by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman

Compiled by Richard Loveless


My  notes from reading, Feb.-March 1998


p. xv...leadership and good groups are not separate phenomenon


...the most exciting groups result from mutually respectful marriage between an able leader and an assemblage of extraordinary people


...groups become great only when everyone in them is free to do his or her absolute best


...role of great groups is to achieve great things and to experience the joy and personal transformations that such accomplishment brings


p.3...we have to recognize a new paradigm; not great leaders alone, but great leaders who exist in a fertile relationship with great groups...can achieve something together, they can’t achieve alone


p.4...groups seem to be most successful when undertaking tangible projects


p.8-9 ...great groups are very different from mundane groups--GG rarely have morale problems, intrinsically motivated for the most part the people are buoyed by the joy of problem solving


p. 9...every great group is extraordinary in its own way--yet all have much in common


p.10...for example--tend to do brilliant work in spartan even shabby surroundings


GG commonalties:


(1) extraordinary groups-tend to lose their way when they lose their leader (a strong visionary head)

(2) GG tend to be collegial and non-hierarchical, propelled by singularly competent individuals who often have an anti-authoritarian streak

(3) each leader has keen eye for talent--good leaders become magnets for talent

(4) GG just seem to grow

(5) but great groups are made as well by (1) recruiting the right genius and (2) unafraid of hiring someone better than yourself,  yet with excellence in ability to work with others

...pursuing a common dream instead of a purely personal vision

(6) mostly young 35 or under

(7) GG are rarely stodgy good old boys clubs--typically they are playful, decidedly adolescent sub-cultures


p. 14...**concurrance with interest of Kerr and Milton, supports some research that women tend not to participate in GG’s.


(8) lack of experience can be an asset, not a liability-”do not usually know what’s impossible...” Berlioz said of St. Saien, “all he lacks is inexperience.”

(9) GG’s often show evidence of collective denial. Denial can obscure obstacles and stiffen resolve. It can liberate.

(10) GG’s are not realistic places...they are exuberant, irrational, but optimistic ones

(11) many people in great groups are tinkers...spend 1000 of hours finding out how things work, including things that didn’t exist

(12) members of great groups don’t fear technology, they embrace it

(13) all believe creating the future is really neat

(14) curiosity fuels every GG--members don’t simply solve problems--they are engaged in the process of discovery...that is its own reward

(15) members have dazzling individual skills--but have a quality that allows them both to identify significant problems, and to find creative, boundary breaking solutions rather than simplistic ones...they have hungry urgent minds

(16) many have expansive minds with interests in multiple disciplines


p. 18 ...Characteristics of Leaders


...people don’t want to be managed--they want to be led


(1) leaders must command unusual respect--be someone a greatly gifted person thinks is worthy of listening to

(2) someone who inspires trust and deserves it

(3) civility is a trait of someone who leads a group

(4) the group don’t need to be told what to do but need to be reminded occasionally to stay on task

(5) GG’s are coordinated teams of original thinkers...Kidder, “ creative collaborations are ‘webs of voluntary, mutual responsibility”--could not care less about the organizational chart--words just get in the way of the project


p.19..who succeeds in forming and ending a GG? He or she are almost always pragmatic dreamers


...they get things done, but are people with immortal longings


...extraordinary vision-dream is also a promise on the visionary’s part that the goal is attainable


p. 20 how one structures the environment must have enormous impact on creativity-individuals have to have great sense of autonomy-yet focused on the collective goal


...constraint is a major killer of creativity


...effective leaders make decisions, but they typically encourage members of the group to work as they see fit


p21...leaders encourage creativity when they take the sting out of failure--in GG’s failure is regarded as a learning experience, not a pretext for punishment


Gretsky--”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”


...strong leadership of GG’s is typical, but its form may vary---many GG have dual administrators--a visionary leader and someone who protects them from the outside world


...GG’s tend to be island societies often physically isolated


...GG’s non-conformist-rule busters--always on their own task


p. 23 ...the zeal with which people in great groups work is directly related to how effectively the leader articulates the vision and unites them


...leaders understand very basic truths about human beings---they know that we long for meaning. Without meaning, labor is time stolen from us. Leaders of groups grasp this intuitively


...we all love to compete...GG’s define themselves in terms of the enemy--sometimes but not always this is used to solidify and define the group mocking what it is not


p. 25...organizations that don’t have an enemy need to create one (while I think this is one of the more interesting ideas in the book, I have some trouble with the war model, and find it contradictory to some other attributes--but...)..or a competitive model


GG’s require a more flexible kind of leadership that has more to do with facilitating than with asserting control. Like cats, the talents can’t be herded.


