How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life)

By Adams, John C. | Planning for Higher Education, January-March 2009 | Go to article overview

How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life)


Adams, John C., Planning for Higher Education


How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life) by Dov Seidman John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007 338 pages ISBN: 978-0-471-75122-9

Reviewed by John C. Adams

Dov Seidman is founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of LRN, Inc., a legal research and organizational ethics company. Seidman is also an attorney and philosopher with degrees from Harvard Law School; University of California, Los Angeles; and Oxford University. How is about individual and organizational behavior and the pursuit of significance. Seidman believes that the key to outperforming the competition in the "hyperconnected" (p. xii) 21 st-century world is to "outbehave" (p. x) them.

I first read How when my chancellor, Harold M. Maurer, M. D., said, "Read this, and see if Dov Seidman will come speak at the University of Nebraska Medical Center." I was honored to host the leadership workshop that Seidman presented in April 2008.

How addresses several issues of critical importance to higher education leaders and planners. How should we think about our institutions in a highly "transparent world" (p. 35) where it is possible to "cheaply compare and contrast reputations" (p. 38)? Why is it important to move beyond rules and "to distinguish compliance from behavior" (p. 48)? Why is it important to shift "our focus from what [we do] to how" we do it (p. 55)? How can trust help us decrease the cost of higher education?

In parallel with Thomas Friedman's analysis in The World is Flat (2005)1, Seidman argues that we operate in a new era. Information flows "around the world instantly and cheaply" (p. 20), "fortress capitalism [is] obsolete" (p. 21), "strong connections with others" are required for success and "can lead to a kind of significance" (p. 24), and the ways in which we can differentiate our institutions have "become fewer" (p. 49).

These changes require that we appreciate the importance of trust and values, that we understand the limitations of rules, and that we strive for consonance. Trust allows us to join with others for "mutual advantage" (p. 75). Leading organizational behavior through values is more effective than "overreliance on rules" (p. 91), and striving for trust and integrity can help us achieve consonance between our thoughts and our behaviors.

Seidman argues that it is no longer possible to hide behind "proxies and surrogates" in a technologically transparent world where "easy access to information changes everything" (p. 137). Instead of "propagating brand image," organizations and individuals should concentrate on how they "create a rewarding and reliable experience for [their] customers" (p. 144). Likewise, transparency increases the importance of trust, and trust helps reduce "transaction costs" (p. 159) by enabling risk and leading to innovation. Trust is also closely linked to reputation-"the sum total of your HOWS" (p. 186). Reputation is not created through public relations spin. It must be earned.

Seidman links individual and organizational success: "If individuals' best response to the new global conditions of hypertransparency and hyperconnectedness lies in the mastery of their personal HOWS, the organization's best opportunity to thrive lies in the mastery of culture""the collective actions of all the individuals that comprise it" (p. 219). Seidman describes four levels of organizational culture. "Anarchy and lawlessness" (p. 222) is the state of unfettered individualism in which people act with no regard for the organization. "Blind obethence" (p. 223) describes cultures of conformity where people do not ask, and often do not care, why they behave as they do. "Informed acquiescence" encompasses "rules-based" (p. 223) organizations and represents a significant advance in cultural effectiveness. Rules-based cultures allow organizations to easily train and govern large numbers of people. "Values-based self-governance" cultures "are governed by should" (p. …

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