The evolution of Don's knowledge, ideas, and experience has come
through a number of multi-year periods comprising over fifty years
of development. As described below in chronological order they
- The Stanford Years
- The Army Years
- The Harvard Business School Years
- The Bechtel Years [read]
- The UCLA Years [read]
- The Consulting Years [read]
Don started preparing
for his first career, in the engineering/construction business,
by working as a carpenter's apprentice during the summer before
college. As it turned out, it was also his first
course in organization science as it gave him first-hand understanding
of organizations from the "worker's" perspective. At
the end of the summer he entered Stanford University.
Four years of engineering courses provided valuable
training in orderly thinking as well as facility with numbers
and problem solving. All of these have proved valuable for working
and consulting in the business world. In addition to academics,
he played soccer all four years and was co-captain his last two.
He was also stage manager for two Spring Shows and Business Manager
for Rams Head, the student drama group. He graduated with a BS
in Civil Engineering with Distinction, Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering
honor society, and Phi Beta Kappa.
Two years in the
Army followed, one of which was spent in Thule,
Greenland with the Corps of Engineers managing civilian contractors.
Military experience is, of course, valuable exposure to a very
specific type of organization. The Thule period also allowed him
to learn about how people deal with very special conditions.
Harvard Business School Years
Don entered the Harvard
Business School in the fall of 1959 after his release from the
Army. Although he did not know it, he was about
to be introduced to organization science and to begin his "formal"
education in it. This was because the Business School introduced
him to the human side of business, something his all-engineering
work at Stanford had not exposed him to at all. He became what
was called an "Ad Praccer."
This somewhat derogatory name came from the title
of a first year, required course, Administrative Practices, often
called these days Organizational Behavior. Those who were totally
taken by this course and went on to pursue the subject during
their second year were called Ad Praccers.
In the second year he took the only two half-year
organizational courses offered. The rest of the business school
curriculum built a strong foundation for understanding and working
with top-level clients in all functional areas. He emerged from
the "B" school with an MBA with Distinction and designation
as a Baker Scholar, those in the top five percent of the class.
Don joined Bechtel
Corporation upon graduation from HBS in 1960.
The next ten years saw he and his wife and their growing family
moving many times up and down the West Coast and to the East as
he received a broad range of experience including:
- Project Manager - Refinery and Chemical Division
- Corporate Studies - Corporate Overhead Project Team
- Project Cost and Schedule Manager - Refinery and Chemical
- Assistant to Vice President - Refinery and Chemical Division
- Field Superintendent - Refinery and Chemical Division
- Contract Management Engineer - Pipeline Division
- Project Cost Engineer - Refinery and Chemical Division
- Engineering Management Engineer - Pipeline Division
- Engineering Designer - Power Division, Refinery and Chemical
Although one might ask how this kind of experience
is relevant to organization consulting work, it has proved extremely
valuable for a number of reasons including:
- Engineering work taught him to think logically, clearly,
and, especially, in process terms.
- He was involved in considerable project estimating, cost control,
and planning work-all providing knowledge and skills essential
to dealing with many client situations.
- He was exposed to people from all levels and types of work
from Oklahoma pipe liners, to graduate engineers, to company
presidents, and everything in between. This helped prepare him
for working with any kind of client population.
- He worked at a number of different levels of responsibility
from designer, to estimator, to superintendent, to project manager
preparing him to work with clients of virtually any kind and
to understand organizations from many viewpoints.
- Engineering/construction is the quintessential "project"
business so he learned project thinking, methods, and management
from the ground up. This prepared him not only for carrying
out consulting projects but also for working with project-oriented
people of all types.
- He was exposed to different locales and their cultures helping
him to feel comfortable with people anywhere.
As interesting and varied as this career was,
Don finally sensed that it was somehow not for him. During this
time that old Ad Praccer personality was growing. He found the
life unfulfilling and saw that most of the people around him were
unhappy and unfulfilled. After ten years with Bechtel, he decided
to leave and start on a different path.
In 1970 Don entered
the UCLA School of Business doctoral program in the Behavioral
Science area, which could more accurately be called Organization
Science. At that time the UCLA department was
at the forefront of studying organizational design, and several
members of the faculty as well as some of the doctoral students
were working closely with Charles Krone at Procter and Gamble.
"Charlie" was in the process of developing
some of the earliest self-managed work team plants in the world.
During Don's time in the program, he came to know Charlie and
his work very well. At the same time, though, his dissertation
chairman was a strong organization theorist so he was immersed
in both the theory and practice of Organization Science.
Besides his major field, Don had two minors also
extremely relevant to Organization Science. At the time, UCLA
was one of the foremost schools in Socio-Technical Systems-viewing
organizations as a social system formed in conjunction with a
technology system. In addition, this department was involved in
the Quality of Work Life movement so that he was also exposed
in considerable depth to early efforts to improve work life in
Don realized, however, that organizational life
involves individuals living their personal lives in relationship
with others. He therefore designed his own second minor, Dyadic
Relationships. Through this he was able to study the psychology
of individuals and relationships. His major field studies also
included learning about relationships as he was trained to lead
what were then called "T Groups" or "Sensitivity
Training." This was actually the precursor to the encounter
group era but in this case was designed for leadership training,
team building, and for helping people understand their own behavior
After four years in residence at UCLA, Don's family
moved back to their home in Northern California where he finished
writing his dissertation Towards an Understanding of Vitality
in Organizations. In it he studied the relationship between
the sense of purpose held by members of an organization and the
vitality or aliveness in the organization. In August of 1975 his
chairman called and told him his committee had signed off on his
dissertation. He was now a Ph. D. in Management in Behavioral
Yates and Associates, Inc. in 1976. His list
of clients shows the wide range of experiences he
has had since then. For about three years he was involved with
Charlie Krone in a network of independent consultants Charlie
had brought together under the name of Krone Associates.
Charlie taught his ideas not only about organizations
but also about thinking and the processes
of thinking. It was through this work that Don came to realize
the importance of thinking in creating extraordinary organizations.
As a result, improving the quality of thinking of everyone involved
is a central feature of his consulting process.
In the last few years Don has been working to
develop a new paradigm—the set of beliefs through which
we look at the world—for thinking about organizations. He
has had three articles published and continues to work towards
a book on creating Extraordinary Organizations for the 21st Century.
Although these ideas are still well ahead of the
way most people think about the world of work, they provide him
with a way to keep his thinking creative and on the leading edge.
Having a new paradigm "under construction" allows him
to help his clients create and capture more opportunities than
they ever believed possible.