Holacracy vs. Boring Old Ideas


If you're a follower of innovative leadership or management practices, you'll no doubt have seen some of the breathless statements about Zappos' planned (or impending) move to Holacracy. What's a Holacracy? I won't spend your precious time recounting what others have covered except to say it is being hailed in the press as an innovation in management that aims to get rid of managers and hierarchy.

Let me address that last sentence I just wrote. Firstly, the press - in particular the tech press - lives off the "new" and "innovative" but has collective amnesia when the same things are "discovered" over and over again. Secondly, the press doesn't have it quite right, as usual. Holacracy doesn't really get rid of hierarchy, as it is being reported, it just distributes it. These aren't really new ideas at all. The packaging is good though.

This quest for newness extends from the press into companies where jumping from fad to fad does nothing but demoralize, disinterest and frustrate people who have to go through it. In truth, there is very little that is new in the management and leadership realm that isn't known. The problem is, people don't publish their sources of where the ideas actually come from because...well, I'll refrain from speculating on that.

Stanford's James March's quote is particularly applicable in this case:

"Most claims of originality are testimony to ignorance and most claims of magic are testimony to hubris."

I love the fact that Zappos is being experimental as an organization. And I'm impressed that they are making a bold move to further empower their people to be freed from constraints so they can perform to their potential. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a skeptic, however.

For those intrepid souls willing to investigate, there are many well-known, longstanding management practices and approaches that create the conditions for high performance. Most organizations will disregard these for the "flavour of the month," and that can be costly to everyone.

Give me the boring old ideas that have been proven to work. 


P.S. Have a look at Bob Sutton's post at LinkedIn for further discussion and enlightenment.

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