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Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World

Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World [Kindle Edition]

Margaret J. Wheatley
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Amazon Review

When Margaret J. Wheatley's Leadership and the New Science was initially published in 1992, it outlined an unquestionably unique but extremely challenging view of change, leadership and the structure of groups. Many readers immediately embraced its cutting- edge perspective, but others just could not understand how the complicated scientific tenets it described could be used to reshape institutions.

Now Wheatley, an organisational specialist who has since co-authored A Simpler Way, updates the original by including additional material (such as an epilogue addressing her personal experiences during the past decade) and reconstructing some of her more challenging concepts. The result is a much clearer work that first explores the implications of quantum physics on organisational practice, then investigates ways that biology and chemistry affect living systems and finally focuses on chaos theory, the creation of a new order and the manner that scientific principles affect leadership. "Our old ways of relating to each other don't support us any longer", she writes. "It is up to us to journey forth in search of new practices and new ideas that will enable us to create lives and organisations worthy of human habitation." - -Howard Rothman,

Product Description

A bestseller--more than 300,000 copies sold, translated into seventeen languages, and featured in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Fortune
• Shows how discoveries in quantum physics, biology, and chaos theory enable us to deal successfully with change and uncertainty in our organizations and our lives
• Includes a new chapter on how the new sciences can help us understand and cope with some of the major social challenges of our times

We live in a time of chaos, rich in potential for new possibilities. A new world is being born. We need new ideas, new ways of seeing, and new relationships to help us now. New science--the new discoveries in biology, chaos theory, and quantum physics that are changing our understanding of how the world works--offers this guidance. It describes a world where chaos is natural, where order exists "for free." It displays the intricate webs of cooperation that connect us. It assures us that life seeks order, but uses messes to get there.

Leadership and the New Science is the bestselling, most acclaimed, and most influential guide to applying the new science to organizations and management. In it, Wheatley describes how the new science radically alters our understanding of the world, and how it can teach us to live and work well together in these chaotic times. It will teach you how to move with greater certainty and easier grace into the new forms of organizations and communities that are taking shape. You'll learn that:

• Relationships are what matters--even at the subatomic level
• Life is a vast web of interconnections where cooperation and participation are required
• Chaos and change are the only route to transformation

In this expanded edition, Wheatley provides examples of how non-linear networks and self-organizing systems are flourishing in the modern world. In the midst of turbulence, Wheatley shows, we create work and lives rich in meaning.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1077 KB
  • Print Length: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 3 edition (1 Sep 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BYGU8S8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #77,247 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired and inspirational 16 Jan 2010
I enjoyed the book immensely and heartily recommend it to anyone wishing to challenge the way they see things, frustrated at the failure of current approaches to improvement or bemused by a world that fails to make any real sense.

The `new science' of the title are the advances in physics, biology, chemistry, quantum physics and elsewhere that reflect a change in understanding about how the world works.

Underpinning the book Margaret uses the contrast between the perspectives of this new science and that of traditional or Newtonian Science.

Her argument is that Newtonian Science served a purpose, but was always founded on compromise. A Newtonian view of the world is one appropriate to understanding the world through static snapshots and approximations. It creates a world that is separated and disconnected, a world based on prediction and knowing and on clearly defined roles of cause and effect.

Modern scientific thinking increasingly recognises the interconnected nature of the world, the reality that nothing exists in isolation, that cause and effect are illusions that exist only in a dissected world, and thus we live in a world in which we must foresake certainty and understand probabilities.

Margaret asserts that in attempting to give itself credence Business Management has adopted the artefacts of science, the techniques of measurement and of analysis. But this scientific approach is deeply rooted in a Newtonian view of the world, a view that is increasingly irrelevant as the world becomes ever more deeply interconnected.

If you are looking for some quick answers, tools and techniques, or wish to remain cosy in your current thinking, this is a book to avoid. If however you need room on your bookshelf, this might convince you to discard your current library of business books and perhaps your current thinking. An inspirational read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  67 reviews
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Garbage 30 Nov 2008
By Rick - Published on
I had to buy this book for a college course and I wouldn't have read it otherwise. The author tries to lull the reader into a passive state by hitting them with a bunch of science at the beginning. Its sort of like a Certs has Retsyn, so it must be good.

Once you trim away her fancy lingo, her leadership ideas offer nothing new. She says things like information must be shared by all parties, complacency is bad for organizations and communication is important. Anyone who does not know this should buy a book on common sense instead.

