The Ship of Theseus

The other day I read something about a broom that someone had used for 20 years and during the period it had needed 7 new handles and 8 new heads. The question was 'Is it the same broom as it was when it was bought?' Apparently this is a variant of the philosophical paradox the 'Ship of Theseus'. (90 second explanation here. 8 minute explanation here).

It seemed relevant as I'm gearing myself up to write the 3rd edition of my book Organisation Design: Engaging with Change. The first edition was published in 2004 and the second in 2014. Although I'd promised myself and my family I'd never write another book after that second edition I let myself be persuaded by the editor who assured me that 'I would expect updating for a third edition to be a smaller job than it was previously. The jump from first to second edition saw a big overhaul of the text (given that almost a decade had passed), while I imagine that the crucial changes this time around would be more manageable.'

The editor asked me to suggest what I would do differently in a third edition – which was the easy bit – and then sent these ideas + a copy of the second edition to 5 reviewers asking whether a third edition should go ahead.

Now comes the hard bit, because I've just thoroughly read the reviews and although I see that the reviewers feel a 3rd edition is a good idea this is caveated by statements on the lines of 'If substantially revised.' So it seems that 2 years is the new 10 years in terms of organisation design.

The suggestions on the substantial revisions seem to boil down to:

a) Be clearer about the target audience – am I writing for a student on a business studies/organisation design course who needs more of a text book or for an OD practitioner who needs more of the practical application and tools?

b)In either case reviewers felt the book would benefit from a connection 'to the fundamental conceptual building blocks of organisation design and the underlying theories as well as current [evidence based] research in the field'.

c) Include less on the UK and more on international and global organisations – with an emphasis on: innovative forms of organising, disruptive industries, new business development and market shifts, the 24/7/365 organisation, organisation design technology, use of big data/analytics, neuro-science and behavioural economics. Some of these I had on my list already but additional to the reviewers suggestions I think I need to add or introduce info on:

  • Business strategy, target operating models and business capabilities
  • The role of leaders in organisation design work
  • Designing ethical, diverse and inclusive organisations. (There's very little on ethics in org design or how to, for example, design gender parity into orgs)
  • Evaluating the success of org design activity

c) Underplay the 5-stage model for organisation design that organises the chapters in the 2nd edition book in favour of an approach that recognises 'the inevitability of the need for adaptation and customisation' and the interdependence of organisation design and organisation development.

Most helpfully 2 reviewers gave extensive chapter-by-chapter suggestions on how to make these revisions and the others made less extensive but equally useful suggestions. But I'm left thinking why did I agree to do this? Writing the third edition now seems akin to the task of replacing a great deal more planks on the Ship of Theseus than I thought. Will it still be the original book or will I be writing a new book (with the level of effort that involves?) Let me know?

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