Book Review: The Open Organization:
by Dr. Toby K. Easley, March, 15, 2017
Jim Whitehurst, CEO, Red Hat, The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance, (Harvard Business Review Press, June 2, 2015, ISBN 978-1625275271, 256).
The author of The Open Organization, Jim Whitehurst, CEO, earned his undergraduate degree from Rice University and attended Harvard Business School. He worked for the Boston Consulting Group and was also the COO, of Delta Airlines. He is presently the CEO, of Red Hat based in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 2015, when his book was published by Viking Press, Red Hat boasted of going from $400 million in revenue, to more than $1.5 billion, with a stock price that had “quadrupled” (157).
In the beginning of his book, Whitehurst does not waste any time giving the reader his definition of The Open Organization. In his own words he wrote, “An ‘Open Organization’ – which I define as an organization that engages participative communities both inside and out – responds to opportunities more quickly, has access to resources and talent outside the organization, and inspires, motivates, and empowers people at all levels to act with accountability” (2).
In the same paragraph he also explains what he perceives as the inherent strengths of The Open Organization. According to Whitehurst, “the beauty of an open organization is not that it is about pedaling harder, but about tapping into new sources of power both inside and outside to keep pace with all the fast-moving changes in your environment” (2). In other words, accessing employees knowledge and outside sources is one key to utilizing the strengths of superior ideas and solutions in order to make rapid progress. In his own words he believes, “In the open source world, we believe the best ideas should win, no matter where they come from” (151). However, within the company he claims “Respect has to be earned. It’s not about a title” (104). He makes this statement because he believes people perform better who are passionate about what they are trying to accomplish. If people are working only to please the CEO, according to Whitehurst, they “will give you the minimum effort” (104). In fact, “earning a reputation” takes time within the company as a new hire, and ideas win out through what he calls a “meritocracy.” Furthermore, he states that “to become a leader in a meritocracy, you need to attract followers first, not the other way around, as is typical in most conventional organization structures. Your peers actually have to select you as their leader based on how effective they think you are, not just because you have a more impressive title or résumé” (91).
The key differences according to Whitehurst in companies are what he defines as the “Conventional organization” that is, “cascading down” from the CEO down. The other is the “open organization” that he prefers and is “bubbling up” (20). The “Conventional” is described as beginning at the top with “what, how, and why.” The command and control does the central planning at the “what” level, setting direction.” Others who have “title and rank” participate in the hierarchical “getting things done” at the “why” level. Finally, when others in the company get the message from above, their motivation and inspiration comes from a desire for “promotion and pay” at the “why” level (20).
The “Open Organization” that is “Bubbling Up,” begins at the bottom “motivating, igniting passion, and building engagement” in the “why” phase. The next movement upward, “getting things done” involves the “Meritocracy” and also “Letting the sparks fly” in the “how” phase. At the top is “Setting Direction” and “Catalyzing inclusive decision making” in the “What” top phase (20). The idea behind the “Bubbling Up” is in Whitehurst’s mind to “Empower your rock stars to follow their passions” (97). This underlies the philosophy that the best ideas will win out at the end of the day based on the merit of the idea, not your position (151).
The “Open Organization” is also not afraid of internal debate. Whitehurst openly admits that, “I love to stir up a good debate and sometimes think of myself as Red Hat’s head debater” (110). However, the debate environment is guided by four values. These values are freedom, courage, commitment, and accountability (111). Freedom however is not let completely loose to meander out of control. Freedom is kept in check by “accountability” which in Whitehurst’s own words involves “each other, to our partners and customers, and to our shareholders” (112). Nevertheless, these four elements can at times involve human emotions and hurt feelings, which is why the author admits there “is not a perfect system” (120). Furthermore, the “Open Organization” is not “a democracy” either “where everyone has an equal vote” (145). When final decisions have to be made, the Red Hat leaders from the top down must still make decisions. However, what ultimately distinguishes Red Hat’s philosophy from top down companies is the process of how final decisions are made.