If you think fortune cookies have a lot of wisdom to offer, then you will love this book. If you want some real leadership guidance, you may want to buy Schein or Bolman and Deal instead.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It is not "New Science", try "New Age Science" 16 Jan 2014
By Mark - Published on
I recently completed a masters thesis in educational leadership and my supervisor wanted me to read this book because it inspired her greatly. She gave this book in the hopes that it would link my background in science to a "new" science in leadership. My background is in biology with a masters degree in zoology. The thesis dragged on, because my supervisor and I are at philosophical odds with each other.

Wheatley's book is not about science. It is "new" age metaphor and it makes absurd connections between physics and leadership. It is the woo-woo terminology that Deepak Chopra uses in his connections between science and the mystical. It was a struggle making a philosophical connection with my supervisor and I blame this book. This book influenced my supervisors way of thinking about science and it is quackery. Her views on this book is shared by many of the positive reviews I have read in here. This view is based on an illiterate understanding of what science is and what it can be and is based more on a hope that somehow science can become something more appealing of what you might want it to be. It is liked by the person who wants science to be more liberal and open to the endless possibilities. Science works largely because reality beyond your personal hormonal physiology and homeostasis is impartial to the way you might feel about it.

I admit that there is a history of reductionistic philosophy that has overextended and pushed the application of its winning principles from the law-like fabric of matter into dynamic complexity of the life sciences. The two do not match. However, we still have to use reason, logic and evidence to make inferences about theory. Science is not just about fancy terminology that makes us feel good about certain connections! Wheatley is all about the metaphor. As a practicing ecologist, I am highly familiar with the concepts of scientific research methodology. The foundations and an understanding of emergent complexity is needed in the life sciences where single cause-effect relations cannot explain the results or products stemming from multiplicative dynamic interactions. There is room in science to cover the complexity of living systems, but Wheatley is way out of her league and fails in this regard.

As a text on leadership it also promises nothing new. Leadership research is very important and something I am highly interested in. This book is one of many in the field that is written by a group of academics who are stepping out of their field of knowledge and ruining a good thing. This book is a waste of time and money. Wheatley needs to do some research on the philosophy of science. If I knew her personally I would suggest that she spend a bit of time reading Charles Pierce or Michael Ghiselin's book on the Darwinian Method. This would give her a better understanding and foundation in science before she tries to invent a "New Science"!! Even Francis Bacon's Novum Organum Scientiarum (i.e., New Method of Science) would help Wheatley out. Yuck! This book is terrible with flakey prose.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Clothes? What clothes? 25 Jun 2010
By A Johnson - Published on
I was required to purchase the hardcover edition of this book for a graduate school leadership class some years ago. At $23 for 151 pages of widely spaced text, it clearly was going for the quality over quantity market, but did not deliver. To the contrary, I was left with the conviction that I had been scammed. As I read the positive reviews on this book, the image that comes to mind is that of the populace oohing and aahing over the vivid colors and delicate textures of the Emperor's new clothes.

As other negative reviewers have commented, Wheatley's efforts to analogize from "new science" principles to management theory would be better served by a more accurate understanding of those principles. Though I'm no scientist, I've read enough to know that her descriptions of those principles were driven by the need to fit them into whatever flowery metaphor she had in mind.

I have a theory that the more often a writer uses the words "we" and "our" to define the social or cultural conditions being discussed, the more incoherent, irrational or actively anti-rational his or her ideas will be. According to Wheatley:

On equilibrium: "In a universe that is on a relentless road to death, we live in great fear. . . . In venerating equilibrium, we hide from the processes that foster life.. . . . Can we dump these thermodynamics and get to the heart of things?"

On Newtonian principles: "In our day-to-day search for order and prediction, we are driven crazy because of non-local causality. . . . The now-you-see-it, now-you-don't quality of these [elusive, fuzzy-world] boundaries will continue to drive us crazy a long as we try to delineate them. . . ."

On chaos: "[I]f we can trust the workings of chaos, we will see that the dominant shape of our organizations can be maintained if we retain clarity about the purpose and direction of the oranization. . . . We become like ancient Gaia who boldly embraced the void, knowing that from Chaos' dark depths she would always pull forth order."

