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The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office [Paperback]

Ray Fisman , Tim Sullivan

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The Org The world is full of organizational cynics. Look around. Heck, look in the mirror. We sit in our cubes, adjust our chairs, sharpen our pencils and stare at our computer screens with the sense that we're immersed in dysfunction. We could, we're sure, do a far better job of running things if we were given the chance. But we know we won't get the chance and so sink into doubt, distrust, and pessimism... Full description

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.0 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Org is a triumph 12 Jan 2013
By Joshua Gans - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is no understatement to say that the business book market is saturated. Most of it is not nearly of the quality that I would comfortably hand or recommend those books to MBA students; which is incredible since MBA students and alumni are invariably the target market for such books. Most of those books steer clear of sensible economic theory and also the use of non-anecdotal evidence which does not help one bit.

But there are books worth recommending and they lie on a frontier. They can be classified along two dimensions. The first is the probability that what is contained in the book is actually correct; which can be high or low. The second is whether the book "makes you think." One dimension does not imply the other. For instance, much of Malcolm Gladwell's writings make you think but have a relatively low probability of actually being correct. Josh Lerner's recent outing on The Architecture of Innovation falls into the opposite camp: it is evidence-based and highly likely to be correct but doesn't put forward a stunning new hypothesis that makes you think. Sometimes one author can provide something in both camps. Tim Harford's The Logic of Life falls into the highly like to be correct camp while his recent book Adapt, falls into the make you think camp. Sometimes a book hits both marks such as Nudge or Thinking, Fast and Slow but they are very rare.

The Org by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan falls well into the required reading for MBAs set. Indeed, I believe it will be THE required reading on the subject of organisational economics. It seeks to uncover why organisations are, well, organised the way they are. From reporting structures to CEO perks, from culture to the unintended consequences of incentives, Fisman and Sullivan provide a clear exposition of economic theory and relate it to proper, large data-set evidence on organisational operation. For that reason, it falls squarely into the "highly probably to be correct" camp. Moreover, it does this by framing the theory and evidence around stories that are themselves grounded in highly detailed case studies. There is no cuteness here, just on-point exposition of how offices work.

The trade-off for being rigorous is that you do not get to put forward a speculative hypothesis about the evolution of organisations and the way managers should manage in the future. Instead, there is a resignation to the world. Yes, to be sure, organisations can be annoying but Fisman and Sullivan want you to understand that there is a silver lining to your frustration and in most cases you should just suck it up. That is not an inspiring message but it can make you more comfortable with the status quo. And let's face it, there is nothing more frustrating than some manager trying to re-organise things based on some new fangled and probably wrong managerial theory. In that way, The Org provides the fodder for those who want to ground decisions in evidence and gives them the perspective to push back on debates that might lead to costly excursions.

So I think every MBA student is going to be handed this book and it will become a classic staple of management education. But what about the rest of us? Is this worth reading? The answer is a qualified yes. It is beautifully written and the stories themselves, especially if you are not a teacher of organisational economics, are fresh and should be part of your own knowledge. But in terms of interest my belief is that if you like Downton Abbey, then you are going to appreciate your time with The Org. Now it may seem a stretch to draw a line from a British TV soap opera about 1920s aristocracy to a book on organisational economics but, in fact, both sit on the same foundations. Downton Abbey, at its core, is a rationalisation of a particular -- I guess almost feudal -- organisational form and all the intricacies of the power structure, information flows (including gossip) and response to external pressures that that organisation takes. The Org provides the same picture but just for a more modern set of organisations. They are two sides of the same coin.
37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You have to accept the org as it is 8 Jan 2013
By David Wong - Published on
I have to admit, I'm just a lowly cubicle dweller who got angry, frustrated and confused all at the same time about the prevalence of dysfunctions in my org, so I hoped to get some inspiration or explanation as to the reason of my daily sufferings with this book.

The book in general is smoothly prosed and made for a pleasant reading. I found a lot of interesting anecdotes, and there were explanations for many facets of organizational phenomenons. But the general flow of the books appears rather superficial and (this may just be my personal feeling), apologetic -- there are so many wrongs and dysfunctions an org can have, but this is already the best in all possible worlds. There was little discussion about what can be done to correct the dysfunctions, or how org can be improved in general.

Quoting from the penultimate chapter of this book, "If there's one message to take away from this book, it's that a glass half full may be the best you can hope for." A rather depressing thought to the interchangeable cogs-and-wheels of the org indeed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quality Introduction to Organizational Econ 14 Aug 2013
By Peter Orler - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I came across an excerpt in the WSJ from The Org and, as I was doing some undergrad course work on organizational economics, I figured I would give it a read. I found the book to very accessible and a nice take on the purpose behind the structure of organizations. Some observations seem trivial, but this is the case for most topics in economics. It was also helpful as someone approaching graduation and entry into the workforce. I would recommend it to those interested in organizational economics and behavior, as well as those who might be frustrated with or looking to better understand their own workplace and corporate structure. The authors rely on a lot of interesting anecdotes and so the book is not very technical in nature. This really fit what I was looking for and made the book a quick read, but I'm sure it would be less satisfying for someone with a graduate degree in the social sciences.
17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the worst business book ever written 28 Feb 2013
By Jim Tenuto - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Org is perhaps the worst business book ever written, a derivative collection of warmed over gruel. Every example and anecdote has been told before, usually with more competency. Steve Jobs, Chainsaw Al Dunlop, McDonald's, Skunk Works, Sandy Weill...they all appear in these pages. Thin soup indeed.

If "Friends" was the television show about nothing then THE ORG is the book about nothing. There is no central theme, no remedy offered, no game plan to improve your business. The subtitle: "The Underlying Logic of the Office" left me perplexed. I found no logic, nor coherent thought.

The authors seem singularly unequal to the task of writing a business book. One is an academic with no business experience (excuse me, he did work for the World Bank for a year...but I repeat myself) and the other lives in the hothouse world of publishing. This lack of real world experience does not restrict their inane pronouncements. In particular their characterization of the U.S. Army could not have been more wrong. The give a nod to the "asymmetric battlefield" while continuing to posit the Army as a hide-bound organization "bounded by rules too numerous to mention, rules that border on the nonsensical." It is clear that neither has spent a day in uniform. Having no direct knowledge never prevented the authors from weighing in on the book's multiple subjects.

What is nonsensical is this book with its mind numbing chapter on how Methodist ministers poach "sheep" from other religious flocks. Also offered for the reader's consideration are the inexplicable "incentives" proffered by the Baltimore Police or the quoting fictional movies to drive home a point. Especially irksome is the chapter "The View from the Corner Office", an extended apologia for obscene CEO pay. The descriptions of the other C-suite roles (Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, etc.) are so simplistic that they are laughable. Finally, the authors' examination of culture is both facile and cynical, proving they have never been involved in any organization that truly has and lives a culture.

I have worked with over 100 companies in the last 17 years with most of that time being spent with entrepreneurial owners. Those companies include a number of businesses that live and die in the fast-paced world of technology and the web. Never once did I ever hear the word "org" used to describe a company. The title of this book is like giving yourself a nickname. It is a bow to the faux hipness that the tone of the book reinforces.

I read this book so you won't have to.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars still waiting for the so what 11 Nov 2013
By patsy_q - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I was looking forward to this book. It does haves lot of interesting anecdotes but there is no big idea. I still don't know what the org is supposed to be. There was a lot of meandering through West Point and HP, but I wasn't entirely sure why the authors took this route. Also I have read some of the research they cite, and at times found myself saying, "That's not what they said!" A good start but they needed a more ruthless editor.
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