All of these explained processes, philosophies, and decisions made by Red Hat serve a broader purpose to meet the high expectations of their customers. Whitehurst admits that, “Red Hat has become a larger part of our customers’ IT infrastructure, and as they begin to use more of our products, they expect us to understand their businesses.” He goes on to explain that our customers “expect us to offer solutions to their problems, not just offer ‘great technology’” (170). This also explains another motto of Red Hat that says, “Release early, Release often” (151). This motto is not intended to communicate a haphazard philosophy, it is just another way to explain the urgency and passion of the “open source way.” In their mission statement, Whitehurst tells the reader to “judge for yourself” the words behind the “mission statement” (152). “To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way” (152). Having a definitive “mission statement” that clearly communicates, he adamantly states, “I would also wager that most, if not all, Red Hatters could cite it by heart” (152).
In the conclusion of the book, Whitehurst adequately informs readers what Red Hat does for customers that also interests investors. “We generate our revenues by making open source software consumable and safe for enterprises to adopt” (201). He also explains that Red Hat provides their customers with “services they pay for on a subscription basis.” Furthermore, they are efficient for their customers by not having any “built in incentives to deliver software to customers that they don’t want or need,” and at the same time making billions of dollars “selling free software” (201-202).
He also shares his thoughts on what he perceives as a “key turning point in Red Hat history” (200). According to Whitehurst, a “key turning point” came when a team from within the company “came up with the idea to completely shift focus from the desktop to the enterprise server” (200). Even since the publication of his book in 2015, new developments in “cloud” technology continue to create the need for change and adjustments in the “Open Organization.”
In conclusion, The Open Organization is intriguing and interesting. For many perhaps, the philosophy is too far removed from the “top down” traditional model. However, for those who seek to feel and experience passion and incentives in their work environment, this is an appealing company. For those who have been unhappy and stuck in an organization or company that is resistant to any change, The Open Organization is stimulating. Perhaps one can assume in part, that one of the reasons Red Hat has been so successful in recent years, is due to the appealing draw of employees who enjoy working in an “open,” creative, and passionate environment. The Red Hat workplace and philosophy could potentially also satisfy an entrepreneur type who would otherwise be unhappy working for a large company. By drawing potential employees with drive, passion, courage, and vision, Red Hat has created a company on the cutting edge. One must also not forget the company has continued to perpetuate many jobs for people with superior technological skills, but also people with sales ability and problem solving capabilities.
Having already proven to have a successful history within the technological world the company is continually moving forward at warp speed. Due to their business philosophy, Red Hat has the capability to keep pace with rapid progress and to also remain on the leading edge of future development. Jim Whitehursts’ book, The Open Organization Igniting Passion And Performance, is motivating, interesting, informative, thought provoking, and worthy of recommendation, especially for those who have a fascination toward a creative, entrepreneurial type thought process, and incentive based company. ~TKE~
Book Review: Edwards the Exegete:
by Dr. Toby K. Easley, March 7, 2017
Douglas A. Sweeney, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0199793228, 408).
In his book, Edwards The Exegete, Doug Sweeney does not assume that everyone reading his book will have a historical grasp of the eighteenth-century context in which Edwards lived. Wisely, he gives a reminder that Edwards lived in a time and age much removed from our twenty-first century world. On the other hand, Sweeney does not hesitate to give his own twenty-first century historical perspective on several hot button issues. For a moment, he seems to lay aside his own reminder of Edwards’s far removed eighteenth-century world, and proceeds to fast forward Edwards into a twenty-first century cultural context, describing his “sin” in relation to slavery. Sweeney expresses a brief polemic without throwing the “baby out with the bathwater,” wisely realizing that erasing historical data is not the answer either. However, he leaves no doubt from his own perspective, that the eighteenth-century Jonathan Edwards had his own flaws and shortcomings like any man. Consequently, the reader is left with no uncertainty where Sweeney presently stands on past misdeeds to humanity, while also perceiving his progressive snippet regarding the authorship of the Biblical book of Hebrews.
As Sweeney analyzes Edwards’s view of Scripture he claims, “he weighed the historicity of much of Sacred Scripture and held traditional opinions on the provenance of its books.” He also made very clear that Edwards believed in the veracity of Scripture and the Holy Spirit deliberately harmonized the truths of Scripture for our understanding. In other words, in Sweeney’s estimation, “He rarely worked as a splitter when it came to sacred Scripture, almost always as a joiner.” In the first chapter on the Canon, Sweeney summed it up quite accurately. “For Edwards…every single text of Scripture was to be read first and foremost in relation to the Canon.” Those who have read Edwards extensively over a span of years will more than likely agree with his conclusion on Edwards and the Canon.
