To mark my return to more regular blogging, I thought I would start with the best management book I've read on anything in a very long time, and certainly, if the Jack and Todd were to published a revised version of the 100 Best Business Books, I would put it at the top of the list among all the business books published since they picked their favorites. The book is Collaboration, by Morten Hansen, who is a Professor at both UC Berkeley and Insead, and also has extensive experience working and consulting in industry. The questions of when encouraging versus discouraging collaboration is Best, what gets in the way of it happening, how to make it happen when you want it, and how to be a collaborative leader-- without being a doormat -- are issues that face every organization and every manager. Hansen knows more about this subject as a researcher than anyone out there right now, and because he has worked with real organizations and real leaders, the result is a book that is based on the best evidence, a delight to read because the stories are so good, and relentlessly useful.
For example, while most authors present simple minded arguments, Hansen's Chapter 2 shows the costs and benefits of collaboration, and provides a simple way for managers to decide when it is worth the trouble or not. The next three chapters, the heart of the book, really show-off Hansen's skill, as they provide three simple and powerful solutions --- Unify people, cultivate T shaped management, and build nimble networks. Hansen was co-author of the original Harvard Business Review article that popularized the notion of T shaped people, a mantra that is used at both IDEO and the Stanford d.school to describe people who have both deep skills in one or a few areas and who do their own jobs well and also have the ability to work with others, to share ideas with them, to be be civilized, and contribute to the whole. This the best chapter I've ever read on hiring, breeding, and (when necessary) firing people to create a collaborative workplace -- rather than getting hung up on theory, research or ideology, or committing the alternate sin of make excessive claims, telling stories that are fun but useless, or glossing over the difficulties, Hansen provides evidence-based ideas that bosses can actually used and shows how they have been used, things like not tolerating destructive lone stars, how to use both selection methods to find T shaped people and pay, coaching and promotion to breed T shaped people. And he shows how the most widely used pay for performance systems often undermine collaboration and what can be done to design systems to reverse these ills.
If you want to get a fuller taste of the book and Morten, there is a free video at BNET of Morten talking about the book here, check it out.
Finally, a little editorial note. This book was published in May, and although everyone I know who has read it will tell you how great it is, it has not exactly become a blockbuster bestseller. Some 11,000 business books a year are published and it is difficult (and requires a lot of luck) to write a book that has a big impact on the market. Morten even got Jim Collins to write a very nice foreword. In fact, with all due respect to Collins, I think Collaboration is better book than Good to Great -- because it is based on better evidence and provides more details about what managers can actually do. I am hoping that, like Clay Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, which languished for a year before Andy Grove discovered it and talked it up, that despite Collaboration's modest start, the story will be the same. This is a book that can help every manager do his or her job better, it is a delight to read, and does not contain an iota of breathless hype or bullshit. This is the kind of book we need right now. I think that, in addition to this post, I will put up an Amazon review today to do my little part too. I urge you to check out Morten on BNET and read the opening pages on Amazon, this is quite a book.