Transcribing With Intelligence

PURPLE SHARK INTERVIEWS - ART KLEINER

Welcome to Purple Shark Transcriptions' first podcast. A little while ago, I interviewed long-time Purple Shark client Art Kleiner. Art is the editor-in-chief of strategy + business, for which we're pleased to provide transcripts of some truly fascinating conversations. What follows is both the transcript of Part 1 of a two-part podcast and the link to the podcast itself. Art was so interesting, I think you'll enjoy hearing what he has to say...or reading it, if you prefer. A bonus feature is that you get to see what we mean by Verbatim Lite...

Be sure to check out the blog for this podcast; we'd love to hear your comments. And feel free to ask Art questions, discuss his ideas, or even argue with them (but please note that this is a moderated blog and we reserve the right to keep things lively, but reasonably polite).


Sharon Harkey
Welcome to Purple Shark Transcriptions first podcast. This is Sharon Harkey and today I'm interviewing long-time Purple Shark client Art Kleiner . Art is the editor-in-chief of strategy + business for which we're pleased to provide transcripts of some truly fascinating conversations. What follows is Part 1 of a two-part podcast.

Sharon Harkey
Are you ready?

Art Kleiner
I'm ready.

Sharon Harkey
Oh, good. All right, so, I was interested in, I guess, to start off with, your history. What path took you to where you are today? A nice, general question.

Art Kleiner
Right. So, another way to put it is, where am I today? And, maybe a good place to start is where I see my contribution being at the moment. I'm, as the editor of strategy + business, which is a very unusual magazine, it's published by a management consulting firm but it exists to convene points of view that are not just held by the management consulting firm. We publish about 50 percent work from inside the firm and about 50 percent from outside the firm. We're encouraged to be the place where people turn to, both as readers and as contributors to write about, or write and read about the evolution of thinking that will help industrial society move forward.

We're kind of at the pivot point in the world of business and in the world of large organizations and in the world of civilization and civilization in general in which many of the practices that companies have had up to this point have shown to be both incredibly powerful and incredibly damaging in some respects. Not just the obvious ones like unregulated and unsupervised experimentation with financial instruments, but--mortgages or what have you--but the day-to-day practices that people have been applying to the management of people and the management of assets and the management of capital and they're thinking about what a company's purpose should be and how it is governed, etc., etc., etc. All of that has been shown to be dramatically powerful in ways that weren't probably anticipated at the start of the industrial revolution, and also dramatically rife with huge positive and negative effects.

So, we are fortunate, or I'm fortunate to edit a magazine that understands that every business decision and government decision is a bet on some theory about the way the world works. And we get to write engagingly about those decisions and how people came to make them and what the effects were. So, it's a really nice place to be and it fits well with the books that I've worked on or written over the years either for myself or for other people.

Obviously, the magazine reflects my own temperament, but the more that we push the envelope on what we publish and what we do, the more we discover that readers out there are interested in it as well. As I said, I know of only two business magazines with a growing circulation right now; one is strategy + business and the other is The Economist and every other business magazine that we know of is declining in circulation. I don't know fully why, but I suspect that this emphasis on seeing the factors and forces that lie underneath the surface, that change the way the surface, that emerge as symptoms but have deeper interconnection and deeper explanations. Our ability to explain those, and keep asking about them, and keep understanding them, and bring them to a kind of clear and human scale must be what is attracting people to us because I think that's probably the thing we do best.

So, how I got here. I was a literature major in college and very interested in writing and in literary work and I sort of moved to San Francisco just after college and struggled along doing odd jobs and realized very quickly that I did not know very much about people. So, I decided to go for a graduate degree in Journalism and I applied to Berkeley and was accepted and went there. And took a year between California to move back to New York and became a typesetter, which was good because it gave me a quick introduction to the work of the world of computers. This was about 1975 and the idea--I became very familiar with what it meant to type into a computer and have something recorded in this kind of peculiar nether land. But it also allowed me to more or less make a living while I was going to graduate school and afterward.

