Book review: A simpler way

This book by Margaret Wheatley is without a doubt the most beautiful and unconventional business-related book I’ve ever read. It conveys it’s message not only through prose, but also in poems and photographs.

And the message itself is simple and beautiful, namely that:
There is a simpler way to organize human endeavour. It requires a new way of being in the world. It requires being in the world without fear. Being in the world with play and creativity. Seeking after what’s possible. Being willing to learn and to be surprised.

So what is this simpler way?

The book will tell you what it’s not: It’s not the world view fostered in Darwinism, that the world is a cruel place, in which only the strongest can thrive. This world view has been prevalent since Darwin.

And it’s not mechanistic and reductionist either. According to this book, systems are irreducible. You cannot understand or predict a system by looking at it’s components. The properties of the system are emergent, and only manifest themselves in the system. They are not present in the seperate components.

So they argue that the common western metaphor for life today, ie. “life as a struggle”, is not in tune with the way the world (and life) organizes itself. Life organizes and evolves itself through relations and cooperation. Therefore, a much more accurate metaphore for life would be “life as play”.

Seeing life as a game could have many implications for the way we live and organize our endeavours, but the principal promise of such a world view, is that it can make life easier and more fun.

The traditional view is that life is hard. Only those who work hard and struggle are succesful. You must make sacrifices to reach your goals. Especially work life is no picnic. This view is very common, and after having read this book, I’m convinced that it’s totally false – or rather, it’s true, but only because we make it true by believing that it’s true.

The whole book is eminently quotable. Almost every paragraph holds succinct, interesting nuggets of information, presented in a simple but thought-provoking way. Here’s an example:
We live in a world where attraction is ubiquitous. Organization wants to happen. People want their lives to mean something. We seek one another to develop new capacities. With all these wonderful and innate desires calling us to organize, we can stop worrying about designing perfect structure or rules. We need to become intrigued by how we create a clear and coherent identity, a self that we can organize around.

The whole book is like that, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Read it!

If I may suggest an equally untraditional companion, you should see Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio. This is a movie with no plot, no actors and no dialogue. It’s simply and hour and a half of nature contrasted with mans impact on nature. It illustrates beautifully the contrast between “life as struggle” and “life as play”. And no. it’s not boring at all, it’s breath-taking.

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