Brave New Work Book Summary By Aaron Dignan

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Brave New Work (2019) is an insightful and practical guide to organizational change.

This book doesn’t tell you what to do to transform your business, but instead provides you with suggestions and case studies of successful transformations so that you can decide what’s right for your organization.

Through its pages, this work offers invaluable advice on how to create a true transformation in your business – including understanding the importance of culture, developing excellent leadership, and creating a culture of innovation in order to make it through the process from start to finish.

Brave New Work guides you every step of the way.

Brave New Work

Book Name: Brave New Work (Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization?)

Author(s): Aaron Dignan

Rating: 4.6/5

Reading Time: 24 Minutes

Categories: Entrepreneurship

Author Bio

Aaron Dignan is the author of "Brave New Work", a book focused on coaching and organization-design.

He's no joke in this area either, as he's the founder of The Ready, which has had major success in the industry.

His clientele includes giants such as Microsoft, Airbnb, and Johnson & Johnson - perfect evidence that he surely knows what he's talking about.

Additionally, Aaron is an angel investor and has sat on advisory boards for companies like PepsiCo, American Express, and GE.

It's safe to say that whoever opens up his book will likely be inspired by his knowledge and experience with organizations in today’s digital world.

Rethink And Reinvent The Way You Work: Moving From Legacy Systems To An Evolutionary Operating System

Evolutionary Operating System

Are you looking for a way to start doing the best work of your life? Then you need to transform your organization.

Brave New Work is here to show you just how to do that – by ditching those outdated and bureaucratic processes for something more flexible, open, and human-centered.

It’s not always easy to make the shift from legacy systems to an evolutionary operating system.

But it’s essential if you want your organization to thrive in the global marketplace.

You won’t find any one-size-fits-all answers in this book but, instead, guidelines that can help you discover your own path and begin reaping the rewards of top quality work.

You’ll also learn why roundabouts are better than traffic signals; that captains don’t have to be all about command and control; and what makes complexity different from complicatedness.

So if it’s time for your organization (and you!) to get moving on making positive change then let Brave New Work guide your journey along the right track!

The Consequences Of Bureaucratic Sabotage: Why Companies Struggle Despite Technological Gains

Traditional organizations are in trouble.

This is because bureaucratic structures and processes designed to ensure efficiency and productivity often sabotage the very goals they are meant to promote.

Old tactics such as setting up complex compliance systems, refusing to use shortcut processes and sticking too closely to the regulations all contribute to a heightened sense of stagnation in workplace environments.

The consequences of which can be seen all around us.

Companies can no longer expect 60 years on the S&P 500 due to their inability to keep up with trends, ROA (Return on Assets) have decreased from 5% in 1965 to 1%, and productivity growth has essentially stagnated despite technological improvements.

Economists may not know why this is happening, but those who experience it directly have come out with a clear answer: bureaucracy.

The Key Message In This Section: Organizational Debt Is Dragging Down Businesses

Organizational debt can be a devastating force for businesses, dragging them down and limiting their capabilities.

FAVI is an experience case study in how bad it can be.

This auto parts manufacturer was once plagued by so much bureaucracy that workers had to go through a 30 minute process just to get new gloves!

All this rigmarole cost more time and money than the glove itself!

This type of organizational debt comes from automatic responses to solve problems – policies created out of fear that end up doing more harm than good.

At FAVI, this could have been due to people stealing gloves, but the policy they created added expenses while simultaneously reducing productivity.

The result was a business bogged down by too many rules, regulations and procedures that no longer made sense.

The lesson? We need to look beyond immediate solutions and consider the big picture when addressing issues in our businesses.

Otherwise, we may find ourselves weighed down by organizational debt.

Legacy Os And The Legacy Organizations Running On It Are Based On The Assumption That Managers Should Think For Workers


It’s been an assumed truth in traditional organizations for more than a century that managers do the thinking and workers do the working.

This is due largely to techniques introduced by industrial revolutionary Frederick Winslow Taylor in the late 19th Century.

Taylor sought to create efficiency within factories by restructuring roles so that workers followed a set instruction determined by management.

Becoming part of this process entailed securing better wages for those who agreed to follow Taylor’s orders, creating an incentive for many people at the time to join.

What this legacy setup effectively does is strip away autonomy from those at lower rungs of the ladder, leaving decision-making processes primarily in the hands of those higher up in a given organization – specifically, management.

In other words: Legacy Organizations assume that managers should think for workers.

Legacy Os Misunderstands Complex Systems: Why Organizations Shouldn’T Be Treated As Complicated

Organizations are not as straightforward as complicated systems.

There’s no cause and effect relationship like you find in an engine or watch – things happen that are totally unexpected and therefore, difficult to predict.

This makes organizations more complex than complicated, needing a deeper knowledge rather than just rules from a manual.

If you look at a Legacy OS, it assumes organizations are complicated systems, that there is some sort of scientific answer or formula that can be used to figure them out.

That simply isn’t the case, though.

People make up an organization and people are complex themselves; together they form even more complex systems that cannot be solved but only managed.

It takes time and effort to know what is going to happen when running an organization – you need to understand its quirks and develop relationships in order to predict possible outcomes.

Complicated systems don’t require this kind of input; all you need to do is follow the rules in the manual for success.

But with complex systems like organizations, you must go beyond just following instructions if you want successful results.

The Key To An Evolutionary Organization Is To Flow Like A Roundabout: Empower Employees And Put Trust In Their Judgment

Empower Employees

The concept of Evolutionary Organizations is a relatively new one, but it’s quickly gaining traction as more people recognize the benefits.

