BRAVE NEW WORK with Aaron Dignan

Audio production by James Ede, Be Heard

Today, on the CultureLab podcast, we welcome Aaron Dignan – the author of one of my favorite business books of the past few years – Brave New Work and the founder of the Ready.

If you feel like the way we work hasn’t worked for a while and if you are curious about what new ways of working we could adopt, you’ll enjoy this conversation.

In this interview, Aaron and I talk about why scale and bureaucracy that once made companies strong have become huge liabilities. Today, it’s the companies that operate with transparency, autonomy, decentralization, and empowerment that are better positioned to navigate disruptive changes.

Our conversation was set in the context of the current events, especially the COVID-19 pandemic. And while there’s a lot of tragedy happening right now, Aaron believes that there’s a lot of promise in this moment as well. He says that the current disruption has challenged a lot of assumptions that we hold about trust, remote work and empowerment. It looks like we have been presented with a unique opportunity to rethink the way we work and renegotiate our social contracts. Now it’s up to us to take advantage of this opportunity.

Episode Highlights

Here are some of the themes that we explored:

  • Patterns than Aaron sees in business during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Common characteristics of the businesses that have not been adversely affected by the pandemic
  • What it means to be people-first and complexity conscious
  • How to bring your company’s purpose to life for people at all levels of the organization
  • The benefits of approaching role clarity as a spectrum
  • The difference between a permission-based system and a constraint-based system
  • The alternative to startup chaos or end up bureaucracy
  • The dangers of trying to make decisions by consensus and what the best alternative is
  • The liberating and empowering ideas of “just enough,” “safe to try,” and “good enough”
  • Getting away from the idea of functional division to functional integration where all the skills you need are in the same unit
  • Tapping into the collective wisdom of your team to find the best structure for your organization
  • Organizational debt and how it can hold your company back from becoming agile and innovative
  • The value of experimentation in discovering what actually works best for your company
  • The potential meaning of the resurgence of the autocratic leadership in many organizations today
  • How the current crisis challenges a lot of our assumptions about work
  • How can a candidate glean information – before or during an interview – to determine if the company they are applying for is an evolutionary organization
  • The best question that you can ask your team members to start cultivating a culture that brings your vision to life

Listen to the interview in the player below or on iTunes. If you like what you hear, please leave a review, and it may be featured on a future episode.

Audio production by James Ede, Be Heard

More about Aaron Dignan

Everywhere he looks, Aaron Dignan sees the same phenomenon. Our most trusted and important institutions—in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change. For the past ten years, he has studied organizations and teams with a new way of working that prioritizes adaptivity and autonomy over efficiency and control. Aaron contends that teams everywhere need to join them in the future of work.

As the founder of The Ready —a global organizational transformation and coaching practice—he helps companies large and small adopt new forms of self-organization and dynamic teaming. Clients include GE, Kaplan, Lloyds Banking Group, Microsoft, Citibank, FreshDirect, Hyatt, Airbnb, Bloomin’ Brands, Charles Schwab, PG&E, Fidelity, New York Public Radio, and charity: water.

Dignan is an active angel investor and helps build partnerships between the startups and end-ups he advises. He’s also a co-founder of And he has sat on advisory boards for GE, American Express, PepsiCo, and Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, as well as the board of directors for Smashburger. He is the author of Game Frame (Free Press, 2011) and Brave New Work (Portfolio 2019).

Books Mentioned in this Episode

The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor
Organize for Complexity. How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization by Niels Pflaeging
Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux

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