While I was at Berkeley I studied graphic design and journalism--magazine journalism. I was just interested in learning everything I could about how magazines worked. And, I also got very interested in computers and computer communications and I became one of the very first people to use, I was sort of the second wave of people using email and computer conferencing. And we had to do a series of articles and I started doing some on computer conferencing just because I had heard about it and it sounded interesting. I was invited to get an account on a system in New Jersey that was run by Murray Truoff and Roxanne Hiltz, called the Electronic Information Exchange System. So, in 1979, I was using a terminal with suction cups that you had to plug the phone into in the back and 300 baud.

Sharon Harkey
I remember those. How many baud?

Art Kleiner
Three hundred at the beginning. There is actually a video of me demonstrating a 300-baud terminal in the Whole Earth ...

Sharon Harkey
Really?

Art Kleiner
Yeah, I should post it.

Sharon Harkey
It definitely should go up on YouTube.

Art Kleiner
Yeah, it should. Well, I don't know how many people would be interested. But, it's interesting to me, certainly. And, the terminal, incidentally was lent to me by--or given to me--by Captain Crunch, John Draper. So, I was starting to meet a lot of the early figures in the personal computer world. I was spending my Friday nights up at Lawrence Hall of Science with the FRID Kids as they called them, the teenagers who were putting together the earliest personal computers, many of whom went on to the industry. And, I was beginning to feel that, in computers--well, in 1978 I published an article called Better Than the Next Best Thing to Being There in which I posited that computer communications would probably replace the telephone system as we knew it. So, I was very prescient but I was off by about 20 years. I thought it would happen really fast.

The place I published that article was in an obscure magazine called CoEvolution Quarterly, which was published by the Whole Earth Catalog and by Stewart Brand was the editor and publisher. And I published another article with them on magazines and the history of magazines. And, as a result of that, when I left Journalism school at the end of '79, Stewart invited me to come and work with him on a big project. He was going to re-do The Whole Earth Catalog and we published a book called The Next Whole Earth Catalog. That was 600 pages. And I was given the title of research editor and, basically, I was responsible for keeping the flow of material through it and doing a lot of the writing and editing, but mostly checking up all of the sources where you could buy the books and the other tools we carried. In other words, I was the equivalent of Amazon.com. But in a paper world.

And I worked for Whole Earth for five years. I oversaw their computer and communications coverage. I facilitated, or was very involved in the creation of the WELL computer network when it started. And was also much more involved in the development of the Whole Earth Software Catalog and the Whole Earth Software Review, which was a short-lived publication that went with the software catalog.

And, I left in about 1985 because was tired of editing and I wanted to write. And I had some ideas for books I wanted to write and I had an opportunity to--an editor I knew in The New York Times Magazine, Randall Rothenberg, was interested in me writing a couple of articles about advertising and I wrote two of those. And over the course of the next year or two I wrote for them and I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian for about a year and covered business. And rapidly got sick of writing about computers, which was my sort of bread and butter for a while. But discovered that there was a really intriguing way to write about business as if it was kind of a cultural story. To write about what the culture of a company was like and how that affected the decisions it made and who was making those decisions, and it was often very difficult to do the reporting but the articles turned out to be very rewarding to do.

And, around 1986, 1987, I started spending my summers in New York and teaching at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, which was a small part of the School of the Arts that Red Burns and a couple of other people, Martin Elton, had set up to train people who would be learning to use new media. And this was in an era when new media was very expensive. And so a lot of people would go there, largely to experiment with things like closed-circuit television and very, very early personal computers and that kind of thing. And, I came in originally teaching about computers but rapidly moved to teaching about ideas and visual ideas.