Unlike with Legacy Organizations, which rely on strict rules and micromanagement to get things done, Evolutionary Organizations are designed to enable employees to use their own judgment to tackle complex issues.

This is not only an effective way to do business in the modern world, but it also leads to increased employee satisfaction and motivation.

One of the best analogies for an Evolutionary Organization is a roundabout: Both are operating systems that attempt to minimize accidents while maximizing traffic flow.

The advantage of a roundabout is that drivers don’t need directions from a traffic signal; instead, they’re expected to apply two simple rules – follow the flow and yield where necessary – and navigate accordingly.

This freedom leads to more efficiency and fewer delays than would be experienced with traffic signals.

The same principle applies when it comes to creating Evolutionary Organizations: Companies should give workers the freedom to make their own decisions and navigalte complex issues without being told what specific actions to take at every turn.

By allowing employees this freedom, you end up with an organization that functions more efficiently and effectively than traditional legacy organizations which exist today.

The Key To Transitioning From A Legacy Organization To An Evolutionary One Is Complexity Consciousness And People Positivity

Evolutionary Organizations are conscious of the complexities they face and understand that people possess the creativity and adaptability necessary to take on these challenges.

This concept was best embodied in the story of David Marquet, who set out to turn around a failing nuclear submarine he was made captain of.

Rather than imposing his own rules on his crew, he opted instead for an alternate approach: he shared his vision for the ship and allowed his team to take on more responsibility.

This shift in role enabled them to think creatively when faced with complex problems, enabling them to devise quicker solutions.

What’s more, by allowing their work to be their own responsibility, Marquet was able to cultivate a culture of learning and ownership.

These examples perfectly demonstrate why Evolutionary Organizations should be both Complexity Conscious and People Positive in order to reach their highest potential.

Focusing solely on one or the other simply won’t get you far – embracing both will open up your organization’s full potential and guide it into a new paradigm of success!

Organizations Have Succeeded By Rethinking The Domains Of Structure And Purpose


When it comes to effective organizational change, there are two main domains that need to be considered: structure and purpose.

The way an organization is structured can have a dramatic effect on its success and the happiness of its employees.

For example, the Morning Star Company, the largest tomato processor in the world, is successful because each of its 400 employees writes their own job description and salaries subject to peer review.

Buurtzorg, a Dutch home-care provider with only 50 core personnel, manages 14,000 nurses by utilizing small teams of 12 people who manage themselves in relation to scheduling, recruiting and other aspects of providing quality personal home care.

This system has been extremely successful for Buurtzorg.

On the other hand, purpose is also important for an organization’s success.

A eudaemonic mission should be designed with both aspirations for the future as well as actionable tasks in the present.

In fact, one case study we can look at is that of Facebook who twice a year look to their long-term goals while also considering what they can do in the next 6 months to get closer to that goal ensuring both inspirationally aspirational goals and practical action plans.

Considering both domains of structure and purpose when implementing change within an organization is essential if you want it to be successful and rewarding experience for all involved!

Reconsidering Meetings And Membership For Optimal Productivity

If you’re looking to maximize the effectiveness of your organization, one strategy is to reconsider the domains of meetings and membership.

Most employees regard half the meetings they attend as a waste of time, but taking a step back to truly review them may be invaluable.

One technique is known as the meeting moratorium: cancelling all meetings for two weeks to really understand which meetings are necessary, and where improvements can be made.

This allows employees to focus on what they miss and what additional meetings would help productivity within their company.

When reintroducing meetings, it’s essential that each one has a clear purpose and is structured around that purpose; otherwise it’s simply unnecessary.

The same applies for membership: make sure candidates’ personality and passions align with your company’s mission before hiring them.

However, be aware of over-hiring for culture fit only – this may lead to underperformance further down the line.

Continous Participatory Change Through The Looping Technique – A Recipe For Successful Transformation

Successful Transformation

In “Brave New Work” by Aaron Dignan, the key message is that change is an ongoing process and not something that can be achieved through a one-time event.

To illustrate this point, Dignan draws a comparison between seeing change as a journey and pouring milk into coffee – both create a transformation but it’s the latter which best describes how change should be.

Dignan also provides advice on how to execute effective change: it should be continuous and participatory.

To accomplish this, he suggests introducing a technique called looping which has three stages: identifying tensions, proposing practices and conducting experiments.

With this method, teams or organizations can spot tensions such as “only loudest voices get heard” and then develop practices like check-ins at meetings to address them.

Once proposed practices are tested out to see if they eliminate the tension or not, teams can move forward in their efforts to bring about lasting changes.

Overall, “Brave New Work” emphasizes that change is neither linear nor sequential but rather an ongoing process.

It’s up to companies and organizations to empower employees through looping and other tactics to ensure successful implementation of effective changes.

Wrap Up

The Brave New Work book provides businesses with the tools and knowledge they need to make the necessary changes in order to keep up with today’s modern workplace.

The key takeaway from these sections is that organizations need to break away from the Legacy OS – an outdated corporate operating system that was designed for 19th-century factories.

Instead, companies should reduce control by modeling themselves after a roundabout rather than a traffic signal.

If this is done successfully, it could result in the company being transformed into an Evolutionary Organization.

For those looking for guidance on where to begin their journey of change, the book also outlines ways for businesses to identify which area or domain needs attention first and how best to approach it.

All in all, this book serves as an invaluable resource towards building a future-proof organization that is fit for purpose.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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