Philip Whiteley's Blog

June 21, 2010

Declaring our inter-dependence

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:09 am

The Clover Practice is a remarkable book, all the more so for appearing quite straightforward at first sight. It’s focused on the individual, and how to be effective in the workplace, and to begin with it appears to be a regular tutorial on the art of assertiveness. When I reached the third of the three principles Kathleen Paris establishes, I thought I had mis-read. Where I expected to read ‘declare your independence’, it runs: ‘declare your inter-dependence’ (my emphasis). This was the first indication that something original is going on. I rather tire of ‘how to’ books that place too much of a burden on the individual to sort out their workplace context. But she strikes the right balance, warning individuals against victimhood, and blaming the context for lack of effort to achieve.

The author shows impressive cultural self-awareness in recognising how the individual hero culture of North American movies encourages the cult of the individual and the ‘hero CEO’, and to encourage real teamwork.

The first two principles, by the way, are: ‘Tell the truth, always’; and ‘Speak for yourself’ – that is, don’t put words in the mouths of other people. Telling the truth may sound a little ‘goody two-shoes’ rather than practical, but think of the billions of dollars and entire industries saved if the investment banks had come clean about the nature of securitized mortgage products, or if BP had been honest about the risks it was taking on. There are numerous other examples. I have written extensively on how organizations are best thought of as inter-connecting networks of people, held together by trust. Lies and deliberately partial truths are corrosive to this.

I have found The Clover Practice helpful directly: for example when negotiating and contracting with people whom I don’t know very well. I would recommend this as a guidebook for individuals charting difficult waters, but there are deeper implications for organizational design and philosophy. The sub-title is ‘Staying healthy in sick organizations’ and she doesn’t let the organizations off the hook.

She writes: ‘We have inherited organizations that seem purposely designed to make it hard to see outside of our own cubes. We are organized by function – marketing separated from production separated from customer service. We have rules about what level can talk to another level.’

I’m aware that a few organizations, Nokia, Southwest Airlines, WL Gore, for example, have broken out of this and embraced much more teamwork. The next step is to start to encourage shareholders and others to look at companies through this prism, rather than stick to the mono-culture of the quarterly report.



  1. Sounds like very sound advice to me. As for the workplace, so for our personal lives … we’ve been indoctrinated to fear depending on other people, whereas the healthy position is to be inter-dependent, ie to depend on others and allow them to depend on you, safe in the knowledge that, if it turns out they (or you) prove undependable, no one dies.

    Comment by Rose — June 21, 2010 @ 8:37 am | Reply

    • Thanks Rose. You are so right–The Clover Practice™ applies very well in partnerships, relationships, marriages, and families. Imagine if every upset family member sincerely asked himself or herself, “What am I doing that is contributing to this problem?” The dynamic would shift and solutions would appear.

      Comment by Kathleen Paris — September 8, 2010 @ 6:45 pm | Reply

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