I’m privileged to be the closing keynote speaker at next month’s “Gathering of Games” in St. Louis, an annual conference which brings together practitioners of open-book management (OBM) from around the country. It’s a gathering of primarily business people who are seeking to use transparency, business metrics and employee involvement to strengthen their organizations. It’s a high-energy, “grassroots” conference led by actual practitioners of the concept, which was introduced initially in the book, The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack. OBM is a practice that has done as much to transform the culture of American business as any initiative of the past 30 years.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the invitation to speak: I was an early activist in the early days of this conference and attended for many years, often as a speaker on behalf of open-book practices being employed in my former company, Foldcraft. And I have written here previously of the Winds of Peace attempts to introduce open-book ideas to the cooperatives of Nicaragua, which often are desperate to create such an environment within their organizations. Nonetheless, I have been away from the purely business side of open books for a number of years and I was surprised when the organizers’ response to that fact was essentially, “That’s just what we want.” They were seeking a story with an even more important bottom line.
The folks at The Gathering understand precisely what I have learned first-hand in working with poor people in NIcaragua. That is, an understanding of “the game,” knowing what the rules are and how to win at it, and being able to benefit from playing it well, are not simply nice enterprise strategies. They are critical survival tactics. Moreover, the chance to participate in any collaborative economic effort is a dream. And to be an integral, contributing part of such a dream fulfills some very fundamental human needs. It’s true whether in St. Louis, Missouri or Managua, Nicaragua.
There will be many stories told at the conference about how specific practices have given employees opportunities to learn, to use their knowledge of their businesses to bring about improved sales, higher profits, fabulous bonuses for everyday employees and a more cohesive, happier workforce. But I’m willing to wager that none will match the importance or urgency of the practitioners in Nicaragua.
It’s an unexpected intersection between two seemingly different worlds, but worlds which are populated with the same human needs and desires found anywhere on earth….
Nicaraguan OBM or U.S. Style?