The Five Big Surprises of Radical Management

It is now just over half a year since I reviewed a large number of books that discuss in various ways the ongoing reinvention of management and presented my synthesis of the five interlocking principles of radical management in a twelve-part series of articles. The series was launched on November 17, 2010, beginning here.

Since then, I have been writing on a daily basis and applying the principles to a variety of current management issues. In all that writing—now close to a thousand pages—I had five big surprises.

1. Using Radical Management As An Analytic Knife
In developing the principles of radical management, I saw it as a practical how-to guide for leaders and managers. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me is how useful the principles of radical management can be as a powerful analytic knife to slice through the slogans, the oversell, the hype, the buzz, the false leads and the PR that bedevil business thinking and separate immediately what’s significant from what’s not.

Once you start looking at the world through the lens of radical management and the contrast with traditional management, suddenly the world suddenly snaps into focus and you see connections—and disconnnects—that were previously invisible. For example:

The principles of radical management enable you to see immediately what’s wrong with Google’s almost universally admired mission of “organizing the world’s information” and see why it is leading Google astray.
The principles enable you peruse the vast amount of hoopla about Apple, and decipher the relatively small number of elements that are really driving its extraordinary gains over the last decade.
The principles reveal with stunning clarity why apparently successful exemplars of old school management like General Electric [GE] and Wal-Mart [WMT] are going down the tubes unless they change their ways.
You can see why why Salesforce.com [CRM] has become so incredibly successful.
The principles enable you to see why Juniper [JNPR] is driving Cisco [CSCO] into the dust
The principles enable you to decipher an article in, say, Harvard Business Review or Strategy+Business and see immediately whether it’s part of the future or a trip back into the past.
The principles serve as a kind of X-ray device to see beneath the surface and decode what’s significant.

2. Finding the right graphics has helped
The second big discovery for me was in finding a way to espress the ideas of radical management graphically. I struggled for over a year to do this. Most of my early efforts were more confusing than prose.

Eventually I found the picture at the start of this article, which has been helpful to many in providing a simple mental picture of the five interlocking principles of radical management.

Thus any organization has a lot of moving parts. Management ideas can often seem like a jumble of unconnected pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The graphic of the interlocking principles of radical management can be contrasted to the five interlocking principles of traditional management.

This enables one to see at a glance why why doing only some of the five principles of radical management will come to grief.

3. Radical management makes tons of money
The third surprise was how profitable radical management is. In doing research for my book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, I had seen how at the team level, studies showed that teams following these principles were two- to four-times more productive than traditional teams. These were not just improvements at the margin. These were industry-disruptive changes. I reasoned that if these changes were extrapolated to the firm-level, the organization should be immensely profitable. It was a pleasant surprise to find that these firms are not just profitable. They are hugely profitable.

That’s ultimately why conquest of the business world by radical management is inevitable. It’s not because the customers are more contented or because the people doing the work are happier or because it extends the life expectancy of a firm, generates jobs and fuels the growth of the economy. It does all those things, but the real driver of its inevitability is that it makes more money.

Just look at the ten-year share price of exemplar firms like Apple [APPL], Amazon [AMZN] and Salesforce.com [CRM], with increases of around ten times to fifteen times. Compare that to traditional stalwarts like GE [GE], Walmart [WMT] and Intel [INTC], which struggle even to hold their share price constant.

4. The application beyond business
Another pleasant surprise was how easily–and usefully–the same principles can be applied to public sector activities like government, health, education or space exploration.

5. The world is hungry for this
Whenever you put forward a radically different set of ideas, you are never quite certain how the world is going to react. There is inevitably the usual skepticism and resistance from the powers that be who defend the status quo. But more generally, the hunger for change is widely apparent. The following captures the flavor of the huge response that I have been getting:

“Intuitively, I have always know that there was something wrong with every company that I ever worked for no matter how good their product, service or public image. You have perfectly described the company that I would like to work for. Where do I send my resumé?”


Steve Denning’s most recent book is: The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace For the 21st Century (Jossey-Bass, 2010).