Fascinating Authors

Fascinating Authors Interview: Rod Collins

About the author:

Rod Collins is the Director of Innovation at Optimity Advisors, a national management consulting firm. Rod is a leading expert on the next generation of business management. He works with forward thinking executives who understand that managing great change means changing how we manage. Rod helps business leaders leverage the power of innovation and collaboration to drive extraordinary performance and to master the challenges of a world reshaped by the sudden and unprecedented combination of accelerating change and escalating complexity.

Rod is the former chief operating executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee Program, one of the nation’s largest and most successful business alliances, which today has over $28 billion in annual revenues. Under his leadership, the business experience its greatest five-year growth period in its 53 history, as year after year, it set new records for operational and financial performance.

Rod writes a weekly blog on management innovation, which highlights how today’s best-run companies are reinventing management to adapt and keep pace with the speed of accelerating change. To learn more, visit http://blog.optimityadvisors.com or www.wikimanagementbook.com

About the book:

We now live in a “wiki” world where mass collaboration is not only possible – it’s often the best solution. Conventional management thought assumes that command – and – control is the most effective way to organize the efforts of large numbers of people, but rapid change and increasing complexity have rendered that model obsolete. As a result, most managers today lack the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in an age when networks are proving smarter and faster than hierarchies. Designing organizations for mass collaboration demands a new and very different model-wiki management. Featuring enlightening examples from forward-thinking companies including Google, Whole Foods, Linux, and Wikipedia, Wiki Management outlines the revolutionary but necessary steps companies must take to: leverage their collective intelligence; effectively integrate diverse points of view; transition leaders from the role of “boss” to that of facilitator; make “delighting customers” more important than pleasing superiors; and achieve a shared and actionable understanding of the key drivers of business success. The power of networks is dramatically reshaping both the work we do-and the way we work. This groundbreaking book reveals what it takes to succeed in this fast-paced and exciting business environment.

Q & A with Rod Collins:

Q: What excites you most about your book’s topic? Why did you choose it?
A:
We now live in a “wiki” world where the world is changing faster than most organizations. This creates unprecedented challenges for today’s managers as they discover methods and practices that have delivered predictable results in the past aren’t working anymore. What most excites me about this book is that it contains 50 innovative, practical and proven solutions that real companies have successfully used to keep pace with accelerating change. I choose to write this book because today’s managers need new solutions that work and they need them now.

Q: How long did the book take you from start to finish?
A:
Between the research, writing, and editing, it took a year to write this book.

Q: Did you do any research for your book, or did you write from experience?
A:
In writing this book, I relied upon both research and experience. Wiki Management is a book about a very different alternative management model based on the premise that, in a business world reshaped by digital technology, building organizations as networks rather than hierarchies is a far better business strategy. Some of the practices outlined in the book reflect my own experiences in implementing this new management model in a large and complex business, while other practices came from research into the habits of like-minded companies that built their organizations as highly effective networks.

Q: What do you hope your readers will gain from reading your book?
A:
I hope that they will gain an understanding of why a nineteenth century management model is unworkable and unsustainable in a twenty-first century world. But more importantly, I hope that they will be able to immediately apply many of the practices outlined in the book so that their day-today experience as managers working in an incredibly fast-paced world becomes both more enriching and more successful.

Q: Is writing your sole career? If not, what else do you do?
A:
While writing is an important part of my work, it’s not the only thing I do. As the Director of Innovation with Optimity Advisors, I work with business leaders to redesign their companies using the principles and the practices outlined in Wiki Management. I help managers use the power of networks to achieve the sustainable business success that comes from learning how to change as fast as the world around them.

Chapter Excerpt from Wiki Management:

PREFACE

Today’s managers face a difficult and unprecedented challenge: The world is changing much faster than their organizations. Every industry, without exception, has been overtaken by an accelerating pace of change that shows no signs of letting up any time soon. In a business world of increasing uncertainty, the one clear certainty is that the pace of change is only going to get faster.

As managers struggle to keep pace with a fast-forward world, they are increasingly becoming aware of a very troubling problem. They are discovering that methods and practices that have always delivered predictable results aren’t working anymore. Forecasts are suddenly unreliable as new disruptive technologies radically reshape markets. Cutting costs does not necessarily result in improved efficiencies and productivity. Proven analytical methods are now too slow and cumbersome to keep up with a fast-changing world. And exerting more control seems to drive companies out of control—and sometimes out of business. In a world where change is constant and longstanding rules don’t seem to work anymore, it’s not surprising that many managers feel overwhelmed by what appears to be a completely unmanageable state of affairs.

At the same time, there is a small but growing group of vanguard companies that are thriving in this time of great change. While most companies have had to trim their sails to weather the storm of the Great Recession, this small group has experienced relatively smooth sailing with steady growth, increasing profits, and the creation of new jobs. The vanguard group, composed of companies that we love engaging with as consumers, includes Amazon, Google, Threadless, Valve, Whole Foods, and Zappos, among others. What separates these vanguard companies from their traditional counterparts is that their managers understand a fast-changing world is not necessarily unmanageable—it just needs to be managed differently. That’s because, with the rapid emergence of the Digital Age, we suddenly find ourselves in a new world with a completely different set of rules. The managers of the vanguard companies are thriving because they have mastered these new rules, and in so doing, they have completely overhauled the fundamental disciplines of business management.

