Book Review: The Regenerative Business by Carol Sanford


The Regenerative Business: Redesign Work, Cultivate Human Potential, Achieve Extraordinary Outcomes 

Carol Sanford 

Nicholas Brealey, 2017 

3.5 Stars


Business literature is varied and often difficult to navigate for it’s often awash in jargon, vague directives, and simple platitudes. However, taking one’s time to separate wheat from chaff we can discover some genuine gems communicating methods and techniques of efficiency and innovation. One such book is Carol Sanford’s The Regenerative Business patiently guiding readers, insiders and laypersons alike, through effective business operation and organization.

Sanford’s great strength is her focus on just how to get the most out of individuals. However, she approaches this by not seeing individuals as objects to be manipulated for the greatest gain but rather as subjects to connect with in order to heighten the skills of all. The perspective of her premise is simple and direct effectively challenged the common wisdom of the business world, “The way most companies manage their workforces is bad for business. Not coincidentally, it’s also bad for people and for democracy, reinforcing inequality and alienation from social and democratic processes. This is because it draws on outmoded and inaccurate beliefs about human nature and what it takes to create healthy patterns of social engagement.”

Sanford’s locus becomes how to allow companies and organizations to not just overcome but eliminate toxic management practices. Work design is then the best means to regenerative business practices which acknowledge individuals “have an innate desire to grow and improve. They are social and benefit from opportunities to engage with and learn from one another. They derive a sense of meaning and purpose from contributing to something larger than themselves.” By placing the spotlight on individuals, Sanford is able to show us just how innovation across a company can become something vastly more useful and impacting than mere product variety.

Enhancing individual agency within a corporation, company, or organization is the necessary groundwork for not just innovation but a last competitiveness. The techniques for perspective change advocated by Sanford reorients business culture towards how the individual worker can give their best rather than how the corporate body can extract the best from the individual. Drawing on her extensive experience and writing in plain but commanding prose, Sanford shows how the difference is subtle but vital. In perhaps her most pragmatic chapter ‘Eliminate Thirty Toxic Business Practices,’ readers are taken through a history of a slew of business paradigms and shown how they hinder genuine innovation and how they can be avoided. 

All-in-all, the creative disruption advocated, identified, explained, and analyzed by Sanford makes The Regenerative Business a must-have in executive libraries but also a vital read for all kinds of administrators (an argument could be made that this kind of thinking is desperately needed in high education). Sanford makes her case eventually leading us to recognize with her that “A regenerative business doesn’t get into bidding wars for talent because it grows its own.” Self-sufficiency is, arguably, one of the highest American virtues and Sanford plots a course of action that will certainly lead one there.


Author Bio


Carol Sanford’s work is deeply rooted in the belief that people can grow and develop beyond what their leaders or anyone sees possible: to be increasingly entrepreneurial, innovative, and responsible in their business and personal actions. For forty years, she has worked with leaders of successful companies, such as Google, DuPont, Intel, P&G, and Seventh Generation, helping them to innovate and grow their businesses by growing their people. Her work is often called groundbreaking, game changing, original, and inspiring. Carol is currently Executive in Residence and Senior Fellow in Social Innovation at Babson College.

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