Updated: Mar 30
Who is Aaron Dignan and why are we reading his book?
Aaron Dignan is a writer and consultant who has spent ten years exploring the various dilemmas stopping people from doing "the best work of their lives". He helps organisations globally undergo the tough process of entirely overhauling everything about how they work – what he calls the 'Organisational Operating System'.
Dignan believes that the world’s most trusted and important institutions – our healthcare institutions, businesses, banks, government, philanthropic organisations and charities – all struggle with the same issues, confronted with the difficult realisation as we veer ever deeper into the twenty-first century that "work is no longer working".
The slick operational practices that once made organisations strong and efficient, he says, are now bogging us down in layers of procedure that make it hard – if not impossible – to respond to the world around us in smart, speedy and creative ways.
Who’s this book for?
Seth Godin calls this "the management book of 2019" and this book is aimed at founders, C-suite and other senior leaders and managers who have some authority to exert an influence on how their organisation runs.
However, we think the paradigm shift this book puts forward is so compelling that it should be read by anyone with an interest in how work and our society is evolving and changing. Organisations are at the heart of the modern world, and we have all experienced inefficient, bureaucracy-ridden processes, whether as an employee or a customer.
For example, have you ever worked in an organisation where you have groaned your way through yet another frustrating, fruitless meeting? Do you know what it’s like to pour hours (and hours) into creating and finely honing plans, critical paths and Gantt charts, only to see those instantly become obsolete when anything actually happens in the world? You know that frustrating feeling when information is withheld from the many and hoarded by the few, preventing people from making empowered, informed decisions? Or how about the experience of being bogged down in layers of rules, regulations, policies and procedures?
If you relate even a bit to any of those things, and if you want to believe there is a different, better way of doing business, then this book is for you.
In a nutshell…what’s it all about?
We put this book in the genre we call ‘The Paradigm Shifters’. There are an increasing number of books being published that are acknowledging that we need more than just a few tweaks here and there – that put forward the bold, pretty radical idea that collectively, our whole approach to running organisations needs to evolve.
The book covers three main areas: ‘the future of work’, ‘the operating system’ and ‘the change’. It’s full of practical tools alongside the deep insights about the many ways in which today’s organisations are broken. Dignan talks in every chapter about how to be "complexity conscious"* and "people positive" - two principles that underpin this ‘brave new’ approach to work.
The second section of the book is all about ‘the Operating System’ or OS of organisations. It systematically addresses 12 structural elements of businesses that can cause pain and inefficiency:
1. Purpose - how we orient and steer
2. Authority - how we share power and make decisions
3. Structure - how we organise and team
4. Strategy - how we plan and prioritise
5. Resources - how we invest our time and money
6. Innovation - how we learn and evolve
7. Workflow - how we divide and do the work
8. Meetings - how we convene and coordinate
9. Information - how we share and use data
10. Membership - how we define and cultivate relationships
11. Mastery - how we grow and mature
12. Compensation - how we pay and provide
Each of these chapters is packed with practical examples and brilliant ideas (what Dignan calls ‘Thought Starters’) that you can take into your organisations to provoke vital conversations.
Read this if you’re curious to learn about:
– How to think differently about the parts of your organisation that make you want to dive under the duvet rather than race into the office. In some organisations, meetings are the bane of people’s lives. In others, decisions can take an eon to make. In yet others, collaboration feels impossible because people are territorial and viciously competitive rather than oriented to band together and co-create. Think about the thing in your organisation that makes you mad and there’s probably something in this book to help you think differently about it.
– The future of work. The pace of change is so rapid nowadays that it often leaves us feeling a bit breathless and discombobulated. It can feel so hard to simply keep up with everything that’s happening that looking ahead and trying to get some big picture perspective can seem impossible. At the same time, we all know on a fundamental level that the future does not look like the past. Times are changing. This book covers a lot of ground in down-to-earth, very readable language. It will equip and prepare you for the changes to come.
– A paradigm shift in the way you think about business, organisational life and the way we work. It’s easy to take for granted how we work and why we do things the way we do them. This book makes you stop, think and question everything you think you know.
– Simple yet effective ways to make grass roots changes. You might work in an organisation that doesn’t want to go through the total overhaul Dignan puts forward in Brave New Work. Luckily there are lots of thoughts and exercises in the book that you can apply to create a few ‘one-degree shifts’ rather than 180-degree overhauls (even though that is what Dignan is ultimately advocating).
Why you might not like this book
At FizzPopBANG we are big believers in the power of books, but yes, this is yet another ‘how to’ book and if you have a shelf full of unread – or worse, read but unimplemented – books on evolving your business, then this might not be for you.
Check your mindset too; a book can present a fundamentally different approach, and we think this one genuinely does, but it’s worth bearing in mind that there is probably no ‘one way’ to elevate the way your business works, just as there is no one-size-fits-all perfect diet for all humans.
It also needs to be read with the reality in mind that Dignan is a consultant who gets brought into organisations to help them work through this process; there might be barriers and obstacles that you bump up against if you try to pioneer a one-person crusade in your place of work, so be bold, but maybe keep your feet planted in a bit of reality, too.
Having said all that…
A juicy quote to end on...
"These innovations are not solutions. They are the start of a renaissance in the form and function of organisations. Our job isn’t simply to adopt them blindly but to push them, advocate for them, and evolve them into serious alternatives that can stand on their own merit. Today less than 1 per cent of all organisations are experimenting with these new possibilities. The tipping point is far off in the distance. It is people like you who will draw this future closer and make the impossible possible for the next generation of founders and teams." – Aaron Dignan, Brave New Work
Well said, Aaron. Well said indeed.
Find out more here: https://www.bravenewwork.com/
* We take a good look at complexity and why it’s critical to be conscious of it in our new Bite-size workshop on adopting an agile mindset to thrive in today’s fast-paced world. Get in touch to find out more firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Elloa Atkinson