Meaning Inc.: The Rise of the 21st Century Company by Gurnek Bains et al

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Meaning Inc.: The Rise of the 21st Century Company by Gurnek Bains et al

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Gurnek Bains et al take a fresh look at the corporate world and the future of business, and present a brave new world of meaningful lives for employees and meaningful purposes for their companies. The interactive nature of the book encourages readers to reflect on the level of meaning in their working lives and provides tools and ideas to promote further growth and development in this area.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Profile Business
ISBN: 978-1861978837

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For a text that aims to give answers to the questions of what shape the future of business will take, this book starts with an awful lot of questions for the reader to ponder, and left me slightly concerned about why I'd not thought about most of them before. However, it swiftly moves on to speculation and reassurance, and paints an interesting picture about the way the future may unravel, and the importance of steering the people who contribute to big business down a happy and fulfilling path.

The main premise of the book is meaning. Meaningful leadership. Meaningful working relationships. Meaningful roles and responsibilities. Meaning, the authors argue, is what it's all about. To illustrate this point, they take a look at some of the core areas of a corporation operating in the 21st century, and show how adding meaning to that area makes for a stronger, healthier, more profitable business. Leadership, human resources, culture, branding, values and purpose all can be made meaningful, it seems. None of these concepts are new, and you'd be hard pressed to find a business text that didn't make reference to all of them, but the unique approach here - that anyone can have a happy, successful staff and a happy, successful company if they simply add a little meaning - makes it an intriguing read.

At times, it reads like a management thesis (complete with literature review and footnotes), at times like the transcripts of a therapist's client sessions. It's a business book aimed at the current and future leaders of industry but it's an accessible read made even easier through the fragmented use of case studies, character profiling and reflective quizzes. Sometimes the result is a bit too upbeat for a serious text, a Disney-fied version of the corporate world if you will, but it gets the message across.

The book talks about the old ways of the 20th century, and the need to evolve, to adapt and change to meet the challenges of the next millennium. It's a brave book that feels it can set the pace for the years to come, especially when it willingly acknowledges how the approaches of the 1980s and 1990s are already drifting out of favour. That said, it is helped by an approach that is simple, and at times verging on vague. The upside of this, of course, is that it's easy to apply the principles to anywhere you may have worked, whether it be a thriving place that incorporated Meaning Inc. values, or a less successful one that would do well to take on board what the book is saying. The numerous case studies do help illustrate the wisdom behind the message the authors preach, and all of the companies featured are big names each of us will be familiar with, such as Tesco, Apple, Microsoft and Coca-Cola. In fact, the only one I didn't recognise was the authors' own company, YSC.

There are 12 people named as having contributed significant amounts to this book. 12! No wonder the cover goes for a more succinct "Gurnek Bains et al". However, the number of authors, and who they are and what they do is notable. All work for a "corporate psychology consultancy" and have had day-to-day contact with many of the various well-known companies which feature in the book. At one point, the authors talk of "mutual advantage", the 21st century equivalent of a "win-win", and it made me wonder what "mutual advantages" were being played out in the book. Whether or not the companies featured were picked because they were previously clients of the authors is unclear, but almost all are portrayed in a very positive light, making me at times question the impartiality of the text. Perhaps it is pure coincidence. Perhaps it is down to the fact that the authors knew more about the companies in question than they might about other corporations, and therefore were more familiar with anecdotes they could weave through. But, when you also note how the two glowing references on the back cover blurb both come from the CEOs of two such companies, you can't help but wonder. This is a book which, for example, talks about the positive and forwarding thinking values of that world-dominating chain Starbucks. Surprising, perhaps, until you note that the name features on their client list. Would it ever be in a firm's best interests to criticise former clients and run the risk of alienating future ones? Probably not. Does this bias the book as a result? Possibly. But does that mean the overall message is any less valid? Not really. The points being made are sufficiently important and relevant that even without the case-studies and name-dropping, they still form a compelling argument, and corporations around the world would be wise to sit up and listen.

My thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

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Jill said:

I'm all for meaningful - but I confess to being hard-pressed to find much that is meaningful as I imagine Starbucks, although I will confess to finding more meaning in the chocolate on the end of one of their swizzle sticks than I do in most other tasks I'm forced to accomplish while out shopping.

Welcome aboard Zoë!

Caroline Burbury said:

I'm an organisation development professional (albeit new to the field) and am charged with improving alignment and employee engagement, amongst other things, in my public sector organisation. I came upon this book by chance and am absolutely thrilled with it. It is going to become my 'bible'.

I thank Zoe for her review as I was hard-pressed to find any problems with the book. It makes so much sense, is very easy to read, it's interesting, full of relevant and quotable facts and examples, inspiring and thought-provoking. I can identify with it as a person and an employee. I was hard-pressed to find the negatives, and was accordingly very interested to read Zoe's comments. Now I will be a little wary about the authors' client ramifications.

Having said that, and in agreement with the reviewer, I don't think it detracts from the extremely good sense and ideas that flow for me out of this book.

There is a comment on your site from 'Jill' who has clearly missed the point and obviously not read the book. It is not that the coffee at Starbucks is meaningful, it's that the people who work there have found meaning in their work through corporate strategies intending same, thereby leading to a highly successful, productive and profitable company. Whenever I come across a shop assistant that appears downtrodden, bored and not engaged, I think to myself 'clearly not a meaning inc. company here'.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in improving their work and their workplace, and seeing corresponding links from their workplace, to their city and even country.