And, at the same time, I met Faith Florer, who--we got married in 1987. And I was also teaching about computer communication and computer conferencing. And Stacy Horn's Echo network was originally a class project in the Computer Conferencing course I taught there. So, I was feeling very plugged in to computer communications. I was a host on CompuServe and I started getting just very tired of anything to do with computers, except for teaching. And, at the same time, I was discovering, I was getting more and more interested in management.

Soon after that I was invited to write an article about four companies that had been influenced by ideas they would have considered unthinkable. One was Royal Dutch Shell and Group Planning and the Scenario Process. And, I had already been slightly involved with them, helping them use computer conferencing. Another was General Motors and the Quality Movement. The third was Amtrak and the ideas of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. And the fourth was Dow Chemical and Corporate Environmentalism.

And, I began--all of those became threads that I ultimately followed. Based on scenario planning, I started working more closely with Peter Schwartz and others at Global Business Network and ultimately helped Peter as the consulting writer for his book The Art of the Long View. And I started teaching Scenario Planning at ITP.

At the same time my editor had recommended me to a then obscure academic at MIT who had a 1200-page manuscript that needed to be edited and I worked with him on that and contributed some ideas. And ultimately that became the best-selling book, The Fifth Discipline. And working with Peter Senge, the author of that book, I started to see that there was a whole set of ideas and approaches to management that were kind of counter-cultural. I had seen bits and pieces of them when I was at Whole Earth but I didn't really understand how they all fit together. And I thought that would be a really interesting book to write.

So, in 1990 I got a contract to write a book that right from the beginning was called The Age of Heretics. And, I originally thought I'd be writing about the years between 1970 and 1990 but, as I started looking into the history of organization development, and socio-technical systems and the quality movement and scenario planning, I soon learned that I was going to have to go back to World War II in order to understand everything and I wrote as much of it as I could in one volume. Researched a lot more than ever got into that book but, basically, published a book called The Age of Heretics in 1996. By the time that happened, I had moved to rural Ohio where Faith was getting a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and wrote most of the book from there in a very isolated town out on the Ohio/Indiana border.

At the same time, I was also working with Peter Senge on the books that became The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook series. I think, Sharon, that's probably where we first met because I think I contracted with you to do transcriptions for some of those books.

And ended up with having interviewed about 2,000 people over the course of that time. Most of the work in the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook series was ghost-written and I ghost-wrote probably four or five other books during those years. And tried to do a balance between ghost writing, some consulting, I worked with George Roth at MIT at the Center for Organizational Learning, which existed then, doing oral histories for corporations and I saw a little bit of what consulting was like first- hand. And, gradually moved into a more--kind of a combination of some organizational consulting, some writing under my own name-magazine articles, some book writing and some ghost writing. And carried that through pretty much until about 2000.

Then I started writing for strategy + business. At that point Randall Rothenberg, who had kept in touch with me over the years, had moved to a new position as editor-in-chief of strategy+business, and he asked me if I would write a column on culture and change. And so, for the next five years, it was a great column because every quarter I would explore some aspect of management thinking that, really there was a huge amount going on beneath the surface but it wasn't always visible. So, for instance, I wrote about reengineering, which to a lot of people was coming into a corporation and firing people under the guise of restructuring it. And it was. But it was also something else. It was a group of people who had come out of computer science trying to see if they could program corporations in the same way that they could program a computer. And there was a tension around how much they actually followed programming and understanding of programming science in the company the same way that they followed it in the same way they had followed it when they were computer pioneers.

I also wrote about the really interesting feud between Robert Kaplan, who created the Balanced Scorecard and Thomas Johnson, who was his co-author on a book called Relevance Lost about accounting, in which they both said the standard ways of accounting were just too limited. They were causing companies to shortchange themselves and their customers. But what was the solution? To Kaplan, the solution was to make accounting numbers much more fine-grained than they ever had been and have them track things like personnel relations and the value of brands and marketing success and closeness to the customer. In other words, creating the activity-based costing and the Balance Scorecard.

