When postwar American business was a vast sea of gray flannel suits and tasteful ties, a few unorthodox individuals were not so quietly shifting the paradigm toward the breezier, Google-ier work-place of today. These change agents include a raft of idealistic social scientists as well as nonacademics, like labor organizer Saul Alinsky, who pioneered the use of shareholder activism to open Kodak’s doors to more African Americans. Alinsky, who was literally willing to smash dishes to get attention, was the embodiment of the activist principle that behaving badly is sometimes necessary because, in the words of the civil-rights anthem, “The nice ways always fail.”
Today’s guest uses religious terms to title each of the chapters of his book— “Monastics,” “Pelagians,” Mystics,” and so forth. At first, that seems an odd choice for a study of modern corporations and other secular institutions. But he is insightful to do so. Like the heretic whose rejection of religious orthodoxy might send him to the pyre, our guest’s organizational heretic “is someone who sees a truth that contradicts the conventional wisdom of the institution to which he or she belongs—and who remains loyal to both entities, to the institution and the new truth.” The person who is willing to make a great sacrifice to change an institution he or she loves is a hero as well as a heretic because, our guest writes, “the future of industrial society depends on our ability to transcend the destructive management of the past, and build a better kind of business.”
We welcome the author of “The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management” and the earlier subtitle was Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change, Art Kleiner.
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