Why organizations need a Clark Kent, not a Superman


13 Responses to “Why organizations need a Clark Kent, not a Superman”

  1. tempo says:

    Excellent article- can’t wait to get the book.  Thanks!

  2. Brandon F says:

    This looks neato.

  3. axoplasm says:

    “Utopian visionaries seem blind to the costs.”

    …aaand cue the video of Grass Valley Gregg:


  4. Preston Sturges says:

    Sounds interesting, but the approach is rather cookie cutter – Start with a premise and work that into a dozen well documented case studies. 

  5. Jim Davison says:

    Interesting, but this seems to paint the options as one of two different extremes. A good “org” fosters a culture where employees know when to act procedurally dotting & crossings their i’s & t’s, and when to act organically (but still responsibly) And different types of businesses, or divisions/departments within a business, may benefit from different levels of formal organization.

    • ocker3 says:

      Really? The last part of the long example says pretty clearly that there’s a fine line you need to walk between innovation and rules

  6. skestes says:

    I’m reminded of a few lines of Cory Doctorow’s novel “Makers”… a line that started me thinking of things like The Org covers. Why an organization never seems to become more than the sum of it’s parts, always less.

    From “Makers”
    “It’s like an emergent property. Once you get a lot of people under one roof, the emergent property seems to be crap. No matter how great the people are, no matter how wonderful their individual ideas are, the net effect is shit.”

    “Reminds me of reliability calculation. Like if you take two components that are 90 percent reliable and use them in a design, the outcome is 90 percent of 90 percent — 81 percent. Keep adding 90 percent reliable components and you’ll have something that explodes before you get it out of the factory.

    “Maybe people are like that. If you’re 90 percent non-bogus and ten percent bogus, and you work with someone else who’s 90 percent non-bogus, you end up with a team that’s 81 percent non-bogus.”

    “I like that model. It makes intuitive sense. But fuck me, it’s depressing. It says that all we do is magnify each others’ flaws.”

    “Well, maybe that’s the case. Maybe flaws are multiplicative.”

    “So what are virtues?”

    “Additive, maybe. A shallower curve.”


  7. Scurra says:

    My one theory of business is that if a company gets large enough that it needs managers to manage the managers, it’s probably too large.  Unfortunately, late-period capitalism rewards corporations to a much greater extent than small businesses, so we’re screwed in that respect.
    I also sometimes speculate that the Peter Principle (employees rise to their level of incompetence) understates the problem to an horrendous degree.  And Peter never dreamed of the insane world we now live in, where people bounce around from job to job like demented pinballs, and we think that all problems can be solved by “parachuting” someone in from outside (or, alternatively, by hiring a “management consultant” who states the bleedin’ obvious and collects a fat fee.)

    • novium says:

       I never gave much credence to the peter principle. While I’ve known my fair share of supervisors and higher ups who were way in over their heads (to put it kindly), at those same organizations, there were also a number of talented, hard-working, and over-qualified people stuck doing the lion’s share of the work but never getting any of the promotions or raises. At one place I worked, they actually moved a highly talented woman who’d been the training director out of her job and unofficially demoted her to a lesser, less-well paid position in a different department in order to replace her with an utter useless waste of space who not only lost/tossed all the training materials, pissed off all the trainers until they left, and never replaced either…..and the only reason anything ever got done was that when it was all well and truly FUBAR, they tapped the former training director to fill the gaps and try to fix everything. Without the title or the salary.

    • AnthonyC says:

      In some cases, managers hire consultants to tell them what they already believe, specifically to provide a justification to their own superiors (or the board members) about an unpopular decision they want to make.

  8. Frank Diekman says:

    Step 1. Read the phrase “The Underlying Logic of the Office.”

    Step 2. Laugh for 5 minutes straight at the idea of an underlying logic in an office.

  9. danimagoo says:

    Um … they do know that Clark Kent IS Superman, right? Please tell me those glasses haven’t fooled them.

  10. Nagurski says:

    Am I wrong in thinking from what I have read that Valve Games has been quite successful while doing things in a very different way than the paradigm supposed by this book?

Leave a Reply