Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan [Book Summary]


What’s preventing you from performing the greatest work of your life? 

Are you restricted by out-of-date bureaucratic processes? Restrained by hierarchical structures? Always sinking in the quicksand of compulsory meetings?

Well, the majority of the workers share these complaints and could simply add in a few more. That’s the reason why it’s time to change.

It might look frightening. It might look impossible. However, if you don’t wish to see your organization die in the field of the global marketplace, you have to do it. You need to rethink and reinvent the manner you work.

According to the author, that means modernizing the manner your organization functions–changing from an old legacy operating system to a new evolutionary operating system that’s more flexible, open, and human-centered.

The chapters in this book didn’t recommend any one-size-fits-all change initiatives. They don’t provide one clear solution to your professional difficulties. However, how could they? You as well as your organization is exceptional. You can just change by discovering your own way. Therefore, see these chapters as strategies – subtle push in the direction you require to be going. 


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Chapter 1 – Old organizations are in disaster.


Let’s start with a tale of sabotage. 

At the top of World War II, the director of the agency that eventually turned out to be the CIA ordered a special field manual. They were strategies for destabilizing communities and commerce in the manual. The notion was simple: distribute the manual to citizens friendly to the Allied forces and start a war of what the manual labeled as “simple sabotage.”

Close to the conclusion of the manual, there’s a list of activities that obstruct with organizations and production. 

Things such as: making it difficult to access work resources by creating complex bureaucratic systems, never permitting shortcuts that might accelerate a process or decision, and following to all regulations, at all times.

When the author reveals this list from the old manual to leaders, a lot laughs. “That’s precisely what people do at my place of work!” is the general answer.

In a nutshell, what added to sabotage in 1944 is now only another day in the office.

Let’s be clear. It’s not that people are attempting to be saboteurs. It’s that businesses are structured in a type of manner that abiding by rules basically adds to sabotage.

This is causing an unfortunate consequence on companies in at least three means.



Firstly, the company’s existence is reduced. It was formerly that a company on the S&P 500 could anticipate using 60 or so years there. Presently, it’s reduced to about ten.

Secondly; also, the return on assets is down as well. Return on assets is the sum of profit a company can make with what it has. Additionally to being a great multifaceted metric of performance, it’s also difficult to avoid. Unfortunately, since 1965, US return on assets has reduced from approximately 5% to only above 1 percent.

Thirdly, productivity growth has also stabilized. Regardless of the fact that we’ve made exceptional technological gains, we’re still not able to create more stuff per hour than we used to ten or 20 years ago.

If you question an economist on the reason why companies look to be struggling, she’d likely find it difficult to answer. If you ask the people at the advantage, those employees on the ground handling daily issues, you’ll have a clear answer: bureaucracy.


Chapter 2 – Organizational debt is making businesses go down.


Let’s assume that you’re working in a factory that produces auto parts. One day, as you work with your machine, you detect a hole in your right glove. The left glove is becoming thin, as well. “it is time for a new pair,” you contemplate. Therefore, you discard your gloves, go to where the gloves are stored, took a new pair, and go back to your machine in 30 seconds.

If only every employee lives in that kind of dream world.

Let’s take a look at a particular case. Auto manufacturer FAVI is a different company. While the majority of European producers of auto parts have collapsed in the appearance of Chinese competition, FAVI as a matter of fact exports to China. However, FAVI didn’t regularly enjoy such success. Previously, it struggled under the problem of bureaucracy.

Earlier before the new CEO came, a worker couldn’t go and take a pair of gloves anyhow. She had to take her gloves to her manager, who would then check that they truly required changing and provided her a permission slip. Afterward, she would have to go to a cage where the entire gloves were stored, waiting for somebody to assist her, and give that person her slip, take the new gloves back to her manager and the slips will be stamped, after, she could return to her machine.

This entire bureaucratic process took about 30 minutes. The cost of new gloves? Five euros. The price of abandoning a machine unmanned for that long? That costs five thousand euros.



The author names those types of problems as organizational debt. Organizational debt is the entire procedure and policies and structures that don’t serve an organization anymore; they may have been reasonable at one point; however, now, that point has been gone for long.

Organizational debt is regularly the outcome of automatic reactions to issues. Something doesn’t go well in our organization, and therefore, we establish a new policy or procedure to avert that thing from going wrong another time. For instance, at FAVI, perhaps people were stealing gloves; therefore some smart leaders created a system to end that.

