The Age of Heretics

The Book of the Week is “The Age of Heretics, Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change” by Art Kleiner, published in 1996. This is a description of the consciousness-raising theories, thinkers, psychological researchers and organizations that spurred different ways of thinking, and futurism, in some American workplaces starting in the 1940’s.

A study of group dynamics of eleven-year old boys conducted by Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s tested three different scenarios. They examined democratic, autocratic and socialistic models of leadership. The most mature group was found in the first model. The second spawned a form of Nazism. The third model’s group members displayed resentment of lazy and non-cooperative individuals. In the 1960’s, a similar study done by Michael Maccoby among CEO’s yielded similar results.

In the mid 1940’s, management consultant Eric Trist found that people work well when their workplace culture consists of a bunch of small communities– each group sees how they fit into the system as a whole, working toward a common goal. He transferred the application of his theory to small groups of some of Procter and Gamble’s employees. They worked well together too, reaping handsome rewards for their employer and themselves. However, the author failed to mention whether they were unionized.

The program was kept top secret, lest the company’s competition copy them. In the early 1970’s, a similarly successful corporate culture was duplicated in Topeka, Kansas at a dog-food plant of General Foods. But upper management was still resistant to adoption of the democratic method of work.

In the mid-1960’s, Saul Alinsky was another heretic  (or arguably, hero or outlaw) who effected change. He pioneered shareholder activism to help underprivileged communities fight back against socially irresponsible corporations. He had local residents adversely affected (for instance, by pollution) by a major employer in a community, purchase stock of the employer in order to give those residents a voice at the company’s annual meeting.

The author wrote that the birth year of Amory Lovins, patent applicant for magnetic resonance imaging, was 1951 (which might not be accurate). Nevertheless, in the mid-1970’s, the brilliant scientist raised the alarm on environmental destruction of earth, suggesting that people harness solar energy, build wind farms, and heavily insulate their buildings. He proclaimed that nuclear power was horribly inefficient because it generated excessive heat.

It might be recalled that in the mid-1970’s, Ralph Nader confronted numerous hegemonic groups of individuals who lacked a moral compass. He “seized the day” during which the Watergate investigation revealed that “… a blustering, vicious, foulmouthed spirit lurked behind the presidential image.”

In the early 1970’s, Royal Dutch/Shell’s management structure and intellectual capacity to think ahead was anomalous compared with other major American oil companies.

Read the book to learn of how Shell formulated an accurate prediction of the oil industry a few years hence, and how it weathered the international storm (hint– the storm involved crisis-fabrication, a tool used by manipulative, power-hungry, greedy leaders everywhere); learn of the fate of a management consulting organization that spread its gospel to lots of workplaces; and much more.