The Culture Club Book club

Book club | 03.04.2019

Brave New Work – Aaron Dignan

Our book shelf is always bursting at the seams with the latest reads. So, in the spirit of sharing, we decided to create a book club. Read on for our review of ‘Brave New Work’ by Aaron Dignan.

What is Brave New Work all about?

It’s April, spring has sprung (kind of?!) and it’s the third instalment of the #culturebookclub with Brave New Work, by Aaron Dignan

Last month I went to hear Aaron Dignan talk about how the way we work isn’t working. He gave a whistle-stop tour of his book that falls in to three parts and picks apart the stuff that’s getting in the way of us doing the best work of our lives:

  • The future of work: The way we work is broken and we need to change it
  • Operating system: A look at the components of the organisational ‘operating system’ and how it needs to evolve
  • The change: Calling to change how we change by forgetting everything we know about cultural transformation

Each part blends theory and practice through a selection of real examples from different organisations across the world. It’s full of tips and ideas that help you to think about your own experiences and how you can start to shape the future of work in your own company.

Light bulb moments

I’ll take away lots of practical things from this book, but two things stood out for me:

1. Roundabouts vs Traffic lights

These are two ways (or operating systems) that ensure traffic flows through a junction with minimal accidents. While they both meet the same objective, each one is built on different assumptions.

The traffic light operating system assumes people can’t be trusted to cross the junction themselves – they need to be told when to go and when to stop. They take all thinking out of the process and manage it through clear instruction.

The roundabout approach makes the assumption that people can use judgement and trust each other to go and stop when it’s right to do so. They require people do to what people do best; think, use judgement, make decisions and trust each other.

As it turns out, roundabouts are the most effective way of managing traffic (in terms of safety and volume). Thinking about businesses and where we work today, companies should ditch the command and control of traffic lights and be roundabouts, operating on trust and autonomy. Everything that works in organisations seems to fall back to these two things.

2. Culture

“Culture is like a shadow: You cannot change it, but it changes all the time. Culture is read only”

Niels Pflaeging


I like the thought of culture being the shadow that we all cast. It’s not a thing that we can control, but a reflection of the things we do and stuff we say every day. Culture emerges from everything that we do collectively. So, if we want to cast a different shadow, we have to start by doing things differently.