The One Sentence Summary

The way forwards for work, management and leadership is to ensure agency, dignity and respect for everyone on the payroll.

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  • This is a manifesto for teams. Instead of racing to the bottom, embracing surveillance and forcing people to show up, we have the chance to create a resilient, human organization that does work we’re proud of.
  • The author surveyed 10,000 people to ask them to describe the conditions at the best job they ever had. The top answers were:
    • I surprised myself with what I could accomplish
    • I could work independently
    • The team built something important
    • People treated me with respect
  • The book outlines three ‘songs’:
  1. The song of increase (a bold leap into possibility)
  2. The song of safety (facing existential threat, people shut down)
  3. The song of significance (creating a difference, being part of something, and doing work you are proud of)
  • Industrial capitalism (industrialism) seeks to use power to create profits.
  • Market capitalism seeks to solve problems to make a profit.
  • There are 4 types of work as a result:
  1. Surveillance (high stakes, low trust)
  2. Impersonal (low stakes, low trust)
  3. Comfort (low stakes, high trust)
  4. Significance (high stakes, high trust)
  • Significant organizations create an impact – they earn more money, attract better employees, change more lives, raise more donations, and offer better work environments.
  • When we embrace the mutual commitments of significance, we create the conditions for a shared understanding that our work is to dance with fear, which requires significance, tension and the belief that we’re doing something that matters.
  • A significant job requires us to be in two places at once. Our work is to acknowledge the present situation while working hard to change the circumstances and status of those we serve.
  • We can learn from the edges. In the extremes, we can see the choice in front of us.
  • Helpful questions to ask before we embark on something include:
    • What’s the specific change this team is going to make?
    • What’s my personal role in making this change happen?
    • What do I need to support or lead this change?
  • We have added a lot of veneer to the ugly truth of how industrial managers see their employees, but the reality hasn’t changed much: if humans are a resource, then we are here to squeeze them.


  • There is a suggested list of significance commitments:
    • We’re here to make change happen
    • We are acting with intention
    • Dignity is worth investing in
    • Tension is not the same as stress
    • Mistakes are the way forward
    • Take responsibility, give credit
    • Criticize the work, not the worker
    • Turnover is okay*
    • Mutual respect is expected
    • Do the reading
    • Get to vs. have to
    • Standards instead of obedience
    • Show your work
    • Make it better
    • Celebrate real skills

*This refers to turnover of staff, not income

  • Organization charts are brittle and create 3 main problems:
    1. People who are just doing their job might end up doing horrible things
    2. Large numbers of staff can simply wait quietly for their manager to tell them what to do.
    3. If employees are unable to act without direction, they won’t act at all.
  • The word jerk comes from an early visitor to the Ford manufacturing plant who observed that every employee seemed to be restricted to a well-defined jerk, twist or spasm, as ordered by the production line.
  • Beware false proxies. Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Or that it matters.
  • Zoom meetings need a code of conduct, including not checking email during them, looking people in the eye, and communicating ideas and emotion to find out what’s missing and improve the work via engaged conversation.
  • The definition of culture is: “People like us do things like this.”
  • If you’re not drowning, you’re a lifeguard.


  • As usual with this author the thoughts flow beautifully, but it would be useful to have a contents page and an index to find concepts once read.