And to Johnson, the solution was to give up numbers and accounting altogether as vehicles for control and to, instead, cultivate a kind of almost innate--I want to say almost Zen-like fierce attentiveness to the world around you so that everybody was continually making things better all the time. And, you know, Kaplan's approach was much more popular and there would have been no question about who was right except that Johnson had found one company that did, in fact, do things the way he said it should be done. And that company was Toyota. And the tension between do we measure it or do we feel it and innately attune ourselves to it? "It" being the quality and value of what we do. That tension still persists today as one of the great unresolved tensions in corporate practice.

So all of, you know, I wrote about a number of business luminaries, did profiles of them, some of them had passed away like Pierre Wack, the originator of scenario planning at Royal Dutch Shell. And some of them were very much alive like Jim Collins and Hernando De Soto, the theorist behind land reform in Peru and The Mystery of Capital and quite a number of other people. Albert Chandler, the historian at Harvard and Elliott Jaques, the theorist of hierarchies and Karen Stephenson, the theorist of networks, etc.

And, ultimately, I ended up with a kind of body of work that added up to an understanding of the intellectual threads of management and this was the mid-2000s now. And, like a lot of freelancers, I was kind of struggling along.

And when you're struggling along as a freelance journalist in business, you look for the thing that's going to get you the most income, and that's a CEO biography. So, I decided I was going to get a CEO biography and I found one. He wanted to do a book on ethics and values in business and I signed up with him to ghostwrite it with him. At the end, I sort of said, "You know, the amount of money I quoted is not enough, I need to quote some more money." and he backed away. And then I was really left struggling.

And the editor who had gotten me that deal sort of felt sorry for me and she said, "I don't have any other CEO's writing books but I do have a--I know somebody who's looking for someone to write a history of a management consulting firm. And I can't tell you who the consulting firm is, but you could apply for that." So, I applied for that and I got it and there were two big surprises. The CEO who I had signed up to write for this book about ethics turned out to be in the middle of a scandal about four months later. His ideas about ethics were never fated to get a hearing. So, I dodged a bullet.

Sharon Harkey
Just as well.

Art Kleiner
Just as well. And then the book that I did get was the corporate history of Booz Allen Hamilton, which was the publisher of strategy + business. They knew who I was but I didn't know who they were going to turn out to be. So, suddenly I was writing the 90th Anniversary history of the firm that published the magazine I'd been working for for five years. And, that brought me into contact with people all through the firm and a year later, when Randall Rothenberg moved on to another role within the firm and his job became open, I was one of the people who applied for it and I was given the job despite the fact that I hadn't actually had a staff job or worked in a real company for about 20 years at that point. And it was definitely a risk. I think if I hadn't worked on the 90th Anniversary book, I probably wouldn't have gotten it. And it turned out to be-

Sharon Harkey
A risk for both of you because you hadn't been on a staff job for all those years, that's a big change.

Art Kleiner
Yeah, well, I had written about the fact that, despite all of the hype around free agents and the brand called you, etc., that actually working on a staff position is, in fact, not something to be shunned. That being connected to a large company in a position of responsibility and accountability was, in fact, one of the most creative and appropriate options for people, if they could have a decent relationship with the company.

And, two years before, I had written another book--or, published another book that had been my effort to create a best seller for myself and ghost--and do for me what I had tried through ghostwriting to do for a lot of other people. And that book hadn't quite taken off but it had had some critical success. And it was called Who Really Matters and it starts with a story. Sharon, you're allowing me to kind of keep going here so I'm going to tell the story that it starts with, which is--and describe the book. And that book-work on that book crystallized my attitude towards what organizations are now and that's where I'll sort of take us next.

Sharon Harkey
Thanks for joining us for this two-part podcast with Purple Shark client, Art Kleiner. Part 2 will air at a time yet to be determined, so please keep checking back at http://www.thepurpleshark.com. We hope to see you here again soon.