The CR4 Book Club Blog

The CR4 Book Club

The CR4 Book Club is a forum to discuss fiction and non-fiction books that have science, engineering or technology thematic elements. The club will read and discuss several books a year. All CR4 users are invited to participate. Look out for book announcements and the ensuing discussions that follow, but beware of potential spoilers!

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Book Review: A New Leadership Ethos (Part 3)

Posted February 15, 2010 12:01 AM by Steve Melito

"Organizations can rarely be built to last but generally only grown to achieve," writes Dr. Marc van der Erve in A New Leadership Ethos: The Ability to Predict. A student of science and sociology, Dr. van der Erve roots his writings in the deep, rich soils of chaos theory, thermodynamics, and Darwinian evolution. The result, a flowering called "the theory of Emzine", is designed to provide leaders with the ability to repeat organizational successes and foresee the future. This ability to predict – and the wisdom to know when to change course or even step aside – is part of the "moral competence" of leaders.

Beyond Case Studies

Part 1 and Part 2 of this book review examined Marc van der Erve's analysis of four types of business leaders: transformers, builders, growers, and confronters. An analysis of Apple Computer, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and General Electric (GE) afforded three valuable case studies. The third and final part of this book review seeks the heart of A New Leadership Ethos and examines the boldest of van der Erve's claims – the very point captured in the book's title – that the distinguishing characteristic of our time is the ability to predict.

The Theory of Emzine

Energy, environment, and evolution underlie the Theory of Emzine, a portmanteau of the words "existential manifold" and "zine". Such a naming convention may seem ponderous, but Emzine's tenets are straightforward. "All observable facts", writes Marc van der Erve, "are forms of organization". In other words, everything from atoms to Apple Computer is an organization. Although some organizations (such as markets) require leaders, others (such as layers of liquid) remain leaderless. Yet both types are "behavioral marvels that emerge spontaneously to minimize a state of inequality through the natural selection of the most efficient behavior pattern species – no matter the actors involved".

Atoms and Apple Computer

Like atoms and Apple Computer, heat flow and human organization follow a predictable pattern of inequality, the minimization of inequality, the natural selection of behavioral patterns, and the reproduction of the most efficient patterns. With markets, inequality is a matter of supply and demand. With layers of liquids, the variable is temperature. In each case, the organization's spontaneous attempts to minimize inequality lead to the natural selection of behavior patterns. In Darwinian fashion, the most efficient molecular or human behavior patterns reproduce best, leading the organization to evolve accordingly.

The Ability to Predict

"The ability to predict," continues van der Erve, rests on the observation that behavior patterns emerge in distinct stages" of environment, trigger, behavior-pattern species, and environment-sustained organization. In the case of a business, the environment is "supply-demand inequality", the trigger is "entrepreneurial leadership", the behavior-pattern species is "congruently-working people in multiple roles" and the environment-sustained organization is the business itself. For liquid layers and heat flow, the stages are an environment of temperature inequality, a trigger of surface perturbations, a behavior-pattern species of congruently-moving liquid molecules, and an environment-sustained organization of the heat flow itself.

For readers without a background (or interest) in science, A New Leadership Ethos: The Ability to Predict may seem less accessible than a business book such as Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Leaders by Jim Collins. For the more scientific-minded reader, however, van der Erve's voice is a welcome sound in a business-book market that often seems like an echo chamber.


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Anonymous Poster

Re: Book Review: A New Leadership Ethos (Part 3)

02/15/2010 1:44 PM

I enjoyed your summary of what might be considered a "new window onto our world", a window that illuminates our understanding of the origin and functioning of our world and allows us to predict and enhance its unfolding. This is ambitious stuff indeed which is why I am working on a new book (THE EMZINE PHENOMENON - A New Window Onto Our World). This novel-like book explains the subject matter through a rather frank exchange between two extraordinary individuals. Thanks, Steve!

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Re: Book Review: A New Leadership Ethos (Part 3)

02/15/2010 2:29 PM

You're most welcome, Marc! And thank you! Please let me know when you finish your new book. I'd like to read and review that one, too.

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Re: Book Review: A New Leadership Ethos (Part 3)

02/15/2010 5:32 PM

Many thanks for the great book review Moose! A nice treat during engineers' week here in the U.S.!!

Dr. van der Erve seems like a fascinating guy, and your review definitely makes me want to purchase his book. Maybe an engineering gift from my wife for my birthday in June?

I love those unifying-theory authors I frequently hear interviewed on programs like BBC World Service's The Forum, on Radio Netherlands, and that I read about right here in CR4!

Will check out the other parts of your review soon. More book reviews from authors like this one, please! :)

Many thanks again.

- Larry


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Re: Book Review: A New Leadership Ethos (Part 3)

03/28/2010 3:41 PM

I am interested in how precepts of this theory apply to the specifics of CR4 and Globalspec. I did start a thread titled What Predictions Will you Make recently, and have wondered why it got sort of mean in tone. I said on one hand predictions were easy, since we can identify trends such as the trend towards digital cameras. Then I said that needs will drive other changes and future conflicts, and solutions to those needs and conflicts. One of my sayings is: "It's my plan, and I might change it." Having created a Flag, I have strong evidence that creations take on lives of their own.

I suppose if we know more, we can predict more, but there are throughout history constants. Political scientists like Grotius in 425BC predicted that you are more likely to go to war with people you do business with, than those whom you are isolated from, for instance. Trade patterns between the Colonies and England, and Japan and the US prior to war support this. How this might shake out in relation to the relationship between China, and the US recently, remains an important and troubling question. Obviously issues of who controls the oil, has influenced current wars. Water is gaining influence as a simple need with dramatic influence.

In markets I may be prompted to divide the new from the old and posit that new markets of transformational products call on different skills and personalities, than old, and constant markets.

There is some evidence that organizations devolve into mediocrity. Xerox comes to mind. HP knocks at the door. Kodak is a shadow of itself.

For simplification ask yourself how one becomes a King. One becomes a King through Inheritance, Usurpation, or Vision.

The Urbanization of the world is pointing populations and organizations towards very serious inequalities revolving around food and water that are skewed by corporations who have wrested control of supply lines that are unsustainable.

Imagine the price of food in your local supermarket if the oil ran out tomorrow.

You don't get wise because you got old, you get old because you were wise.
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