Doug Kirkpatrick

I’m an organizational change consultant with NuFocus Strategic Group, TEDx and keynote speaker, author, educator, and former director at the Association for Talent Development. I spent the first season of my career with Morning Star, a world leader in food production. I now engage with the Great Work Cultures, The Center for Innovative Cultures and other vibrant organizations and leaders to co-create the future of work. I’ve spoken with audiences around the world, including China, Russia, Brazil, Germany, UK, Denmark, Canada, Australia and Poland. My first book was Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization and am now writing a book on the future of work for Forbes Books.

Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
The world needs a work revolution because work remains soul-crushing for most people around the globe. Bureaucracy, like an aging boxer who refuses to retire, allows technology to dance rings around it while half-heartedly throwing the occasional tired jab of command-and-control. It’s time to put bureaucracy down for the count, and let the work revolutionaries set up the fight cards of the future.

How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
As a partner in NuFocus Strategic Group, I now speak and consult on organizational self-management throughout North America and around the world. I also share the message of organizational innovation through my book, Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization, TEDx, Huffington Post columns and numerous articles and posts. I also have an upcoming book on the future of work with Forbes Books.

Why do you do what you do?

I’m passionate about what I do for at least two reasons.

First, on the first day of first grade, our teacher asked us to color a picture of a buffalo in brown crayon. Feeling creative, I used black and brown crayons, earning a reprimand. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with the tension between organizational freedom and accountability.

Second, I was privileged to serve as the first financial controller for Morning Star, now one of the world’s leading food companies. Our founder introduced the startup team to the core principles of self-management, which we adopted immediately. At Morning Star, I learned that organizational self-management is real, it works and it drives superior business performance and engagement.

What kind of art (any medium) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
I love the art of the American West (Charles M. Russell, Frederic Remington). Russell’s most famous (and most reproduced) painting, The Wagon Boss, hangs in a place of honor at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gilcrease houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Western art. The wagon boss subject of Russell’s most famous painting is my great-great-grandfather, J.C. Adams.

What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
One specific thing my company does is to collaborate as equals on all strategic decision-making, then let people execute to the best of their ability. Everyone is free to lead and everyone is free to innovate.

What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
The discipline that has most inspired me in my work is philosophy. One of the principal exponents of philosophy in business is Dr. Peter Koestenbaum. Peter is a friend, and lives in Northern California. He recently turned 90, and still works a full-time schedule (and still publishes a Weekly Leadership Thought blog). He was the subject of a very influential Fast Company article by Polly LaBarre in 2000 titled “Do You Have the Will to Lead?”

Peter grew up in Nazi Germany, saw Hitler on parade as a young boy, moved to Venezuela with his family just before the Holocaust, went to Stanford at sixteen and got degrees in philosophy and physics. He was one of the top professors in the U.S., teaching at San Jose State for over 30 years. He co-authored, with Peter Block, an important book called Freedom and Accountability at Work, which I highly recommend.

What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
A technique that organizations should use if they want to create a more humane and/or meaningful place to work: give people lots of freedom and abandon command-and-control. Create guardrails, to be sure—and then get out of the way and let people do their jobs. A recent survey found that almost one-half of workers would give up a 20% raise for more control over their work. As Chuck Blakeman says, it’s time to give people their brains back at work.

What is one surprising thing we should know about you?
One (possibly) surprising thing: thanks to my Canadian mother, I’m a dual citizen—Canadian and American. At some San Jose Sharks games I get to stand for both national anthems!

What does your preferred work environment look like?
Preferred work environments are a beach in Kauai, or a fly-fishing cabin in Montana.

What kind of leader would you be if no one were required to pay any attention to you?
A humble leader focused on relationships, empathy and trust.

Where in the world are you?
I’m near San Francisco, California.

How can people connect with you?
Twitter: @Redshifter3
Skype: dougkirkpatrick

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