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November 3, 2000

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Surfing at the Edge of Chaos

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 6:12 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Surfing at the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business by Richard T. Pascale, Mark Millemann, Linda Gioja, Crown Business, 290 Pages, $26.95 Hardcover, October 2000, ISBN 0812933168
When I was in NYC last spring and talked with John Mahaney, the Crown Business editor, he was excited about two of the new fall books: Surfing at the Edge of Chaos by Pascale, and The Anatomy of Buzz by Rosen. Now that Ive read the books for myself, I do believe that these titles will be bestsellers, particularly this one. Why? Well, as the people who have been reading JCS since the beginning know, one of the ways I pick quality is by pedigree of the author. Richard Pascale is the author of one of the bestselling and most respected books of the early 1990s, called Managing on the Edge.
Here, we have a brilliant business mind that has written a brilliant book.
Now, I have never been accused of being the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I have previously had trouble with books that talk about applying chaos theory to businesses, but in Surfing, I could understand immediately what these authors were talking about when they discussed their Complex Adaptive System. In the authors opinions, a business is a living system, and thus, that system centers on four laws of nature: Equilibrium is death; Innovation usually takes place on the edge of chaos; Self-organization occurs naturally; and Organization can only be disturbed, not directed. The authors use case studies of Sears, Monsanto, Royal Dutch Shell, the U.S. Armywith General Gordon Sullivan, BP, HP, and Sun to illuminate their system theory. The authors discussion of Sears, when Arthur Martinez took over in 1992, is a particularily fine example of this books best lessons. Martinez was the first chairman in 110 years to be hired from outside the company, and was the only top 100 that was an external hire. The average length of service of the top 5,000 managers at Sears was twenty yearsnot what you would call an organization with a history of looking for diversity and outside thought. Martinez changed all that with some very dynamic initiatives, and Sears took on a new (financially successful) face entirely.
One of the hardest things about writing the JCS is keeping the reviews short and sweet. This book defies that requirement. I want to tell you about this story about British Petroleum or that story about the US Army. Surfing has so much great information presented so well. You will just have to read the book and you learn for yourself.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.