Working Capital

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Two years ago, Bill Jensen took a look at how people worked and issued a call for "simplicity" with a book of that title. He has since taken another look and is now calling for a new contract between people and their companies. Work 2.0: Rewriting the Contract ( Perseus Books, 2002 ) is a kind of playbook that is aimed at helping leaders better understand their workforce. In keeping with Jensen's simplicity doctrine, the book is direct and compact. Jensen presents his argument in the form of a new work contract: a number of ideas, assumptions, and guidelines about how work works best today. The argument: We live in a world where much of the working capital that companies leverage to get stuff done belongs to the workers ( their assets include time, attention, ideas, passion, and networks ), which means that workers should increasingly get some of the returns and control that investors do. The game is no longer about getting productivity out of workers -- it's about creating value for them. To be honest, much of what Jensen has to say might sound familiar to faithful readers of Fast Company. He's got a way with a slogan, and he gets his hands dirty with practical advice. "Productivity is personal," he argues. Our individual effectiveness is based on a blend of customized control and good senior-leadership clarity. The essence of value is "peer-to-peer" interactions. The game is not managing individuals but rather amplifying their interactions. And the best form of leadership, Jensen says, is "extreme" leadership. Extreme leaders are always asking, Am I doing enough to demonstrate that I respect the people around me? To find the answer to this and other important questions, skip a little work and read this book.

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1. War may be hell, but times of conflict can be heavenly for gurus ( even those of dubious merit ) who write books about leadership. Robert D. Kaplan, author of Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos ( Random House, 2002 ), is a good guru. He's an expert on foreign and military affairs who turns his attention to leadership lessons from notable historical figures. 2. These may be boom times for leadership gurus, but they are trying times for executives charged with globalizing their companies' operations. Developing Global Executives: The Lessons of International Experience ( Harvard Business School Press, 2002 ), by Morgan W. McCall Jr. and George P. Hollenbeck, tells stories of more than 100 global leaders from 36 countries -- how they do what they do and become who they are. 3. Work today is more demanding, more uncertain, and more global than ever. And it involves a more diverse workforce than ever. In his debut book, The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living and Working in a Multicultural World ( Capital Books, 2001 ), Mark A. Williams, founder and CEO of the Diversity Channel, helps readers understand the perspective with which they can make sense of diversity in the workplace. A tough-minded look at a potentially soft subject.

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