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A Fresh Perspective from Mintzberg

Since 1973, with his ground-breaking "The Nature of Managerial Work", Henry Mintzberg has been a refreshing force in understanding management and organizations. His unique approach? Observing what managers actually do, rather than theorizing what they should do. Contrary to the perception of managers as reflective planners, Mintzberg showed they are dynamic actors, constantly adapting and tackling challenges on the go.

In today's management literature, we often encounter an idealized vision of management, rather than its gritty reality. Mintzberg critiques this, especially the widespread portrayal of organizations as monolithic, bureaucratic entities - his so-called "Programmed Machine" organizations. He contends this is merely one of seven organizational archetypes, and your own organization (perhaps) does not run like a machine.

Decoding Organizations with Mintzberg's Latest Book

Mintzberg's latest offering, "Understanding Organizations…Finally!," synthesizes half a century of his wisdom on organizational dynamics. This concise, 120-page book deconstructs the seven organizational types, coordination mechanisms, and elements of organizational design, among other critical aspects. It's an enjoyable and easy read, so much so that it’s easy to overlook the profundity of the concepts within. You will have come across many management authors who have taken a 5-page idea and fluffed it into a 300-page book. Mintzberg does the opposite, neatly condensing what could be many volumes into a single, approachable work.

Applying Mintzberg’s Insights

As always Mintzberg transcends the typical 'five-step how-to' formula of management guides, instead providing a nuanced depiction of organizational reality. The appeal of a simple formula is hard to resist—even when we know it probably won’t work. What’s the appeal of something nuanced? Well, I always recall what Royal Dutch Shell's Arie de Geus said about the ideas of psychologist William Stern.  Stern thought of living beings as entities striving to fulfill themselves. De Geus felt the same way about organizations. He said, "I cannot point to any specific decision that emerged from it, but it coloured every decision I took and every move I made” (see The Living Company: Habits of Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment). I think you’ll find that if you read Mintzberg, and absorb his perspective, then it will colour every decision you make.

It’s Time to Call a Friend

To get the most from Mintzberg's insights, engage with the book chapter by chapter, reflecting on its relevance to your organization. Discuss these insights with a friend. Even if they are not reading the book there is nothing like having a good listener to help you cement your understanding. Phil LeNir, who collaborates with Mintzberg in CoachingOurselves, says we learn by talking. So don’t just read Understanding Organizations…Finally! Talk about it to anyone who will listen.



David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, specializes in guiding HR professionals in navigating AI-related challenges. Interested in exploring this further? Connect with David Creelman on LinkedIn or email him at


Message from Mintzberg:

Our Japanese agent informs me that the Japanese edition of UNDERSTANDING ORGANIZATIONS, FINALLY is scheduled to be published in July.

To purchase copies, please contact our agent at yukako-sakamoto, due to the language barrier Yukako will be the liaison with the publisher.


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