Transitioning to how Edwards saw the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, Sweeney acknowledges that Edwards wrote, preached, and did things with the Bible that only a person with his knowledge and scholarly ability could explain. Nevertheless, he also points out that few Old Testament scholars in our day have patience for what “Edwards did with Genesis 14 and the Levites.” On an important note however, he pointed out two very important items. First, the “Bible is the epistle of Christ that he has written to us.” Second, one of the beauties of the Bible is the spiritual harmony and how the Scriptures point to Jesus Christ “from every part of Sacred Scripture.” This central idea according to Sweeney goes back to the Protestant Reformers who also viewed Christ as the “scopus der zweek, or the bulls eye of the Bible, a belief that turned problematic only with the decline of Protestant orthodoxy.”
The chapter on Edwards and the Canticles (Song of Solomon) is also very informative and interesting. Sweeney points out that Edwards was in agreement with many of his commentaries explaining that he “read Canticles as an emblem, or the spirit; of the love between the Lord and His elect.” Due to the sexual imagery in Song of Solomon, Sweeney points to a quote from Murray who wrote about Edwards’s willingness to dive into the sexually explicit expressions of the book. “Regarding Canticles – Murray said, ‘Despite the caricature of Edwards as an otherworldly recluse, his senses were attuned to both bodily and spiritual enjoyments.’” However, at the end of the day for Edwards, all of these relational human images were simply types of the antitype, which is Christ.
In this writer’s opinion, the chapter on Edwards’s eschatology is at the top of the list among favorites. As with any academic work, there are a few places in Sweeney’s book the reader must trudge through. Nevertheless, the rewards of knowledge attained, is worth trudging beyond those points throughout the entire book. Edwards’s eschatological perspectives can be fascinating and at times seemingly contradictory. Once again the reader must make a mental note of the eighteenth-century context in which Edwards lived. News travelled at the pace of a horse and a ship. Furthermore, Israel as a nation was still dispersed among the nations and many were far removed from their homeland. The American Revolution was several decades in the future and visions of a unified protestant America brought on images of the peaceful Millennium. This explains why at times Edwards’s eschatology takes off in numerous directions, trying to find meaning in the events of his time.
Sweeney also identifies the positive hope and reflection of Edwards’s words, “I think if we consider the circumstances of the settlement of New England, it must needs appear the most likely of all American colonies, to be the place whence this work shall principally take its rise.” Edwards did as Sweeney claims; think, “A golden age would come before the Lord returned.” However, he is also correct in saying that some of Edwards’s ideas seems to be like “pre-millennialists” and is difficult to “pigeon hole in late modern terms.” Sweeney however points to the genuineness of Edwards’s tenacity to mine Biblical truth, with a great span of the testimony of time behind him and much more remaining before him.
Sweeney’s ultimate summation of Edwards’s eschatological framework is excellent. “Edwards did hold it together. His Bible absorbed the world, to borrow a phrase from George Lindbeck, Hans Frei, and their students. ‘The world of the text gave meaning to the world outside the text’ quoting Frances Young again. Secular knowledge really never was his basic frame of reference. The Bible and its teachings were, for him, the most basic.”
Naturally, those who have read the many sermons of Jonathan Edwards, usually come to realize that many books could be written on Edwards’s exegetical approaches. Sweeney tackles several of the key areas of Edwards’s exegesis and competently explains to readers from primary sources, the reasons for his arguments and explanations. Sweeney’s purpose in the book is not to dive into the precise rhetorical methods of Edwards. Nevertheless, he does wrap up the material eloquently in the end where one may discover some of his most exhilarating sentences. “This simple Missionary herald was the real Jonathan Edwards, the heart of whose theology was biblical exegesis. Though a literary artist, meta-physical theologian, moral prophet, college teacher, nature lover, and civic leader, he was primarily a minister of the Word.”~TKE~