While most of us are aware of the much-publicized successes of these vanguard companies, few of us are familiar with how they achieve their extraordinary performance. We have a vague notion that they do things a little differently, but chances are most of us would be surprised at just how differently the leaders of these companies manage their businesses. In fact, if we spent a week inside one of these innovative enterprises, most of us probably would walk away puzzled at how they could be so successful when we didn’t see anything that remotely resembled management.

For most of us, management is about business plans, organization charts, bosses, formal meetings, policies, procedures, tasks, and reports. These are the common practices of the top-down hierarchical structures that have defined the context of management for well over a century. These practices are the embodiment of a fundamental set of disciplines that have served as the framework for leading and managing large organizations. This framework dates back to the late nineteenth century, when mass production was radically transforming the ways people worked and the major challenge for managers was how to effectively coordinate the tasks and activities of the large numbers of workers in their new factories.

Management, as most of us know it, was invented to guide business leaders in building and preserving sustainable business models and maintaining highly efficient operations. Its disciplines were designed to support the core values of top-down hierarchical structures: planning, control, and efficiency. Accordingly, in the command-and-control management model, the fundamental work of the manager is to plan and control, and productivity is synonymous with efficiency.

The managers of the vanguard companies, however, loathe command-and-control management. In fact, they are quite proactive in making sure that as their organizations grow, they do not inadvertently slip into traditional management practices. Instead, they have created a different management model that is based on a completely different set of fundamental disciplines. This alternative model is designed for adapting and innovating rather than preserving and maintaining. Its disciplines support the prime values of learning, collaboration, and innovation. Thus, the fundamental work of the manager is not to plan and control but rather to be the catalyst for collective learning and collaboration. And productivity is seen more as a function of innovation than efficiency.

The managers of the vanguard companies see little value in making traditional business models faster or less expensive. The real value is in creating the new business model that will render the old model obsolete. That’s why, when the vanguard managers think about productivity, they focus on value rather than cost. When it comes to improving the bottom line, creating value is far more efficient than cutting costs.

This book is about the emerging management model used by the vanguard companies to make sure that their organizations are changing as fast as the world around them. We call this new model “Wiki Management.” Wiki is the Hawaiian word for “quick” or fast,” and is an appropriate appellation for a set of management disciplines designed to help managers keep pace with accelerating change. In the chapters ahead, we will describe the five specific disciplines that the vanguard companies share in common, and we will outline fifty concrete practices that they use to drive their extraordinary performance. As you read through the book and become familiar with the new management model, please keep an open mind because many of these practices will feel counterintuitive, some will seem heretical, and most will probably challenge your basic assumptions about what managers do and what management is.

Although there is some discussion of the theory that serves as the foundation for the new management model, the bulk of the book is devoted to stories and practices. When managers are ready to think and act differently, real stories of success and actual practices that work are more valuable than abstract theory. Some of the stories and practices come from the vanguard companies referenced above, while others reflect my own experiences as a manager building a Wiki Management business unit inside a larger, traditional enterprise, and how we used many of the practices to quickly and successfully turn around a business that had endured two decades of low growth and low performance.

In our case, we learned the disciplines of Wiki Management out of necessity when we realized that the prime enabler of our poor performance was our adherence to a traditional management model that no longer worked. Learning new ways of managing wasn’t easy because we needed to readjust the deeply held beliefs we had about what managers do and what management is. However, if we were going to improve our performance, we knew we had to change, regardless of how unfamiliar or counterintuitive managing differently might feel. Our venture into Wiki Management transformed us into a highly effective management team and enabled us to realize the single largest five-year growth period in the fifty-three–year history of our business unit. In embracing the new management model, we didn’t just turn the business around; like so many of the vanguard companies, we made a leap to extraordinary performance.

The primary message of this book is simple and, hopefully, obvious: A nineteenth-century management model is unsustainable in a twenty-first-century world. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, it is unrealistic to believe that a century-old management model will somehow endure while the rest of the world is reshaped by the technologies of the Digital Age. We live in a new world with new rules, and the old rules are fast becoming obsolete. That’s why they’re not working anymore.

As you approach this book, be prepared to be surprised because everything you have believed about the way we work and the work we do is about to dramatically change. In the chapters ahead, you will discover a very different business world where leaders are facilitators, workers are highly involved in shaping strategic thinking, and business processes are designed around what’s most important to customers. You will become familiar with a new management vocabulary that describes the innovative tools of twenty-first-century business: serendipity, emergence, collective intelligence, shared understanding, simple rules, and self-organization. But most importantly, you will have at your disposal a set of fifty specific practices that you can use to master the unprecedented challenges of our fast-changing world. While fifty practices may sound like a lot, you’ll find that you will be able to pick out those that are best suited to your particular business or situation. I hope that you will find much value in these pages and will commit to discovering and applying the incredible power of the disciplines and the practices of Wiki Management so you too can make a leap to extraordinary performance.