Winter 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT1

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Re-Inventing the Corporation


David R. Sanderson
Program Evaluation &
Staff Development Leader
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Maine-Orono

Re-Inventing the Corporation: Transforming Your Job and Your Company for the New Information Society. John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene. New York: Warner Books, 1985. 308 pp. $17.50 hardcover, $4.95 paperback.

In a time of crisis and cutback, many of us in Extension seek a fresh perspective, an outlook renewed by inspiration and affirmation of our potential as an educational agency. Does it seem odd to find such a spirit in a book about the corporate world? Well, perhaps. But just as In Search of Excellence (Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, 1982) influenced many in Extension, so too can the findings of this recent book by author John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene be transposed from the world of profits to our own workplace.

Re-Inventing the Corporation rests on two major premises: first, that our time is characterized by a rare confluence of new values and economic necessity, which the authors claim are the two forces required for social change, and second, that the "new information society" is turning toward a "whole new emphasis on human resources," expressed in new ways of viewing and treating people in organizations.

Of the 10 observations the authors offer for reinventing organizational life, I'll mention several that have special relevance to Extension: (1) as authoritarian management yields to a networking, participative style, the manager's role becomes that of coach, teacher, and mentor; (2) "intrapreneurship" within corporations is revitalizing companies from the inside out, creating new products and new markets (for Extension that means programs and audiences); and (3) intuition and creativity are challenging the old emphasis on strictly rational analysis in problem solving.

As in Megatrends, much of this book's interest arises from examples drawn from actual situations. For instance, "The way we run Apple is by values .... [We] hire incredibly great people and let them go to it"; at Kollmorgen, "[We] want people to feel they have complete control over their destiny at every level"; at Hanover Insurance, "Visions . . . play an important role in determining what our company becomes."

The book treats a variety of issues about the current and future workplace, including the re-invention of work itself (self-management, job-sharing, corporate flexibility), skills for the information age (overwhelmed with data, we need the creativity to sort it out), education and the corporation (an "everdeepening connection"), health, the influx of women (and corporate responses), and the obligatory chapter on Japanese management.

I find the authors' emphasis on vision and personal growth the essence of the book, and appropriate for both corporate and Extension audiences. "To reach our full potential as individuals, as companies, as a country .... we need a vision," say Naisbitt and Aburdene. We need "a real mission or sense of purpose that comes out of an intuitive or spiritual dimension." Extension's long, distinguished history contains that mission, but we need to re-invent it for ourselves, perhaps with inspiration from books such as this.