Making Light Work – Rethinking the service organisation (Peter A. Johnson)


This book deconstructs popular ideas about service provision, their inherent flaws and ways in which the field might be radically rethought. It interpolates various strands inspired by thinkers including Ralph Stacey (complexity theory), Thomas Kuhn (paradigm shift) and Shalom Schwartz (values) as well as referencing theories from psychology, sociology and philosophy – for example, self-determination theory, social constructionism and existentialism. The result is a novel and challenging thesis which will be of immense value to those concerned with the delivery of good service.



For most of the 20th century the consensus around organisational configurations was dominated by ideas of control: for example, as embodied by scientific management and systems thinking. These gave us workplaces based on the idea that management-knows-best, and of measurement, targets, goals, and best practice. They also helped to cement the pervasive metaphor of the employee as a mechanism, as a sub-system; one who simply follows orders and who is a deterministic component in a non-human model. The end of the last century and these early years of the current one, have brought a tide of argument in favour of employee autonomy framed in various ways such as freedom, decision latitude, chaos, complexity science and even anarchy. Certain theorists, along with humanists, anarchists and those politically aligned to workers, strongly advocate these ideas. Their arguments to enterprise owners are that the benefits of greater staff freedoms would include innovation, novelty, agility and responsiveness.

However in the work of these theorists a persistent concern can be detected one which is sometimes laid bare by the advocates themselves. It is that on the other side of the positive and desirable outcomes of autonomy and chaos, lurks a darker sibling: destructive novelty. Free your employees and the result may not be agility and creativity rather sloth and destructiveness. Without control, many fear that there would be no tools via which to manage such malevolence. This may be one of the important reasons why the paradigm of work has resisted the call to chaos. In this book, a new approach is outlined; one which continues the flow of the arguments in favour of employee autonomy. However the author acknowledges the reality of the fear of destructive novelty, and incorporates a key concept from work psychology which he believes interacts with chaos in such a way as to reduce the risk of destructive outcomes. The theory in sum is a triptych; it describes an approach by which control, chaos, and values can be integrated in a way such that organisations could scale back the use of control and reap the myriad benefits of chaos without fearing the worst.

Additional information

Weight 0.15 kg
Dimensions 15.6 × 1.2 × 23.4 cm