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 Book Reviews -- by Ted Kinni

Organizing Genius

by Warren Bennis and
Patricia Ward Biederman

In Organizing Genius, Bennis and Biederman examine the stories of six of this century's most creative groups: Disney's animation unit, Lockheed's Skunk Works, Clinton's 1992 campaign team, Black Mountain College, Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center and World War II's Manhattan Project. Their goal: to reveal the common traits of these "Great Groups."

       The authors tell each group's story, using mostly previously published sources. In most cases, a single interview with one participant supplements the story. The resulting case studies are readable but not always well-focused.

       The lessons drawn from these stories include that Great Groups usually have strong, protective and well-respected leaders; that their members are the most talented team players in their fields; that they have strong, exclusive missions and cultures; and that they often operate on the fringes of their parent organizations.

       The idea that the reader can replicate some of these commonalities to help supercharge their own creative teams does seem to have merit. But the ability to create the environment and the almost-mystical combination of circumstances that bring a group, such as the one at the Manhattan Project, to life seems much less likely. Aren't Great Groups defined as great precisely because they are so rarely encountered?

       Organizing Genius (Addison-Wesley, $24) doesn't completely measure up to Bennis' previous books. The lessons the authors extract from the groups, the "secrets of creative collaboration," may be useful in only a limited way.

Meet the Registrar

by C. Michael Taylor

The only opinion that really matters during an ISO 9000 registration drive is the registrar's. With this book, C. Michael Taylor, executive director and senior lead auditor at Bureau Veritas Quality International, gives the reader some welcome insight into how that opinion is formed.

       Taylor interprets the quality standards and explains what registration auditors look for in a successful certification candidate. Critics of the standards will be happy to see that the author emphasizes much more than simple compliance. Registrars, he says, also must audit for efficiency, effectiveness and proof of ongoing improvement. The book eschews the usual outline format of ISO 9000 texts for a more free-flowing, essay-based presentation. It also is the first we've seen without the monotonous history of the standard's formation.

       Meet the Registrar (ASQC, $30), which grew from a series of free marketing seminars conducted by the author, serves double duty. Like many business books, it is a marketing tool for Taylor and his company. This is a strong indication that the competition for audit clients is heating up.

       Marketing tool or not, this book is a valuable supplementary text for anyone approaching ISO 9000 registration. Read it after you understand the basics for a deeper understanding of the standards and some insight into how your registrar will approach your audit.  

The Living Company

by Arie de Geus

One of the most pervasive -- and persuasive -- management concepts of this decade is the idea of the learning organization. Consulting and academic careers have been built around it, and the shelf of books it spawned has earned substantial profits for publishers. Yet the man who is credited with originating the idea of learning organizations, Arie de Geus, never really stepped into the spotlight.

    With the publication of The Living Company, de Geus' work is finally revealed. The reader finds a measured voice, an extraordinarily wide range of ideas and a presentation that is firmly grounded in the practical needs of businesspeople. De Geus, a long-time senior manager at Shell who worked his way through the ranks, obviously knows that the ultimate measure of an idea's usefulness lies in our ability to apply it at work.

    De Geus is not content to rest on his laurels. Instead, he offers an organic picture of successful (read "long-lived") organizations. These rare companies share four key traits: They learn, they have a strong sense of identity, they tolerate experimentation, and they are financially conservative.

    In his discussion of these traits, de Geus describes a series of interesting ideas culled from an eclectic group of sources, such as William Stern, a founder of the discipline of child psychology, and Allan Wilson, a Berkeley zoologist. The thinking of this diverse group is deftly interwoven to form a logical rationale and foundation for the "living organization."

    It has been worth the wait to hear from de Geus. Ideas seem to spill from the pages of his first book. The Living Company (Harvard Business School Press, $24.95) earns a spot as one of this year's best business books.


Excellence in Staffing Using
ISO 9000 for Success

by Robert Bowen
(rbi, 173 pages, $20)

The bulk of this self-published book examines each element of ISO 9001 in light of the staffing industry. It explains each  requirement, lists "must do" actions, explores specific needs for staffing businesses and offers a process for compliance.


The Right Fit

by Clifford Gross
(Productivity Press, 244 pages, $24)

Gross makes a fine case for integrating ergonomics into every corporate quality strategy. He shows how ergonomic quality in process and product leads to lower costs, increased speed to market, better quality and satisfied customers.   


The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace

by Alan Briskin
(Jossey-Bass, 288 pages, $27.95)

Corporations rarely address the full complexity of people, according to Briskin. This meditative, thought-provoking book examines the losses incurred by the one-dimensional treatment of people and explores ways to bring the energy of soul into everyday business.


How to Fail an FDA Quality Audit

by Mort Levin
(Mort Levin Inc., 135 pages, $24.95)

Audit failure is most often caused by a lack of attention to quality principles, says Levin. In this self-published hardcover, he describes the FDA's regulation for good manufacturing practice for medical devices and explains the fundamental elements of a quality system that fulfills GMP requirements.


Making Common Sense Common Practice

by V.R. Buzzota, et al.
(New Leaders Press, 230 pages, $24.95)

High performance isn't too mysterious, say the authors. The five keys for leaders are: know where you're going, ensure people have what it takes, develop and enable the right people, help people stay on track and build trust.


SPC Essentials and Productivity Improvement

by William Levinson and Frank Tumbelty
(ASQC, 266 pages, $35)

The mathematically challenged will welcome this text, which teaches SPC using basic arithmetic. It also offers a surprisingly entertaining introduction to the basic tools and techniques of quality manufacturing.









For Team Members Only

by Charles Manz, James Mancuso,
Christopher Neck and Karen Manz

Team play and, perhaps more important, teamwork, is not the most natural of roles for this country's citizens. Most of us have been raised to value competition over cooperation. We have worked most of our careers inside a hierarchical business culture where managers have the final word.

     Teamwork, however, requires a new set of values and behaviors, say this team of authors. Using "short, skill-based units," they set out to describe and teach the basics of team member behavior in a self-study format.

    The authors organize their program into four basic skill sets: TeamThink-- operating in a group; TeamLeadership -- self-management; TeamTalk -- communicating effectively; and TeamProblem Solving -- creating as a group. Each skill set is      explained and includes simple self-assessment exercises in areas such as self-knowledge, tolerance and interpersonal skills.

The book offers little in the way of introductory material on teams, so it should be limited to use as a supplementary text. But it does go into some detail in the area of self-management (a natural circumstance arising from Charles Manz's previous books on that topic).  

For Team Members Only (AMACOM Books, $17.95) is a decent guide to the role of team player, and it can be added to the list of worthwhile resources on the subject. It is, nevertheless, hard to see the need for this new book, and if you've already studied other books aimed at team members -- including several earlier books from this same publisher -- this one will add little to your knowledge.



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