Warren Bennis on Great Groups

Bennis - Organizing Genius

Organizing Genius : The Secrets of Creative Collaboration
Bennis, Warren; Biederman, Patricia

Much of the talk about Enterprise 2.0 centers on the possibilities that new technologies open up for improved cooperation and collaboration in organizations. The problems of cooperation and collaboration in organizations have attracted attention long before today s technology options existed. Warren Bennis has been studying the issues of leadership and organizations for decades. In Organizing Genius, Bennis turns his eye toward the lessons we might draw from the successes of great groups.

Published in 1997, Organizing Genius examines the case histories of seven great groups, whose stories are worth knowing regardless of the lessons they contain. The groups the Bennis and co-author Patricia Ward Biederman chronicle include Disney s animation studio, Xerox PARC, Apple s Macintosh team, Clinton s original election campaign team, Lockheed s Skunkworks, Black Mountain College, and the Manhattan Project. As a long-term student of leadership, Bennis here emphasizes the importance of the group in achieving exceptional results when those results call for creativity and innovation. While there is still an important role for leadership, it is leadership that calls for a much more delicate touch than we are accustomed to seeing or valuing. In Bennis s view, in fact, great leaders cannot arise absent a great group to lead.

Bennis highlights the following lessons about great groups:

  1. Greatness starts with superb people
  2. Great groups and great leaders create each other
  3. Every great group has a strong leader
  4. The leaders of great groups love talent and know where to find it
  5. Great groups are full of talented people who can work together
  6. Great groups think they are on a mission from God
  7. Every great group is an island but an island with a bridge to the mainland
  8. Great groups see themselves as winning underdogs
  9. Great groups always have an enemy
  10. People in great groups have blinders on
  11. Great groups are optimistic, not realistic
  12. In great groups, the right person has the right job
  13. The leaders of great groups give them what they need and free them from the rest
  14. Great groups ship
  15. Great work is its own reward

Bennis also has an online article on The Secrets of Great Groups, which summarizes his insights in a slightly different way. None of these lessons are exceptional, although it s good to see that Bennis emphasizes the importance of shared mission. That s something that I see as a frequent problem in groups that are struggling.

In all of this, technology is not center stage. What Bennis does is to show us places where you might focus your technology efforts.

Everything is Miscellaneous from David Weinberger

I just placed my order for Dave Weinberger’s newest book Everything is Miscellaneous. You know it will be worth it. Of course, there is also an excellent blog to accompany the book.

Book launch at the Berkman on Monday

The Berkman Center is holding a launch party for Everything Is Miscellaneous on April 30. I’ll give a talk at 6pm in Pound Hall Room 335, and then there will be a reception at 7pm at the Berkman Center at 23 Everett Street. (Pound Hall is a block away.)

You are invited. [Tags: ]

Video: RSS in Plain English

This is making the rounds. It is excellent and fun little explanation of one of the important underlying components of our Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 world.

Video: RSS in Plain English

We made this video for our friends (and yours) that haven’t yet felt the power of our friend the RSS reader. We want to convert people… if you know someone who would love RSS and hasn’t yet tried it, point them here for 3.5 minutes of RSS in Plain English.

If you’d like to share this video, please do! Grab the code here.

You can find out a little more about The (still new and a little clumsy) Common Craft Show here.


PowerPoint humor (intentional)

Who knew you could be intentionally funny with PowerPoint?

PowerPoint: sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying

PowerPoint is a great tool for displaying visuals that enhance, illustrate, and generally magnify your narrative. It €™s been used effectively for years by millions of professionals from such disciplines as academia, engineering, medicine, business, education, government (mostly ineffectively in this case), design, technology, and comedy. Comedy?

PowerPoint as pure comedy gold
Below are a few examples of presenters using PowerPoint to help illustrate their messages. In each case the tool actually enhanced the presenter’s ability to make a connection with the audience and drive their messages home. The first two presentations are by Don McMillan. Don is a former engineer with a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. He gives some good advice on using the PowerPoint tool properly.

Is there life after death by PowerPoint?

Users guide to life
Whoever it was that designed humans did a pretty good job, McMillan says, but they provided no good documentation. McMillan has compiled his own data and shares some of it below in what he calls the Users Guide to Life.

Using Mindmaps as Presentation Tools

Over the last several years I’ve gradually been replacing PowerPoint with MindManager as my presentation tool of choice. Most audiences seem to like it. Nick Duffill of Gyronix offers some excellent advice on how to make more effective use of mindmaps in presentations. Here are Nick’s key points, although all of his advice (and his blog, Beyond Crayons) is worthy of your attention:

Spiral Presentation Maps and Virtual Donuts

  • Use the structure of the map to address different levels of audience, so that you don’t have to reveal more than they really need. Software mind mapping tools will let you show or hide different levels of topics. Provided you use statements instead of headings, this lets you “layer” your presentation very effectively. Think about the map as a set of donut-shaped rings. The ring nearest the centre of the map is for your executive audience, who have short attention spans and grasp big ideas quickly. The next ring is for management, who are going to need a better understanding of the implications in order to deliver it. The outer ring is for the people who actually do the work, who will need real details. The true benefits of the tree structure become evident here, because you can position detail in the context of bigger ideas.
  • When presenting, start at the one o’clock main topic and walk through your map in a spiral, addressing the executive level first, then the management level, then the detail if it is appropriate. This takes you on a complete tour of your map in at least three passes, which helps your audience feel comfortable from the outset about the scope of your presentation, and critically, the way it is represented by your map. This might disappoint the few who enjoy suspense and surprises, so it is up to you as a presenter to make it entertaining and engaging in other ways, instead of by playing with the content. That’s like playing with food, and you can remember being yelled at for that. If your audience is still with you when you complete your tour through the management level, then they are ready for the detail. If you have already lost their good will, or are running out of time, then more detail would not have helped and could even have set you back.


