Pop psych meets pop business in Brafman’s (co-author: Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do, 2011, etc.) latest outing in the land of counterintuition, written with the assistance of leadership expert Pollack.
Business types live and breathe for data, analysis and endless planning. Yet, as Joseph Schumpeter observed, there’s something irresistibly compelling about cleaning house, resetting priorities and otherwise changing course by means of what he called “creative destruction.” Brafman doesn’t quite counsel burning down the house, but he isn’t shy of introducing a little bubonic plague into the equation, either. Drawing on the results of a three-year consultancy with Martin Dempsey, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brafman urges that we consider the bright side of chaos and calamity: The Black Death may have brought about all manner of death and destruction, but “it was actually instrumental in bringing about Europe’s ascent to greatness.” Post–James Gleick, the word “chaos” has been applied and misapplied in all sorts of half-baked, Gladwell-ian ways, and Brafman plays it a little loose at times. Nonetheless, this book has value in encouraging a rethinking of how things get done, particularly in heavily institutionalized cultures. For instance, in the military, there’s a manual for everything, including one on the proper way to change a tire on a tuck. But why read a manual when a YouTube video would do? Such useful ideas come from what the author calls “casual downtime,” the thinking time that institutions too often don’t budget for. And what situation wouldn’t benefit from more thinking about it, as long as it’s not perfectly unbroken?
For some readers, there won’t be much news here, but for others—particularly those down the chain from Dempsey—there’s much good food for thought in Brafman’s sometimes-brash assertions.