..GG’s need leaders who encourage and enable


... a leader of GG allows members to discover their own greatness a true creative collaboration almost everyone, emerges with a sense of ownership


p. 29 ...GG’s is a place where dissent is encouraged, if only it serves the spirit of discovery that is at the heart of the enterprise


...ego’s in great groups are fully developed


...unlikely to regard the leader as the messiah


...GG’s often fall apart when a project is finished


p. 30 ...genius is rare, and the chance to exercise it in a dance with others is ‘rarer still’


...Karl Wallanda, the legendary tightrope walker once said, “Being on a tightrope is living; everything else is waiting.”  Most of us GG’s talent becomes alive




p. 50--great leaders don’t micro-manage--they intervene after experts on the team have solved the problem...not when they are struggling with them


p. 51 ...describing the Disney Studio; it was a very harsh place to work in, “but harsh with every kind of advantage.”


p. 56....not every talented person can work collaboratively and some can only do so when their contribution is properly acknowledged...and some talented people are simply disruptive




P. 74  Taylor--system science Lab invented a computer language called “small talk”---that reflected his insight that computers were a medium, not simply a tool--- and it should be simple enough for children to use


p. 75...Allan Kay at PARC viewed the computer as a learning environment not simply a mechanism for displaying and processing information...the notion of intuitive computing amounted to a revolution


p. 77....there are two ways one can be creative. One can sing and dance, or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.


Job’s once wrote, “The Journey is the reward.”


**p. 122--Taylor talked about two classes of disagreements---Class 1 their are disagreements in which neither party can describe the others position or Class 2 --when each side could articulate the others stance---and talks about his use of cognitive dissonance


**p. of the leaders critical tasks is to let the members hear the siren song of perfection without abandoning the goal of delivery--Like politics, successful collaboration is the science of the possible (as it is an words)


p. 141..GG’s a made up of ‘generalists’ who are more open to non-conventional approaches than narrow specialists


...”each day I found myself stretching on tiptoes to keep pace with my was an opportunity to soar.”


p. 158 ...leadership has nothing to do with title or official role...quote from Orit

Godiesh, “ most important thing a leader can have is a sense of ‘true north.’ ...a set of principles that directs him or her to what’s virtuous or right.” Leadership always comes down to a question of character.


p. 196...process is exciting--even joyous..’work was more fun than fun.’


...GG’s seemed to become better than themselves


...more than a collection of great minds--it is a miracle


Oppenheimer...”You have all these great minds but they’re all dancing to a different tune. ..bring them together in one place, isolate them, no distractions--you create an atmosphere of stress, creative stress, everyone competing to solve one problem, and you have one ringmaster.”




1. Greatness starts with superb people...original minds see things differently-spot gaps in what we know--recognize important problems as well as skill in solving them--want to do the next thing, not the last...see connections--multiple frames of reference--deep generalists, not narrow specialists---not immersed in one discipline, they can see solutions in another one...big on accomplishing anything of value.


2. Great groups and great leaders create each other---collaboration is necessary, the Lone Ranger is dead...great leaders find their greatness in great groups.


3. Great groups have a strong leader--one of the paradoxes of creative collaboration...keeps others focused--eliminates distractions, keeps hope alive

...great leaders have exquisite taste...not creative in the same sense others are, rather a curator--not to make but to choose. must have great faith in the leader’s instincts vis-à-vis the work


4. Leaders of great groups love talent and know where to find it...has confidence to recruit people better than themselves


5. GG’s are full of talented people who can hang together...although ability to work together is a pre-requisite, being an amiable person, or even a pleasant one, isn’t. GG’s are more tolerant of idiosyncrasies than ordinary ones.


6. GG’s think they are on a mission from God--they believe they are doing something vital, even holy


...leaders understand the power of rhetoric--they recruit people for crusades not jobs...


7. GG’s are islands---but an island with a bridge to the mainland...GG’s aren’t cloisters--they create a culture of their own--they have allot of fun...there is often a erotic element to working together so closely, so intensely


8. GG’s see themselves as winning underdogs


9. GG’s always have an enemy--if there is no enemy you have to make one up.


10. People in GG’s have blinders on--people are not necessarily well-rounded...they fall in love with a project---gg’s have a dark side..families often suffer and relationships pay the price


11. GG’s are opportunistic--not realistic --they can do the unthinkable--high sense of optimism that they can accomplish anything---are simultaneously analytical and confident---difficulty of task adds to the joy


12. in GG’s the right person has the right job


13. Leaders of GG’s give them what they need and free them from the rest...eliminate trivial duties--reporting need for fancy facilities--effective sharing of information...without dress codes, set hours or arbitrary regulations


...GG’s do need protection---to do things that haven’t been done before...**because great groups break new ground, they are more susceptible than others to being mis-understood, resented, even feared.


...great leaders keep stress in check


...when less attractive emotions come to the fore, they have to be dealt with before they threaten the project


...relative autonomy--never micro-manage


14. GG’s ship---successful collaborations are dreams with deadlines...don’t just talk about things...they create things...amazing original things--they are hands-on...Steve Jobs, “Real artists ship.”


15. Great work is its own reward---not money or glory--the reward is the creative work itself.


p. 217...Can creative collaborations take place for evil causes...answer is YES. Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews. (or  perhaps creating the A-bomb)


...even in a great group, you can think so hard that you forget to think. aside discussed at least two times in the book..but not mentioned in my notes...fact that as individuals grow older, become more secure in work and personal relationships, they may be less effective or even inclined to be willing to commit themselves to working in great groups. Bennis tends to think from 40 on is a likely time to reassess life values and who one wants to spend their time.