Danah Zohar, professor and consultant, uses the underlying structure of the brain to explain models of the self and of organizations in terms of quantum and complexity theory. She sets the stage with the following statement:
Most transformation programs satisfy themselves with shifting the same old furniture about in the same old room. Some seek to throw some of the furniture away. But real transformation requires that we redesign the room itself. Perhaps even blow up the old room. It requires that we change the thinking behind our thinking^literally, that we learn to rewire our corporate brains.
Zohar then discusses how business can effectively accomplish transformation. Her goal is to show managers how to “manage at the edge,” between the Newtonian paradigm and the quantum paradigm, using the brain as a metaphor to understand how to accomplish this. She uses her background in physics, philosophy, psychology, and theology to develop new insights into organizational transformation, drawing on examples from her consulting experience and readings to illustrate her points.
Lord Andrew Stone, a managing director of Marks & Spencer and a client of Zohar’s after she suggested to him that her scientific approach to quantum theory as outlined in her previous book, The Quantum Self, might benefit his business, wrote the Foreword. Zohar’s Preface establishes her credentials by indicating the CEOs and scholars with whom she works.
The introduction, “The Transformation Lie,” illustrates the contradictions inherent in most managers’ and consultants’ approaches to changing organizations. Seldom is change linked to meaning, contends Zohar: “Real change must issue from those deep levels of our human being where we are in touch with meaning and value. It is not something we can do to ‘beat the hell out of the competition’” (pp. 2-3). It means that we have to go through the pain of rewiring the neural connections in our brains as we rid ourselves of old mental associations and emotions. It means we create organizations that are not Newtonian but that are “based on the thinking, ideas, language and imagery of the new science—quantum physics, chaos and complexity, and the latest brain science” (p. 5).
Part 1, “Using the New Science to Rewire Corporate Thinking,” contains four chapters. Chapter 1, “Three Levels of Real Transformation,” is based on the three levels of the human self: mental, emotional, and spiritual (spiritual does not mean religious, but vision, value, and meaning). It contrasts Newtonian management thinking with creative, quantum thinking, in which “The need for meaning is primary” (p. 18). Chapter 2, “Three Kinds of Thinking: How the Brain Rewires Itself,” discusses how the brain works, relating three kinds of thinking to the levels of self: serial (mental), associative (emotional), and quantum (spiritual). In contrast to earlier theory, new research has found that the brain is not hard wired but has infinite capacity to grow. Organizational thinking has the same potential to be rewired, asserts Zohar. Chapter 3, “Eight Principles of the Old and New Science Applied to Leadership,” compares principles from the old Newtonian paradigm with those from the new quantum paradigm. Drawing from a wide range of readings, Zohar sprinkles her discussion with easy-to-understand examples. Chapter 4, “At the Edge,” describes the border between order and chaos and how this applies to self-organizing systems. Zohar uses management and leadership terms to contrast differences between Newtonian management and quantum management.
Part II, “Structure and Leadership of the Rewired Corporation,” connects three kinds of thinking, three concepts of the self, and three kinds of organizing; it contains four chapters. The discussion starts in Chapter 5, “The Western Model: The Newtonian Self and the Newtonian Organization.” Zohar uses the metaphor of the billiard ball (atom) to discuss the Newtonian paradigm in western organizations. She then outlines the advantages and disadvantages of western Newtonian organizations. Chapter 6, “The Eastern Model: The Networked Self and the Networked Organization,” contrasts the eastern, wavelike model with the western, particle-like model. This is a fascinating discussion that sheds light on eastern thinking and organizational structures (admittedly writ large). Chapter 7, “The Quantum Model: Bridging East and West,” shows how the quantum model transcends the division between the eastern and western models of self and organizations. Zohar lays out eight features of a quantum organization and gives examples of two organizations, Volvo and Visa, that have quantum features.
Chapter 8, “Dialogue: A Chance to Grow New Neural Connections,” presents a new meaning of dialogue, going back to an earlier and more original definition of the Greek logos, which is translated as relationship, rather than as word. Zohar contrasts the familiar western debate with the newly defined dialogue, asserting that the differences between the two are important not only to corporate thinking, but to society and to education. In her consulting practice, Zohar uses dialogue groups and the concept cafe as methods to obtain quantum thinking and, thus, she alleges, deep organizational transformations.
Zohar ends the book with Chapter 9, "Servant Leaders: What E They Really Serve?”. Here, she discusses servant leadership as tf essence of quantum thinking and quantum leadership. She contends th )t entrepreneurs are motivated by one of three motives—opportunity, skil or necessity—which she relates to her three kinds of thinking and three models of self and organization. She gives the stories of three people whom she characterizes as real servant leaders. Servant leaders must have a deep sense of the interconnectedness of life, a deep sense of engagement and responsibility, an awareness that all human endeavor is part of the whole universe, and know the source of what they ultimately serve. Without these, the corporate brain cannot be rewired. Peter Isaac, a Director of the consultancy firm Peter Chadwick, writes the Afterword, with a brief description of how Zohar helped transform his company.
I found Zohar’s book interesting. She is not the first author to use the metaphor of the brain to help understand organizations (see, for instance, Ambrose, 1995), but she effectively relates the structure of the brain to complexity theory and organizations. Her book is not as practical as Kelly and Allison’s (1998), but seems weightier than Wheatley’s (1992) and, in many ways, more insightful.
What bothered me the most about the book was its excruciating redundancy. Perhaps redundancy is necessary in order to get to those unfamiliar with the tenets of complexity theory and quantum theory, but those who are familiar with the new science may tire of reading them over and over and over again.
Ambrose, Don (1995) ‘Creatively Intelligent Post-Industrial Organizations and Intellectually Impaired Bureaucracies’, Journal of Creative Behavior, 29(1): 1-15.
Kelly, Susanne and Mary Ann Allison (1998) The Complexity Advantage: How the Science of Complexity Can Help Your Business Achieve Peak Performance, NY: Business Week Books.
Wheatley, Margaret J. (1992) Leadership and the New Science, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler
Zohar, Danah (1990) The Quantum Self, NY: William Morrow Quill.