Warren Bennis’ Great Groups


I discovered Bennis by accident as I was looking for another author.  The title Why Leaders Can’t Lead… was a contradiction of terms that made me check out the book, despite other assigned reading. My stereotypical expectation of a writer of business theory (staid, academic, boring outside the premises of business organizations) was altered by the manner by which Warren Bennis engages his readers.

Bennis refers to the Peter Principle management theory that employees and managers are promoted to a level of incompetence. A favorite quote from this book refers to leaders as individuals who do the right thing and managers as individuals who do things right. Because of this, “many an institution is very well managed and very poorly led” (p. 17). Therein is the unconscious conspiracy of leaders to immerse themselves in routine. A leader transcends routine and is a conceptualist with a vision for the destiny of his institution.

I decided to look into who Bennis was, and I learned that as the “guru” of leadership theory, he advised many presidents. The founder of Starbucks considers him a mentor. He taught at Harvard, Boston University, and M.I.T. prior to his thirty years at the University of Southern California. He passed away in August of this year, 2014.

I just finished his 1997 book, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Again, the title called out to me from the library shelf during yet another course. He analyzes six Great Groups to unearth the secrets of collaborative geniuses. Bennis identifies the leader of a great group as

“almost always a pragmatic dreamer. They are people who get things done, but they are people with immortal longings. Often, they are scientifically minded people with poetry in their souls….people with an original vision…. A dream is the engine that drives the group….a promise on the visionary’s part that the goal is attainable.” (p. 20)

How were the Great Groups selected? For one, all stressed the imperative for collaboration among recruits who were hired for their excellence and talents that possibly surpassed their bosses’. Additionally, the recruits had rare intelligence, usually young (under thirty years of age) and possessed creativity that pushed boundaries.

Of the six Great Groups (Disney; Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and Apple; the 1992 Clinton Campaign; the builders of Lockheed’s top-secret Skunk Works; Black Mountain College; and, the Manhattan Project), the narrative that attracted my attention is that of the pioneers of the personal computer, among them Vannevar Bush, Robert Taylor and Alan Kay. In a 1945 article, Dr. Bush describes a memex, ” a device in which the individual stores his books, records, and communications, …mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed …” (Bush (1945), as cited in Bennis, p. 64). Bush also described the use of keyboards and data stored in various forms. The description of Taylor, Kay and their founding of  the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), their vision, and the recruitment of followers who gambled on loyalty parallel the innovations set by Steve Jobs and, more currently, Google.

hightechhistory.com Courtesy, Gizmodo.

Steve Jobs & Apple II computer, CA. 1979, when he gained entrance to Xerox PARC.

Bennis concludes his noteworthy study with a list of take-aways (15):

  1. Greatness starts with great people.
  2. Great Groups and great leaders create each other.
  3. Every Great Group has a strong leader, that is, one who has the ability to recognize excellence in others.
  4. The leaders of Great Groups love talent and know where to find it. “They are confident enough to recruit people better than themselves.” (p.201)
  5. Great groups are full of talented people who can work together. Because of their loyalty to the cause, they are more tolerant of personal differences.
  6. Great Groups think they are on a mission from God.
  7. Every Great Group is an island – but an island with a bridge to the mainland.
  8. Great Groups see themselves as winning underdogs.
  9. Great Groups always have an enemy.
  10. People in Great Groups have blinders on.
  11. Great groups are optimistic, not realistic.
  12. In Great Groups the right person has the right job.
  13. The leaders of Great Groups give them what they need and free them from the rest.
  14. Great Groups ship.
  15. Great work is its own reward. Steve Jobs is quoted: “The journey is the reward.”



Bennis, W. (1990). Why Leaders Can’t Lead: The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Bennis, W. &  Biedermann, P.W. (1997). Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Reading, MA: Addision-Wesley Publishing Company.

Adoption Theory and Education


In the midst of exploring a research topic for a course, I chanced on an article that covered adoption theory, and it piqued my interest. Everett Rogers’ diffusion of innovation is an intuitive and powerful investigation on how individuals, cultures, and societies accept certain ideas, inventions, and concepts.

In the content area of science, diffusion is defined as the net movement of particles from an area of high concentration gradient to an area of low concentration. In physics, it is the interaction of molecules as a result of their kinetic energy. Rogers (2003) defines diffusion as “…process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system”. An innovation is a concept, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual, and its diffusion process involves mass media, interpersonal communication, and information technologies such as the Web or smartphones (Stacks & Salwen, 2008). Note that the innovation need only be perceived as new.

One example that intrigued me is Rogers’ discussion of the QWERTY keyboard, which was invented in 1873 as an attempt to slow typists down and prevent typewrite keys from jammimg or sticking together. Despite the presence of the Dvorak keyboard, which is supposedly more efficient, QWERTY is universally used in mass market technology. Even when technological innovations are more efficient and faster, they may not necessarily be diffused, much less adopted.