The problem is that such efforts in perfect order ultimately cause a type of disorder. They lead in the millions of self-sabotaging rules and processes that destroy businesses.

The desire to solve problems by enforcing rules goes deep – over a century deep, as a matter of fact. If we want to stop the practice, we’d need to understand its roots.


Chapter 3 – Legacy Organizations believe that managers should think for employees.


Behind every organization, there’s a range of assumptions. These assumptions bear and direct how things are done. You can see these assumptions as a type of organizational operating system. 

For over a century, the huge majority of companies have been utilizing an operating system gotten from traditional organizations. Let’s name it Legacy OS. It’s the entire structure and rules and practices that we barely recognize. Managers. Budgets. Performance reviews. It’s really rampant that it’s virtually unnoticed. Also, since the majority of the people mistake popularity for quality, Legacy OS hardly gets confronted, talk less of rethinking.

Traditional organizations – the Legacy Organizations working on Legacy OS – were established over a hundred years ago.

As of then, factories weren’t as effective as they are currently. There wasn’t a standard guideline manual for employees. Every Veteran machinists had their own personal methods. Novices learned on the job, using the practices of their elders. The method for production was artisanal.

They were regularly encouraged to work slowly. Machinists got a specific sum of money for every part they produced; if they began producing a lot of parts, however, their bosses would regularly decrease this piece rate. Therefore, in order to avoid a piece-rate reduction, employees restricted productivity.

Into this space of disorganization and underproduction stirred a man who enjoyed measuring things. The man was Frederick Winslow Taylor, and he transformed the field of work.



Taylor wasn’t fascinated by how long it usually took to produce a certain part. He desired to calculate how long it ought to take. Therefore, he measured every step in the production process of each and every part. Then he performed a tremendous experiment.

He presented workers with an increase. However, there was something else. In order to get an increment, which was large (between 15 and 30 percent), the employees would need to do everything just as he said. The employees accepted, and that was that: worker autonomy had been sacrificed on the altar of an increase in pay. The legacy organization was established. 

In the following decades, the foundational assumption of Legacy OS – that bosses do the thinking while workers do the working – was cherished as a simple business common sense.


Chapter 4 – Organizations are not complicated systems but complex systems.


Without thinking too much, do you reason that an automobile engine is complicated or complex? What of the device of a watch? Complicated or complex? OK, what about the weather or traffic? Is one complicated while the other one is complex? Or both complex? Sigh, this is becoming complicated.

If you’re just like the majority of the people, your replies were random at best. Well– complicated? complex? They are synonyms, right? Well, take your pencil and paper – or your phone’s notepad or anything– because now it the time for a crash course in systems theory.

When we say a system is complicated, that means that it’s a causal system. Its component parts enjoy a cause-and-effect relationship. Remove a cog from a watch, and the watch will stop functioning. Put back the cog (correctly), and it will begin to work again. Causal systems are foreseen. Removing a cog out will never make a clock to do something totally shocking, such as running backward or ringing a Beethoven sonata. The same applies to automobile engines.



While Complex systems, systems such as traffic and the weather, are dispositional. You can make educated estimates on what will happen; however, you can’t be certain. In order to guess what they might do, you need to get to understand them. You need to learn the idiosyncrasies of their nature. You can’t only read a manual.

One of the major problems with Legacy OS is that it handles organizations like they arere complicated systems. It believes that the right rules are present, that scientific knowledge of work is possible.

This isn’t the situation. People are complex creatures; bring them together, and they create a complex system. However, this is the thing about complex systems: you can’t fix their issue. All you can hope to do is cope with them.


Chapter 5 – Evolutionary Organizations need to run like roundabouts.


While driving, which would you preferably come across: a traffic signal or a roundabout?

The majority of the people are more conversant and more comfortable with the traffic signal. Only in the United States, there are more than 300,000 traffic signals. Whereas, roundabouts are uncommon, with approximately one for every 1,118 intersections.

In our instance, a traffic signal is just like a Legacy Organization. Famous; however, as we’ll find out, not the most effective.

However, there’s an alternative – a better method to organize. Let’s refer to companies that have utilized this Evolutionary organization.

The signal and the roundabout were both created to handle the same complex issue: traffic. Each is an operating system that tries to reduce automobile accidents while making the best use of the traffic flow. Yet, the assumptions underlying these two systems couldn’t be more different.



