Ardi, Dana. The Fall of the Alphas: The New Beta way to Connect, Collaborate, Influence – and Lead. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2013
Consultant Dana Ardi wants to change the world, one company at a time. She calls herself a “corporate anthropologist,” studying the culture of corporations, “how they grow and develop, and how the people in them shape their communities.” Ardi proposes a transformation from a competitive business world dominated by Alpha males and top-down hierarchies to a socially networked, horizontal, co-operative business model for Beta leaders. Her readable, entertaining book proposes that the knowledge economy has begun an evolutionary shift from the CEO general leading an army of followers to a new model, a facilitator/conductor leading a symphony orchestra. She writes: “Everywhere I look, the world is going Beta. My advice? Join the movement before it’s too late, and you’ll find your organization succeeding beyond your wildest dreams.”(210)
The core of the book is made up of well-written stories about the benefits of being Beta, taken mostly from her consulting experience, but augmented by some of the more famously innovative companies like Amazon, Intuit, Green Mountain Coffee, Hallmark, Starbucks and Whole Foods. It’s a persuasive argument in the end, especially when she describes the ways Beta leadership matches the demands and benefits of our increasingly interconnected, information-saturated, mobile world of work.
One impressive aspect of this accessible book is the way she tells the story of the cultural change that brought us from the agricultural epoch through the Industrial Revolution and into our new era, the Information Age. With an almost folksy storytelling style, she discusses changes in gender roles, values, and relationships between dominant leaders and their followers, whether in communities or in the workplace. Although she sometimes glissandos into witticism and obscures some of the complexities of the journey, on the whole it’s an illuminating take on human development that offers a nice perspective on what we believed, why it once worked, and why it doesn’t now.
Despite the clarity of her argument, her rhetoric is often uncomfortably oppositional, as if Alpha leaders and organizations always fail to lead by today’s standards, and Beta leaders always succeed. Alpha leaders are lonely owners, competitive corporate quarterbacks who have succeeded through self-interested individualism, creating regimented, secretive, siloed “egoSystems” of “spooky homogeneity.” She describes Beta leaders as authentic, connected, self-aware, mindful, creative, collaborative, and humble, designing innovative, happy, “ecoSystems” of strategically curated teams of diverse, empowered employees. (In both cases, I’ve used only her words to describe the two kinds of leadership.) The only Alpha advantage she acknowledges is “strategic speed.”
I tend to believe that today’s business world has room for both Alphas and Betas, because the Beta model is emergent, and sometimes unwieldy as businesses grow larger. I wish she’d allowed for more moderate ground between to take into account some of the ways businesses traditionally organized around Alpha principles of leadership are moving into Beta practices, not always an easy evolutionary shift. And she could have spent more time talking about the ways Beta leaders are tripping over, aligning with, or transforming Alpha practices in the messy middle ground we’re still negotiating.
However, I wouldn’t argue with her that Beta management and leadership styles are a leading edge today for effective marketing, organizational development, employee satisfaction and innovation. Beta leadership integrates caring, career-development and communication in more humanistic ways than Alpha’s bottom line thinking, allowing for a more holistic approach attentive to the globalized complexities of modern business. The Fall of the Alphas, a fast read full of anecdotal and entertaining narratives, and practical strategies for good Beta development, is a good provocation from a passionate advocate for transformation.