Viewing posts tagged management

Review: Empowered (by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler)

Book: Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business
Author: Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (2010)

Back in August, Josh Bernoff tweeted an offer for a free copy of his new book, Empowered, in exchange for a review at Amazon. I enjoyed his previous book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, co-authored with Charlene Li, so I took him up on the offer. Somehow, there was a delay in getting the book to me, and the text did not arrive until we were well into the fall semester — not a good time for a review. So, this is a little bit late, but better than never.

Over the past couple years, I have used Groundswell in my “Designing the future of education in Society 3.0” course at the University of Minnesota. In the book, Li and Bernoff write on how to integrate professional activities (and the activities of the organization you work with) into 21st century-relevant frameworks. In a way, it is a roadmap for transforming organizations from industrial to knowledge and innovation-based social frameworks that value personal knowledge and expertise:

“Simply put, the groundswell is a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other instead of from companies. If you’re in a company, this is a challenge” (x).

Empowered builds on these ideas a bit further, focusing on new media and how they impact traditional businesses. Specifically, the book focuses on what they term HEROes: “highly empowered and resourceful operatives” — geeks and other social media savvy people that can help an enterprise navigate the Groundswell. The concept is simple. Rather than trying to manage your technological and social media footprints at the enterprise level, business managers should work to attend to their employees’ and customers’ use of novel technologies. Whereas disgruntled employees and customers can use social media (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc.) to do harm to a company’s reputation (intentionally or non-intentionally) with relative ease, companies likewise need to learn how to leverage social media to build their brand images.

Empowered is more of a manual with suggestions than clear answers on how to cope with social media — and, given the rapid rate of evolution of these technologies, the authors’ less-prescriptive pathway is welcome. What the book lacks, however, are game changing perspectives on how to lead in the world of the Groundswell. In other words, the text seems geared toward organizations that are trying to catch up rather than those that are leading social futures.

In a world of expanding knowmadic and do-it-yourself opportunities, this book is likely to leave organizational leaders scratching their heads, wondering how they will possibly keep up with their employees. Can they keep up in an “empowered” world?

Note: The publisher provided a copy of the book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

Are writers nearing the limits of human imagination?

In an interview with, William Gibson declares that he’s given up on envisioning futures:

We hit a point somewhere in the mid-18th century where we started doing what we think of technology today and it started changing things for us, changing society. Since World War II it’s going literally exponential and what we are experiencing now is the real vertigo of that – we have no idea at all now where we are going.


You can see it in corporate futurism as easily as you can see it in science fiction. In corporate futurism they are really winging it – it must be increasingly difficult to come in and tell the board what you think is going to happen in 10 years because you’ve got to be bullshitting if you claiming to know. That wasn’t true to the same extent even a decade ago.

This helps to explain why recent “science fiction” has shifted toward “science fantasy.” It must be said, however, that the corporate futurism that he refers to is a really bad way of looking at the future. Rather than picking out a preferred future scenario, we should look at multiple futures and prepare for each of them. There’s no reason why any given set of futures cannot co-exist.

That’s why this site is called “Education Futures” and not “Education Future.”

Maybe a new genre of literature and thought will develop, with multiple futures, presents and pasts. More on this later…

Gallup's four drivers of innovation

The Gallup Management Journal recently published an article on what drives innovation in organizations. Shelley Mika disentangles innovation from creativity and identifies four driving principles of innovation, based on discussions with key thinkers and leaders. All four principles are focused on people:

  1. “Finding and fostering talent” — people settle where their talent is similar to others
  2. “Managers matter” — and are necessary for the cultivation of talent
  3. “Relationships matter too” — positive relationships foster innovation
  4. “Keeping the right leaders” — both thought leadership and people leadership are important

Read the article at

The fifth discipline

Senge, P. M. (1994). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday/Currency.

Senge argues traditional organizational leaders need to “revolutionize” their management philosophy toward the highly conceptual approach of systems thinking as the basis for building learning organizations. He adds this “fifth discipline” to four others: building shared vision, mental models, team learning and personal mastery. Learning organizations are defined as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together” (p.3).

Order from