As I read this book, my mind kept reverting to a particular image. Namely, J. D. Watson and Francis Crick as they relentlessly pursued the mystery of life … and finally struck upon the double-helix structure of DNA. The world has never been the same. Next stop … Stockholm in December.
I don’t know whether the authors of this book will get the call that confirms a Nobel, but there’s a part of me that thinks it’s their just deserts for this magnificent and groundbreaking masterwork.
An absurd claim?
I think not.
War and peace, wellness and extreme physical and mental malaise, marriage and divorce, abject failure and Olympian success … all these profound subjects at their core depend upon functioning—or malfunctioning—human relationships. Dyads: a couple. Little organizations: a 20-table restaurant or 20-person finance department. Giant organizations … an army or a Fortune 50 corporation. Nations on the brink of war and genocide.
Enter our new Watson and Crick and the essential element of the organizational DNA: the DNA of effective “crucial confrontations.”
Some renowned management experts have made careers out of their belief, “Get the strategy right … and the rest will take care of itself.” Others have said, “Strategy, smattergy … it’s the core business processes that explain the divergence between winners and losers.” And then there are those that claim that leader selection has no peer in explaining various degrees of organizational effectiveness.
Doubtless there is truth in all the above. (I’ve held various of these positions over the years … each passionately.) But then again, perhaps all such “magisterial” concepts aimed at explaining differences in organizational outcomes miss the boat. Perhaps the idea of organizational DNA that makes for stellar outcomes is Absent Without Leave.
Yes, I’m that bullish on Crucial Confrontations. (Perhaps because I’ve seen so many of my own brilliant strategies evaporate in the space of minutes—seconds—as I screwed up a confrontation with a peer or key employee. Again … and again.)
So why did we have to wait until this moment for this book? Perhaps it’s the times. We used to live in a more tolerant world. Buildups to war could last decades. Smoldering corporate ineffectiveness could take eons to burst into flame. Lousy marriages festered for years and then more years.
No more. The marketplace is unforgiving. One strike— whether new-product foul-up or terrorist with dirty bomb— and you’re (we’re!) out. Thus continual organizational effectiveness—which is, after all, nothing more than human-relations effectiveness—is of the utmost urgency, from CIA headquarters to Wal-Mart headquarters.
Crucial Confrontations is an original and a bold leap forward. No doubt at all. But, like all good science, it is built on a rock-solid base of what has come before. The neat trick here is imaginatively applying the best of psychological and social-psychological research over the last half century to this very particular, precisely defined topic … crucial confrontations— on topics such as performance and trust—that promote or destroy relational or organizational effectiveness.
The basic hypothesis is profound. The application of proven research is masterful. The explanations and supporting stories are compelling and lucid. The translation of the research and stories into practical ideas and sound advice that can be implemented by those of us who have floundered on these paths for decades is nothing short of breathtaking.
July 7, 2004