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What Is Open Book Management?

Question: Love your piece on Jack Stack and SRC Holdings (watch here and here). I’m interested in the open book management policy. Is there more info somewhere on how to do that with staff — does one share ALL financial info etc?

Paul Solman: Lots more information, all over the Internet, including a Wikipedia entry. The phrase itself was coined by John Case in 1993 after both he and fellow Inc. magazine writer Bo Burlingham had been introduced to Jack Stack and SRC. (It was Bo who called me in the late ’80s and said, approximately: “There’s a story you have to do.” It was the story of Stack and his Great Game of Business, which has become its own spin-off company, teaching open-book techniques to small businesses. Like Yellow Dot Designs, perhaps?

An interesting side note (or at least it’s interesting to me): Burlingham, Case and for that matter your humble economics correspondent, were all left-wing journalists in the 1970s — “left-wing” in the original sense of the term: in favor, that is, of more, rather than less, equality of income and wealth. (The term comes from the French National Assembly of 1789, where the clergy and nobility sat on the right; the bourgeoisie, representing common society and its economic complaints, on the left.) We were all friends as well.

What’s interesting is that in the 1980s, small business became the place where Burlingham and Case found a vibrant expression of their economic idealism. Jack Stack, with whom Burlingham has long collaborated, is a Republican who was offered a job in the Bush II administration. Burlingham still writes for Inc. magazine and is best known, most recently, for his 2005 book Small Giants: Companies that Choose to Be Great Instead of Big. John Case’s latest book, written with Karen Berman and Joe Knight, is Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean.

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