Traffic signals assume that people have to be told about what they need to do. Red signifies to stop. Green signifies go. Roundabouts take up the opposite. There are two instructions: follow the flow of traffic and yield to cars already in the circle. However, it is the drivers’ choice to use these rules and navigate the intersection.

The fame of the traffic signal might make you assume that it’s very superior. However, across the board, roundabouts are superior.

They lessen traffic delays by 89%; their annual maintenance is about $5,000 and $10,000 less; they decrease both fatal collisions (by 90%) and collisions that lead to injury (by 75%); and, as an addition, they’re completely working when there is no power.

The single cause of why traffic signals are still the norm is because they’re the norm. We’re familiar with them. They’re familiar. And therefore; we assume that they are also effective.

Also, Legacy Organizations are the norm as well, and Legacy OS has many in common with the traffic-signal operating system. Both assume that you can’t trust people. Both assume that people have to be guided at each turn. Red signifies to stop. Green signifies go.

However, what if we dropped this system? What if, instead of categorical rules directing every action, instead of hierarchical structuring, instead of mistrust and micromanagement, what if – instead of these entire things – we created an OS that enabled people to move very freely and utilize their own decision to deal with complex problems at work? That’s the Evolutionary Organization.


Chapter 6 – Evolutionary Organizations are both Complexity Conscious as well as People Positive.


It’s a thing to say, “Build your organization like a roundabout!” It’s quite another thing to change from legacy practices to evolutionary practices. 

In order to shift your organization toward a new operating system, there are two words to have in mind.

Firstly, Evolutionary Organizations are Complexity Conscious. Not only do they identify that businesses are complex systems; they are also aware of global complexity generally and human complexity especially.

Secondly, Evolutionary Organizations are People Positive. They trust that when people are empowered in the place of work; they are capable of handling this complexity.

What do these two features resemble in action? Well, they add up to something similar to what David Marquet did when he became the commander of the USS Santa Fe, an underperforming nuclear submarine. Before Marquet, the USS Santa Fe’s performance became worse than all other subs in the fleet. Under Marquet’s direction, it turned to the best.



That rise started with an unorthodox method. Instead of ordering commands, Marquet basically shared his vision for the vessel. Firstly, his crew was perplexed by his answer to their demands for orders, which was constant, “What do you plan to do?” However, suddenly, they started to reason for themselves and carry an obligation for directing the submarine.

Marquet introduced a setting where they could practice and learn. He distributed control, making it likely for his team to create fast answers to complex difficulties. Also, he motivated them to take control of their work.

In a nutshell, he was People Positive and Complexity Conscious.

Now, if this doesn’t look any more useful than being required to make your company after a roundabout, well, sorry –however, that’s somewhat intentional. Know that: we’re attempting to break free from the dogmatism of the Legacy OS. There will by no means be one method to change from legacy to evolutionary. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Every organization needs to make its own way.


Chapter 7 – You need to rethink the domains of structure and purpose.


Evolutionary Organizations have effectively executed change in a few domains. Marquet, the submarine captain from the former chapter, choose to use a new method to the domain of authority. And, as you are aware, the outcomes were amazingly good.

Assuming you go to work one day, and your boss says, “Hey, I feel you need to write your own job description and choose your own pay.” What would occur?

The biggest tomato processor worldwide which is the Morning Star Company does exactly that. Yearly, every of Morning Star’s 400 workers writes a note that maps their duties to their fellow colleagues. Afterward, their coworkers then analysis this note, providing thoughts for improvement. By doing this, top-down directives are substituted by community ideas.

Also, at Morning Star, you can choose your own salary; however, it’ll go through to the exact peer review. This system works very fine for Morning Star, which nets over $700 million in revenue every year and has been increasing consistently for the last 20 years.

Meaning, Morning Star successfully reconsidered the domain of structure. 

This is another case of reconsidering structure. Buurtzorg is a Dutch home-care provider that hires some 14,000 nurses in spite of having the main team of nearly 50. How can 50 people cope with 14,000? They don’t actually.

They divide the entire 14,000 nurses into 12-person teams that, for the most aspect, handle themselves, handling everything from scheduling to hiring. Buurtzorg basically works as a collection of small businesses, all joined together with a common goal: offering quality and personal home care.

That brings takes us to the next domain: purpose. Most importantly, your organization’s purpose must be eudaemonic –meaning, favorable to human happiness and thriving.



