Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change

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In this age of tectonic changes in business—the dawn of the information economy, the excesses of the ’80s and then downsizings and corporate consolidation in the aftermath of deep recession—there has been a lot of talk about corporate America’s search for renewal. How to restore meaning to work and how to make sense of our lives, much of which we spend at work, are the big questions as we head into the 21st century.

David K. Hurst’s new book, Crisis & Renewal will help all thoughtful working people make sense of the changes that are happening, or will happen, in our companies. It is about the need for renewal—the restoration of something of value, something important that has either been lost or forgotten as both people and organizations grow and prosper. It is about getting back to the excitement and emotional commitment that is present at the start of a company’s life, or for that matter, the beginning of a person’s career.

The problem, says Hurst, is that organizations become constrained by their success and must be renewed—like a forest that must burn to allow new growth. Falling into a rut—the rut of doing what works-is ironically a recipe for disaster. And so, Hurst urges managers not to wait for a crisis to happen, but to create it themselves.

Hurst’s book is the product of a crisis—a hostile take-over-that occurred in the company for which he worked as a senior manager in the early 1980s and his subsequent failure to find anything in his graduate management education that could help him make sense of what he and the rest of the management team did, seemingly by instinct and without a rational plan, to pull the company out of it.

Crisis & Renewal is not about reengineering. Rather, Hurst describes how managers can
perform deliberate acts of “ethical anarchy”—create crises and then become a part of the situation they have created—in order to take their organizations back to the enthusiasm and values that were present at their firms’ founding (picture the fanaticism and devotion of the champion runners who started Nike). Often these acts are not rational in the traditional sense. That is, managers need not have a clear plan of where they are going. Instead, after having set the crisis in motion, they must reconnect the organization to its past by hving the founding values themselves (“walk the talk”) every day, in everything they do, and create contexts for shared learning, communication, egalitarianism, and mutual dependence.

Hurst is a wonderful story teller. He uses stories of the Kalahari bushmen and the
Quakers as well as from Nike, 3M, Compaq, GE, and his own experience both to show
how organizations evolve and because he believes stories and legends from an organization’s past carry in them the values that hold it together in time of crisis.

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