Wheatley pretends to speak deep wisdom and many of her readers pretend to be able to hear it. She must be laughing all the way to the bank, while they congratulate themselves on their great discernment. As another reviewer suggested, there's just as much real wisdom to be found in a bowl of fortune cookies.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book that Changed Organization Theory Forever 6 Jun 2014
By Peter Francis Fenwick - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Meg Wheatley began her working life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea. Through the Berkana Institute, a charitable foundation which she co-founded in 1992, she has helped strengthen communities and develop leaders throughout the third world. As a management consultant she has served large and small, public and private organisations in USA, Europe and Australia. When not travelling the world helping others, she returns home to the quiet wilderness of Utah. She has two adult sons, five step-children, twenty-two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. In 2003, The American Society for Training and Development honored her for distinguished contribution to workplace learning and development and dubbed her a living legend.

Wheatley has a B.A. in History from the University of Rochester; an M.A. in Communications and Systems Thinking from New York University and an EdD from Harvard in Administration, Planning and Social Policy. She has been an Associate Professor of Management at the Marriot School of Management, Brigham Young University, and Cambridge College, Massachusetts.
As she studied and consulted, Wheatley observed a disconnect between theory and reality in our understanding of leadership and how organisations worked.
As she says in the introduction to Leadership and the New Science:
Why do so many organizations feel so lifeless?
Why do projects take so long, develop ever greater complexity, yet too often fail to achieve any truly significant results?
Why does progress, when it appears, so often come from unexpected places. Or as a result of surprises or synchronistic events that our planning had not considered?
Why does change itself, that event we’re all supposed to be “managing”, keep drowning us, relentlessly making us feel less capable and more confused?
And why have our expectations for success diminished to the point that often the best we hope for is endurance and patience to survive the frequent disruptive forces in our organizations and lives?

Leadership and the New Science is about discovering order in a chaotic world. Wheatley draws on new discoveries in biology, chaos theory, and quantum physics to develop her theories on how we can live and work well together. Relationships matter; life is a vast web of interconnections where cooperation and participation are required; chaos and change are the only route to transformation. She stresses the importance of identity, of clearly understanding the purpose of the organization:
When an organization knows who it is, what its strengths are, and what it is trying to accomplish, it can respond intelligently to changes from its environment… If people are free to make their own decisions, guided by a clear organizational identity for them to reference, the whole system develops greater coherence and strength.

She stresses the need to involve everyone who has something to contribute; and to make information readily available:
We cannot continue to use information technology and management systems as gatekeepers, excluding and predefining who needs to know what. Instead we need to evoke contribution through freedom, trusting that people can make sense of the information because they know their jobs, and they know the organizational or team purpose. Restricting information and carefully guarding it doesn't make us good managers. It just stops people doing good work… Information provides true nourishment; it enables people to do their jobs responsibly and well.

Paul Simon sang that a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. We focus on what we have decided to measure; we select the data that supports our case. We should not be surprised that the results are sub-optimal.
In Wheatley’s view:
We need a constantly expanding array of data, views and interpretations if we are to make wise sense of the world.
We need to include more and more eyes. We need to be constantly asking: “Who else should be here? Who else should be looking at this”?
She stresses the need for leaders to let go, to trust and empower their workmates:
Hierarchy and defined power are not what is important: what is critical is the availability of places for the exchange of energy…When leaders strive for equilibrium and stability by imposing control, constraining people’s freedom and inhibiting local change, they only create the conditions that threaten the organization’s survival.

Leadership and the New Science first published in 1992 is now in its third edition. It has won numerous awards and has changed the way we think about organizations.

Meg Wheatley has continued to develop her ideas through her consulting and her seminars. In addition to the new sciences, she brings to her work the wisdom and perspectives she has witnessed in other cultures and spiritual traditions. In A Simpler Way, co-authored with Myron Kellner-Rogers, she addresses the question of how could we organize human endeavor if we developed different understandings of how life organizes itself. Finding Our Way is a collection of practice-focused articles. You may find her concepts easier to comprehend if you read these works first.

Her most recent works include Perseverance, So Far From Home, and Walk Out Walk On.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read 17 Feb 2014
By Stephanie W. - Published on
I'm an undergrad who was required to read this for a learning complex organizations class and despite the negative top reviews from students, I hope that this review will offer a different insight.

I agree that Wheatley's book doesn't offer any "new" insights especially when if you read this along with Senge, but she offers a very interesting and dynamic way of looking at these key concepts. I don't have a background in science, but I think that anyone who has a physics background will have a greater appreciation for the references that she makes. That being said, by no means do you need a science background to understand her connections because she does a good job or summarizing her points.
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