Lasting Contribution: How to Think, Plan, and Act to Accomplish Meaningful Work

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By Tad Waddington
Agate Publishing, 2007, 128 pages

Systems thinking is “in” these days. After years of teaching students how to think analytically, many business schools are casting around to find ways of teaching students of management to think more holistically or systemically. Experts in several fields have suggested that one of the best ways to understand cause and effect in complex systems is to go all the way back to Aristotle and his four causes, or “explanatory factors.” Tad Waddington, director of performance measurement at Accenture, has written a new, highbrow self-help book, Lasting Contribution: How to Think, Plan, and Act to Accomplish Meaningful Work, using Aristotle’s four explanatory factors as the organizing framework.

Waddington has an interesting academic background, including a Ph.D. in measurement, evaluation, and statistical analysis and a master’s degree in the history of Chinese religions. His book is a short, lively meditation on thought and action that you can either read from start to finish or dip into by using the comprehensive index or glossary, or by choosing from a set of provocative questions he calls koans (after the paradoxical statements that Zen masters pose to their students). The basic organizing structure consists of the four causes — what has to be done (efficient cause), the resources needed (material cause), the design or plan (formal cause), and the reason (final cause). Nothing revolutionary here, although it’s surprising how often corporate plans seem to skip the first and the last and focus only on the second and the third. Within each of these headings, however, the author conducts a thoughtful exploration of what the concepts mean in the context of a complex system. In the process, he summons a wide range of in­sights drawn from eclectic sources: The Little Engine That Could puffs along happily with philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Bertrand Russell.

The bottom line, to paraphrase from the summary of the last chapter, is: You can make a lasting contribution to the world if you pursue a worthy goal, master your resources, have a plan for maximizing your efficacy, take sophisticated action, and coordinate the four causes so they work together. Stephen Covey says something similar using seven points but, as Tad Waddington proves, Aristotle did it long ago in only four.

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