In education, Lambert and Gong  (2010)  trace the five progressions in adopting technology, namely, knowledge of the technology; persuasion of the value of technology in the classroom; decision to adopt the technology; implementation of the technology; and, reaffirmation or rejection of usefulness. Educators have tended to use technology as linear media, that is, as aids in lectures and tools for student research. Social media applications in the classroom are still at the infancy stage, and their gradual acceptance comes as a result of new standards in public school education, specifically, the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards.  More importantly, Rogers’ third variable in the rate of adoption, the social system, affects the  shared vision for the integration of technology in the classroom.

Can technology change education? Does technology depersonalize learning? This TEDTalk  reveals how it can facilitate student-centered learning.

Looking for Dynamic PKM

Since I am a newbie at this, it would be presumptuous to call PKM Personal Knowledge Mastery. At this stage, I am on a quest and would be satisfied with Personal Knowledge Management.

In designing the graphic for my personal knowledge management (PKM), I draw on my interest in the eye as the window to the soul. Moreover, the eye is unique in that each person’s iris is a barcode of sorts, similar to a person’s fingerprint. Just as light is captured by the eye, the search for knowledge and enrichment is highly visual. In skimming through the panoply of online resources, I decided to focus on a select few.

This is my initial graphic:

lavadia pkm

In researching methods of sharing, I drew upon Jarche’s Working Out Loud. Valued networking includes sense-making and knowledge sharing as critical skills. “ The most effective learning… will be when engaged individuals regularly share their knowledge” (2014).


I also draw on Bedford’s reference to Andriessen’s model of human capital, structural capital, and relational capital for the current PKM graphic that will guide me to my online identity. My PKM strategy will be goal-oriented and opportunity-driven, as I search for an online community and niche.


Implicit Knowledge as Intellectual Capital?

I came across an article that is reflective of the shifts in today’s digital world. It cites the virtualization of the work place to an open-knowledge environment. Whereas I have been used to searching for peer-reviewed, scholarly articles, there are multitudes of “semi-tacit knowledge or knowledge that is unreviewed, serendipitous, and closer to raw” (Bedford, 2011).

Bedford posits two questions: If people are the sources of knowledge now (Blogs, tweets), what represents an individual’s knowledge? If there is a universal people profile and data model, who controls it, where does it live, and how is it maintained?

The first question is addressed through the use of an interesting model by Daniel Andriessen, who talks about intellectual capital. Intellectual capital is composed of human capital, structural capital, and relational capital. Human capital includes implicit knowledge, skills, and attitude. Andriessen defines structural capital as “explicit, encoded knowledge, processes and procedural know-how, and all forms of culture, including organizational, personal, and national” (Bedford, 2011). This is relevant to us because relational capital includes our networks, the social media that we use, and our business and social relationships.

The types of capital can be used to develop a personal knowledge management (PKM) model that translates as personal knowledge behaviors and characteristics, as well as patterns of data collection that are then developed into a personal profile. This PKM is then created and sustained as part of the individual’s growth.


Bedford, D. A. D. (2011).  Enabling personal knowledge management with collaborative and semantic technologies. American Society for Information Science and Technology, 38 (2). Retrieved from http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Dec-11/                        Jan12_Bedford.pdf.

Andriesses, D. http://www.weightlesswealth.com/

The C-Suite at Google

My friend is a project manager at a company that deals with sustainable, environmental practices. So it must be perplexing to her that I have both an online and paper subscription to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The online version is part of my bed-time ritual after binge-watching (currently, Fringe, season 2) on Netflix. The paper version is to remind me to read something other than education stuff. The October 20, 2014 issue of WSJ has a section on the C-Suite, and in it, Ben Fried, Google Chief Information Officer (CIO), expounds on Google’s approach to its employees’ use of technology.

Google is a role model in the correlation between technology and culture. In this interview with Fried, he contrasts the day when people were trained in the use of technology and the current time, where everyone (in the field) knows how to use technology. He posits that CIOs who limit technology choices set a “patriarchal and rigid” culture that is counterproductive. By allowing employees their choice of technologies at work, they become part of the decision-making process, and change management becomes easier.

An unconventional resource at Google is an IT residency program that recruits people with nontypical backgrounds who want to learn. The rationale is that the company invests in individuals who embrace change and, as a result, “can give great customer support….And those people create a more secure environment.”

Lastly, when queried about technology and culture change, Fried cites an MIT team that is measuring patterns of social interaction in the workplace. The interest  lies not in what people are saying or in data measurements; rather, the focus is on team-building.

