hamel's own term, "Management 2.0" however really conveys "more of the same," rather than something revolutionary. In any event, for better or worse, I have crossed the bridge in terms of terminology. The term "radical management" is now embedded in the book. Using another term would require a wholly new book. Nevertheless if you find a better term, I would love to hear about it!

Laurence Lock Lee

Hi Steve .... ok tks for the inside on Google.

I've just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's "What the Dog Saw"... in it he talks about the "war for talent" era where companies like Enron, advised by companies like McKinsey embarked on the then "radical" management approach of hiring the smartest people and then getting out of their way. Now at least if we exclude the ending, Enron was a poster child for radical management approaches, of which some relate to a good few of your radical management principles.

I expect you will have an opinion to share?

Steve Denning

Laurence--No, Enron is not the poster child for radical management, or anything like it.

Radical management is not just about getting out of the way. In some ways, radical management is more structured than traditional management, because work is done in short cycles and only finished work counts as progress.

At the start of the cycle, the management and the staff agree on what are the goals for the coming (short) cycle. Then management then does indeed get out of the way for the remainder of the (short) cycel, and let the people get on with the job, only intervening when there are impediments to remove. Then at the end of the short cycle, there is a review of what has been accomplished. It's not a report. It's finished work. Did it get done? If not, why not? What impediments were getting in the way of doing it better or sooner or cheaper? This is a highly structured and challenging environment for both managers and workers.

At Enron, Lehman Brothers, and BP, and as in most bureaucracies, problems lay hidden for many years, and then suddenly they exploded into the open. The problems were always there. They just lay hidden from view.

In radical management, where work is done in short cycles, and only finished work counts as progress, problems become immediately apparent.

This often causes an initial shock for managements when radical management is introduced: suddenly a whole lot of problems tumble out of the woodwork. Faced with an unexpectedly large array of problems, the managers sometimes blame the new way of working for creating the problems. In reality, the problems were always there. In a bureaucracy, they remained invisible.

When this happens, the more enlightened managements accept the reality of the problems that have been revealed and set about resolving them. This is one of the main reasons why this way of working is two to four-times more productive than traditional bureaucracy. Impediments get quickly identified and removed--something that didn't happen at Enron.

Patricia Eng

I have been following you for some time. I agree with your assertions adnd observations and have a question.

We have what I would call a good KM program which for 3 years was supported and sponsored by the second highest executive in our organization. KM was an unfunded, but separate program that he oversaw and encouraged line managers to support. He got involved in the KM effort and was very vocal about his involvement. Bottom line, we built a viable, but small KM program.

Recently, we had a change in management who is less hands on, he is not actively involved in promoting or participating in KM and wants to move KM under our Human Capital Council along with training, recruiting and staffing forecasts.

Are there any articles or studies out there that speak to the "best" place to put a KM program in a large technocracy? I am hoping to find something that speaks to the importance of having an actively involved executive at one of the highest levels in the organization involved in KM to insure its success...

Thanks in advance.

executive coaching

There is nothing more to say except that this post is outstanding. I have also read some of your post and I had a great time.

Outsourcing Philippines

Great share. Keep it up!


Steve, thanks for sharing your idea. I've read your work on storytelling. Good job!

I like your analysis on the issue with current management philosophy, but I disagree with the solution that you offer: radical management. I'm not saying it is a bad idea per se. But introducing a total change on management, isn't going to fix the problem.

To fix the illnesses of management, just like any other change initiatives, you need to find a powerful story, influencers, and open conversation platform.

Bottom-up change (like KM) requires patience and persistence. Along the way, you need to make the message of change as clear as possible to the management. Sometimes, you need to ally with those that have the bosses' ears.

I'd like to hear your opinion on this. check out my blog:

Steve Denning

Dear Roan,

Thanks for your comment.

The record of the last 15 years shows that storytelling, patience and open conversations are not enough to save from KM from the machinations of traditional management. Even the greatest programs have succumbed, because in those organizations you have traditional managers walking around with a mental model of management in their heads that is at odds with the basic assumptions and values of KM (and also with most of the other creative elements in the organization). These managers are implementing what they learned in business school and are looking for "low-hanging fruit" to make savings. KM is often the fruit of choice.

So you are certainly free to go on trying to survive just with stories, patience and persistence, but my advice would be to keep a parachute handy.

The fact that you are talking about "bosses" implies that you are still very much in the land of traditional management. And hence at significant risk.

It is only when the organization accepts the marketplace reality that the customer is now the boss that your KM program has reasonable prospects of survival. That entails wholly different way of thinking about how to run organizations.

You can call it the shift from push to pull, as The Power of Pull does. Or you can call it shift from inside-out to outside-in, as Professor Ranjay Gulati does in Reorganize for Resilience. Or you can call it the shift from outputs to outcomes, as Umair Haque does, in The New Capitalist Manifesto. Or you can call it the shift from traditional management to radical management, as I do. Whatever you want to call it, it is a different world from the world where managers are seen as "bosses".

None of the gurus that you mention on your interesting site have actually managed a KM program and most of their writings do not bear directly on the issue under discussion here.

Some of their writings indicate that they are aware of, and have crossed over into, the new world. Others are still very much at home in the world of traditional management and indeed are sometimes fighting to preserve its hegemony. Some of them are simply unaware that there is an issue.

I believe that understanding the difference between the two worlds and learning how to navigate from one to the other is key to making things safe for KM.

Thanks again for your comment and good luck!


Belstaff Winter Coats

It's great to hear from you and see what you've been up to. In your blog I feel your enthusiasm for life. thank you.

Shane Wills

Great post!


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