For example, Tesla’s mission is “to hasten the world’s change to sustainable energy.” It’s definitely inspirational and eudaemonic; however, it has an issue. It’s unclear. An engineer would be struggling to interpret it into concrete responsibilities.

Facebook created a good system for keeping the purpose of both aspirational and actionable. Two times in a year, they check where they desire to be in the next 30 years and then question what they have to in the following six months to get nearer to that far goal. This enables a type of double focus: zoomed in on the present and also framing the big picture.


Chapter 8 –The domains of meetings and membership have to be rethought.


On one occasion, after a long and fruitful conversation, a team that the author worked with chose to stop their monthly strategy review. This team had been withholding the truth from one each other for really long; nobody acquired any value from the strategy review, talk less of liked it. Predict the amount this boring, insignificant meeting had been costing them? Three million dollars each year.

The average worker sees nearly half the meetings he goes to as a waste of time – and he attends 62 meetings every month. However, there’s another good cause to examine meetings. They work as a type of microcosm, a type of tiny copy of the whole organization.

One method that may assist you to remove irrelevant meetings and introduce superior meeting practices is the meeting moratorium. For two weeks – certainly, two weeks –stop every meeting. This may look impossible, even irresponsible. 

However, that has worked for the author. One time, he worked with a leadership team whose members used 45 hours in meetings every week. When the team reintroduced meetings after the two-week break, they were able to do in 18 hours what they’d formerly done in 45.

After you stop all your meetings, use those two weeks to concentrate on the specific points. What is it you miss? Where would a meeting really be beneficial?



Now you can begin reintroducing meetings. However, know that: just like an organization, a meeting needs to have a clear purpose and be planned around that purpose. If it doesn’t have these qualities, it’s most likely pointless.

Another vital domain is membership. Who is in and who is out? Who is accepted at your organization, and who isn’t?

A good method to determine this is to look at employing practices. When integrating a new employee, you want to ensure that the person’s personality and passions are related to the company’s mission and surroundings.

However, be cautious of employing for culture fit only. Although a good predictor of success when a company is starting, it can lead to underperformance afterward. Therefore, it’s better to employ people who will add to your culture, not only fit within it.


Chapter 9 – Change is a continuous process, not a one-time occurrence.


What is the change? The majority of the leaders’ picture the change as a type of journey – a corporate journey from point A to point B. They’ve acquired a roadmap with milestones and a clear end goal. However, this metaphor is deceptive. 

This is the issue with seeing change as a journey: travel is in sequence. You travel from one part of the journey to the other. However, change isn’t a series of steps. Also, it is not a map you can trail.

 Visualize pouring milk into a mug containing coffee. There’s a nearly instant color change, from black to brown, as the two liquids combine. The change should appear more like that –just like transformative assimilation instead of a very-executed plan.

However, in order to reach such type of change, you need to change the manner you change. No further change initiatives enforced from on high. No further CEOs ordering company values. A bureaucratic order can’t be changed with devices fired in an ordered, bureaucratic forge.

How then should you change? The change must be never-ending and participatory.

One method to guarantee continuous, participatory change is to initiate a method known as looping.

There are three steps, organized in a loop, with the last going back to the first: recognizing tensions, suggesting practices, and performing experiments.

Loops can occur fastly or slowly, on a massive or a small scale. Let us visualize a loop in a team to understand how it functions.



Let’s assume that the team detects a tension: “just the loudest voices get heard.” A practice that might remove this tension is initiating a check-in at the start of every meeting. Prompt your team with a question, like, “What is the color of your mood?”

Now attempt it! Go round in a circle, ensuring every person answer to the prompt. Does it take everybody into the present and offer every one voice space in the room? If that isn’t the case, continue suggesting practices and performing experiments until the tension is calmed.

It is not possible to create a list of all tension that occurs, and a practice that effective for one team or organization won’t essentially be effective for another. Recall: we’re working with difficult systems. If you bare that in mind, however, and inspire your coworkers and teammates to do the same thing, you’ll be on your path to performing the great work of your life.


Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization? by Aaron Dignan Book Review


Current organizations have to change. The majority of them are functioning on Legacy OS – a business operating system gotten from nineteenth-century factories. They trust that more control will cause better outcomes. A better method is to decrease control – to model organizations on roundabouts instead of traffic signals. Do that and your company could shortly turn to an Evolutionary Organization. This is your first duty: determine the domain you will tackle first.


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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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