This template gives you some ideas on structuring the content, and the kinds of information that you might include at the different levels. The numbers on the topics represent the presentation order.

So when using software mind maps to prepare and deliver presentations, use statements, translate different audience levels to layers, and develop a spiral route through your map to keep your audience on track. And don’t forget the donuts.

Ready for an Enterprise 2.0 Rave?

Francois called me earlier this week and persuaded me (it wasn’t hard) to join him as one of the facilitators/participants at this upcoming session in New York in May. He’s getting a really interesting collection of people together and committed to a format that should tap into everyone’s insights and experience. If you use the link below to register you can get a $250 discount on registration.

Ready for an Enterprise 2.0 Rave?


Here is another cool project I am working on – organizing an Enterprise 2.0 RAVE in NYC on May21-22 with the great team at Longworth Venture Partners .

If you are a practitioner looking at deploying web 2.0 tools in your enterprise or actively strugling with pilot projects to try to do that, you should not miss this event. And if you do plan on going, use the link below to get a $250 discount for the RAVE. Seating will be limited and we already have two registrants!

The paint is still wet, so if something does not work correctly let us know.

See you there.

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Jim McKenney dies at 77

I just got the sad news from Espen. My thoughts parallel Espen’s. Jim was a major intellectual influence in my life and was a remarkable human being.

I remember him as being one of the most non-linear thinkers I know. He saw and understood connections at a far deeper level than most. Trying to follow his thinking was often an exercise in frustration. Many times I would wake up in the middle of the night, hours after listening to Jim explain some complex interaction between organizations and systems and people, and suddenly grasp what he had been saying. I wasn’t as brave as Espen to choose Jim as my thesis chair, but I learned an immense amount from him on multiple levels.

I always thought it was particularly sad that his brilliance and originality was taken by Alzheimer’s. I will miss him.

Jim McKenney dies at 77

Jim McKenneyI just got word that Jim McKenney, Harvard Business School Professor (Emeritus), died last week.

Jim was responsible for the MIS Doctoral students at HBS and my thesis advisor after Benn Konsynski left for Emory in 1992. Jim taught me many things, such as interview technique, longitudinal research strategies, and how to understand corporate strategy from behavior rather than theory. Most of all he taught me how to draw parallels between technical, organizational and societal evolution. He was an expert on the US airline industry (he was on the board of Continental Airlines) and had life-time memberships to most airline clubs, as well as a strong network of contacts in all kinds of transportation businesses.

Jim was defiantly original in everything he did. Small and wiry, he wore a bowtie and spoke quietly and eruditely in large classrooms, constantly surprising students with wry observations on why organizations did as they did. I still remember how I talked to him about an organization that did something specific (I have forgotten what). As I was trying to work out why, Jim said “That’s not a strategy – that’s just bad management!”

Jim had a big Victorian (I think) house with self-tended garden in Lexington where he and his lovely wife Mary held annual summer parties for faculty and friends. As he became my thesis advisor and I also worked as his research assistant, I frequently made the trip up to Lexington to retrieve papers or ask questions.

Jim is one of two reasons (the other is Benn) that I (and my good colleague Ramiro) wear bowties. His reason for wearing them was practical – when he arrived at HBS, he was a poor junior faculty with worn shirts collars, and the bow tie hid that fact effectively. That’s the story he told, anyway. I have a sneaking suspicion his real reason was to be original, though, to mark a distance to the slicker parts of HBS and cut a noticeable and contrarian figure around campus.

Jim was stricken with Alzheimer towards the end of the 90s, and we lost touch. I last saw him in 99, still living in his large house, still gardening, but gradually being reduced. Still, you could find that spark of originality underneath at times, and I like to think he never lost it completely.

My thoughts go to Mary and the rest of the family – may their memories be of an interested and interesting man, well read, soft-spoken, opinionated, kind and unabashedly original.

Web 2.0 Mindmap from Ed Yourdon

Ed Yourdon has been periodically sharing a mindmap he has been maintaining on Web 2.0 technologies, players, and issues. Worth some time to see how he’s organizing and thinking about the data out there. Ed’s blog, The Yourdon Report, is also worth paying attention to if you are interested in technology inside organizations.

Web 2.0 mind-map, version 032

I’m in Rome this week to present a seminar on Web 2.0, and it has given me the opportunity to make some additions and corrections to my mind-map. A new version, v032, is available from the “downloads” section of my website; alternatively, you can download the 8.92-megabyte PDF document by clicking here.

I don’t have time to provide a detailed list of the individual changes and additions; however, they are all marked in red text, so they’ll be easy for you to spot.