Age of Heretics: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change

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While protesters stormed through Haight-Ashbury and Greenwich Village, an equally radical group of "corporate heretics" was fighting for change within major corporations such as Shell Oil, General Foods, and Procter & Gamble. These heretics recognized that, to truly change society, they would have to attack the dominant institutions of their time. In this magisterial cultural history that offers new insight into the recreation of institutions, journalist Art Kleiner shows how the heretics' struggle for truth ...
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Overview

While protesters stormed through Haight-Ashbury and Greenwich Village, an equally radical group of "corporate heretics" was fighting for change within major corporations such as Shell Oil, General Foods, and Procter & Gamble. These heretics recognized that, to truly change society, they would have to attack the dominant institutions of their time. In this magisterial cultural history that offers new insight into the recreation of institutions, journalist Art Kleiner shows how the heretics' struggle for truth paved the way for the ideals of democracy in key Fortune 100 companies. Take the story of Lyman Ketchum, a plant manager for General Foods. Ketchum's experience with the encounter groups so popular in the sixties led him to devise a revolutionary structure for his new dog food plant. He ignored traditional assembly lines, staffed by bored and disgruntled workers, in favor of teams of technicians who had to understand and take responsibility for their work - a radical concept then, and radical even by today's standards. Although these heretics were underappreciated in their time - and often fired or demoted for their radical ideas - the ideals they fought for live on in the ever-changing American corporation. Only by understanding their struggle can today's corporate leaders succeed in changing business for the better.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kleiner's freewheeling portrait gallery focuses on corporate mavericks of the 1950s, '60s and '70s who pioneered self-managing work teams, responsiveness to customers, grassroots organizing and other ways to imbue corporations with a sense of the value of human relationships. Starting with British management scientist Eric Trist, whose experiments in industrial democracy in the 1940s laid the groundwork for U.S. managerial innovations of the 1980s, Kleiner afterward profiles General Foods manager Lyman Ketchum, who launched the work-team concept at a Topeka pet-food plant in the early 1970s; he then discusses how Royal Dutch/Shell in England switched from rigid numbers-based forecasting to "scenario planning," a method of predicting alternative patterns of global energy demand. Also spotlighted are MIT computer scientist Jay Forrester's design of the "Limits of Growth" model of the world's economic future; community/labor organizer Saul Alinsky's drive to change Kodak's hiring policies; and Stanford Research Institute engineer Willis Harman's parapsychology experiments and his campaign urging the federal government to adopt an ecological ethic. Kleiner, a freelance business reporter who has edited The Whole Earth Catalog, serves up a smorgasbord of status quo-changing ideas. May
Library Journal
The heretics that concern Kleiner, most recently an editor for The Whole Earth Catalog, are modern-day dissidents working for U.S. companies who chose to advocate change during the 1960s and 1970s. The changes ranged from experimental plants to new corporate boardroom philosophies. GM especially illustrated the latter when it nominated to its board of directors Rev. Leon Sullivan, who subsequently became "one of the key figures of corporate change." Like religious heretics, corporate heretics have encountered resistance to their new ideas, and some saw their careers effectively destroyed. But out of these new ideas came such concepts as management teams, the pursuit of excellence, the striving for corporate social responsibility, and shareholder activism. While Kleiner's book is packed with the names of corporate heretics, some of them are not clearly identified and their contribution to the corporate change movement is not really made clear. Recommended for larger academic libraries and collections with an interest in business history.-Richard S. Drezen, Washington Post News Research Ctr., Washington, D.C.
David Rouse
Kleiner is a freelance business writer who has also been a contributing editor for "Whole Earth Review". In addition, he was a coauthor of organizational learning guru Peter Senge's "Fifth Discipline Fieldbook" (1994). Kleiner has compiled here a history of contemporary management ideas dating from World War II. Many of these ideas evolved from both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions and from humanistic psychology, and were in reaction to concepts such as Frederick Taylor's "scientific management" that had dominated management thinking to that point. Kleiner portrays the advocates of these "new" ideas as heretics because, primarily during the 1950s and 1960s, when they became most active, they chose to fight for change "within the system" rather than "dropping out" as did many of their counterparts. Kleiner suggests that such now widely accepted notions as corporate social responsibility and organizational teams grew out of their heretical ideas, and, by focusing on the individuals involved, he has constructed a lively, readable account.
Kirkus Reviews
A slick, selective, and provocative history of postWW II management from a New Age missionary who makes no secret of his commitment to the arguable notion that corporations exist to change the world—for the better.

In his engagingly digressive chronicle, Kleiner (co-editor of News That Stayed News: Ten Years of CoEvolution Quarterly, 1986) focuses on the square pegs and odd ducks who wanted to reform rather than repudiate the commercial concerns or institutions that employed them. Among those whose ideas eventually made at least some difference, he singles out Douglas McGregor and other academics, consultants, and executives influenced by the group- dynamics canon of National Training Labs (the originator of T- Groups, which encourage lower-echelon personnel to participate in workplace decisions). He goes on to recount how Saul Alinsky unleashed activist shareholders against Eastman Kodak in 1967; the resultant movement has provided a platform for hosts of agitators, ranging from church investors and Ralph Nader to Leon Sullivan. On the right, the author observes, economist Milton Friedman helped make a name for himself by insisting that the only social responsibility of business was to increase profits. In the meantime, Kleiner reports, Stanford Research Institute scholars were conducting serious experiments on the performance-enhancing properties of LSD, and NTL held symposia and other gatherings with Esalen Institute, a series of encounters that hastened on-the-job programs addressing gender and race issues. Covered as well are such counterculture entrepreneurs as the millenarian planners at Royal Dutch Shell, establishment moles who, in one memorable scenario, asserted: "The future cannot be predicted; it can only be seen."

A welcome if offbeat contribution to corporate literature, one that examines the communitarian possibilities of large multinational organizations rather than their presumptive failings and deficiencies.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385415767
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/1/1988
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 414
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Timeline
Monastics 1
Pelagians 27
Reformists 61
Protesters 103
Mystics 139
Lovers of Faith and Reason 181
Parzival's Dilemma 219
Millenarians 265
The Rapids 313
Acknowledgments 345
To the Reader 353
Notes 355
Bibliography 385
Index 405
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