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September 1, 2010

Management and Auto Body Work

Forward reviews books on business, economics and trade.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

by Matthew B. Crawford, Ph.D. The PenguinPress, 2009

What is it about motorcycles? Not since Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance have I read somethingso eloquent on the meaning of life—really,the actual meaning of life.

Matthew B. Crawford, “a philosopher and a mechanic,” was a knowledge worker in the early21st century mold—a Ph.D. and executive director of a think tank. He left after only five months to open a motorcycle repair shop. In an office, he was always tired and could not see what he did to earnhis salary. “What tangible goods or useful services was I providing to anyone?”

He found in his repair shop not just worthwhile work that he wanted to do but discovered that modern life is designed to separate us from the mechanical aptitude that made us self-reliant. “Lift the hood on some cars now,”he writes, and “essentially, there is another hood under the hood.” Some models of Mercedes don't even have a dipstick. We have become “more passive and more dependent”in relation to “our stuff.” As blue collar jobs have leftNorth America, “if you need a deck built, or your car fixed,the Chinese are no help. Because they are in China.”We literally can't take care of ourselves.

This book is not just about the joys and satisfactions of working with your hands, tangibly producing something that you can point to at the end of the day, but it is also about questioning our fundamental assumption about what a good job looks like. We all want something better for our children, but does that automatically mean that none of us should ever get our hands dirty?

We underestimate or entirely disregard the thinking part of manual labor, the problem solving and intricate logic involved in making something or fixing something.Instead, we “struggle for individual agency,” but seldom find it in an office.

Crawford concludes that we should “follow the traces of our own actions to their source.” There, we will find “some understanding of the good life,” an understanding that becomes more full as we work on practical things with others, “a sort of conversation indeed. In this conversation lies the potential of work to bring some measure of coherence to our lives.”

–Rebecca Rolfes

Win at Work!: TheEverybody Wins Approach to Conflict Resolution

by Diane L. Katz, Ph.D. Wiley, 2010

Do you have a senior manager who knows his stuff, but screams at people? Got a department with tremendous potential that is unrealized because the people in it can't get it together and work as a team? How about a team leader who you know is faking his production reports and taking credit for work his colleagues have done?

At one time or another we have all banged into these folks. And if we are candid, we are often baffled about how to deal with them effectively.

Dr. Diane Katz has seen them all as well, and much more in her 30-year-plus career as a human resources professional, coach, trainer, team builder and counselor to troubled companies, executives and employees. Now she has written this practical and useful guide to unraveling and resolving most any kind of human conflict in businesses large or small. The book is an easy read and a powerful problem solver. It tells great stories and offers an effective, systematic and thoughtful way to assess and work through problems and problematic behavior.

Her method is what she calls The Working Circle,and it draws on her natural talent and practical and academic expertise in conflict resolution, as well as sources as diverse as the Native American MedicineWheel, and the most contemporary lessons of social psychology and adult learning theory.

The Working Circle is an eight-step process for working through and with conflict. It was born fromDr. Katz's realization, as she puts it, “at how rarely companies offer emotionally intelligent processes for resolving conflicts.” She describes 10 major sources of the most debilitating and destructive workplace conflicts. For most executives and managers,safe to say, these will be eerily familiar.

But more important, The Working Circle offers eight key questions that, when answered honestly and clearly, can show the way through conflict to constructive resolution.Each question comes with loads of insightful examples.The stories Dr. Katz tells—from Aimee the potential whistleblower, to Alberto who cleverly defuses a raging client and Charles the bullying supervisor—are both entertaining and eye-opening in their resolution.As Dr. Katz writes, “Not only do you want to resolve the issue, you want to learn from it as well, and implement change.”

In the process, she explains how to promote values that are crucial for any business in our increasingly competitive environment. Courage, collaboration,the value of intuition and heart-felt instinct, plus the ability to take responsibility for one's actions, are essential.

“My goal is for organizations to thrive and for people to enjoy working at them and to feel valued,” she writes. Sounds like a pretty solid mission statement for any enterprise.

–Steve Lawrence