In the field of education, the current focus on professional learning communities (PLCs), teacher leaders, and professional development is discomforting to a profession that is traditionally solitary and isolated. Factor in the new Common Core standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that advocate the use of engineering and technology to foster students’ critical thinking skills, and disequilibrium is to be expected. The push for team building and shared best practices has been an ongoing process for reform. The classroom teacher, long regarded as the key to improvements in student achievement, is no longer solely accountable in the goal for academic excellence. The site principal is not the solitary Lone Ranger or Pied Piper who singlehandedly leads his staff to his or the district’s vision. The movement is towards a collective moral purpose (Fullan, Bertran, & Quinn, 2004; Frick and Gutierrez, 2008).

Tonto-Lone-Ranger Pied_Piper2 (1)



Frick, W.C., & Gutierrez, K.J. (2008).  Those moral aspects unique to the professor: Principals’ perspectives on their work and the implications for a professional ethic for educational leadership.  Journal of School Leadership, 18, pp. 32–61.

Fullan, M., Bertran, A., & Quinn, J. (2004).  New lessons for districtwide reform.  Educational Leadership, 61, pp. 42–46.



The Rise of the C-Suite

Business organizations, conglomerates, and companies are no longer limited to the CFO or CEO as the prime leader. In this digital age, there is a C-suite, which denotes shared leadership. According to the Harvard Business Review(HBR):

Once people reach the C-suite, technical and functional expertise matters less than leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals. Chief information officers need to know how to create business models; chief financial officers, how to develop risk management strategies; chief human resource officers, how to design a succession plan and a talent structure that will provide a competitive edge. In other words, the skills that help you climb to the top won’t suffice once you get there. We’re beginning to see C-level executives who have more in common with their executive peers than they do with the people in the functions they run. And today members of senior management are expected not only to support the CEO on business strategies but also to offer their own insights and contribute to key decisions (HBR, March, 2011).

The HBR article further alludes to the importance of “softer” leadership skills.

Technical skills are merely a starting point, the bare minimum. To thrive as a C-level executive, an individual needs to be a good communicator, a collaborator, and a strategic thinker—and we think the trend toward a general business orientation over a functional orientation will continue (2011).

In relating this to the field of education, administrators at the district and at the school site level need to cultivate a climate of shared leadership through an educational “C-suite,” if you will. DuFour speaks of professional learning communities. Fullan, Bertran, and Quinn (2004) list ten components of effective leadership for district-wide success, among them the following:

  1. Compelling conceptualization uses pluralized leadership (daily, internal support system) to implement the district’s vision. Collective moral purpose involves each person in the system.
  2. The right bus, i.e., the right structure for accomplishing the task, ensures a common direction and moral collective purpose.
  3. Capacity building refers to the extent that a successful leader is able to develop leadership in others.

For those of us who are into Marvel heroes, the lone superfigures of Superman, Spiderman, and Batman have given way to Superhero teams such as The Avengers, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the like.





Bennis, W. (1990).  Why Leaders Can’t Lead: The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Fullan, M., Bertran, A., & Quinn, J. (2004).  New lessons for districtwide reform.  Educational Leadership, 61, pp. 42–46.

Groysberg, Kelly, and MacDonald (2011). The new path to the C-suite. Harvard Business Review, March, 2011. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2011/03/the-new-path-to-the-c-suite/ar/1

Weber, L. (2014). New C-suite mandate: Accessibility. The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2014. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/articles/new-c-suite-mandate-accessibility-1413751560

Preliminary Inquiry into Personal Knowledge Management

Personal Knowledge Management is a necessary component to yet another of our list of must-haves in this digital age. My first exposure was during the first session of my doctoral class, entitled, Technology in a Systems Approach to Leadership. Harold Jarche is accorded the title of PKM guru in my naiveté.

Jane Hart is a second influence during my search, especially with her much-awaited publication of the 2014 Top 100 Learning Tools. Jarche has his own list as well. Thirdly, the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, proves to be a charismatic speaker in his State of the Word 2013 talk, as well as his own not WordPress site. The latter inspired me to use another WordPress site to share my right-brain activity, painting and photography.

I am somewhat challenged by the blog format, but I am over the fear of the unknown. I embrace technology and welcome the journey that has been initiated by this course. I have been obsessing over the graphic for seek-search-share, as evidenced by the header of this site.

Harold Jarche: PKM Guru, Guiding Workplace Transformation Blog

In his October 15 blog, Harold Jarche discusses the idea of Learning Quicker by Failing Safely. “All of our learning is through pilot projects” (2014). His ideas on sustainable organizations and the diagram below are reminiscent of Senge’s (2013) disciplines of shared vision and systems thinking.

A safe-to-fail approach enables continuous learning in complex environment (Jarche, 2014).

The diagram is applicable in both business and educational organizations. With change is the inevitability of resistance and chaos, and effective leaders are able to guide the disturbance towards positive discourse. Wheatley (2006) uses the principle of thermodynamics to explain that while disturbance of the status quo leads to disequilibrium, it is the impetus for sustainable change.

PKM, Leadership, Business, Tech for Science, Education, and Life