Indirect Work Book Review
In her new book, Indirect Work, Carol Sanford challenges everything you have learned about how change happens and offers a thorough, refreshing alternative that will make a lasting impact.
Sanford’s framework is hinged on the idea of regenerative change, which she describes as bringing together indigenous philosophies, wisdom teachings, and quantum cosmologies to find a new way to think about personal, social, and organizational change. Her concept of indirect work is one of four components of the overall framework but, according to Sanford, the instrument by which her theory of change is brought about in the real world. She asserts that, in order for regenerative change to occur, we must develop capacity for people to be self-directed and self-developing rather than inspiring them, incentivizing, controlling, or instructing them. In this way, Indirect Work see life as a matrix where we cannot control the outcomes of our interventions because of the hidden variables that determine human behaviors and outcomes. From this central foundation, Sanford goes on to provide a Systemic Approach for bringing about this kind of change in any settings and contexts, with a triad of developing capability, culture and consciousness and illustrating their role in her framework.
Sanford’s approach is systemic and ambitious yet clear and resounding. She is clearly more interested in offering how deep meaningful change happens than she is in presenting a single set of actions in framework as “the one true way” to achieve it — a rhetoric that is called into question by the very nature of her development-focused approach, if not by Sanford herself. Her logic is sound, and she sets her approach apart by appealing to something bigger than building businesses and achieving personal excellence. Rather than overemphasizing the importance of looking forward to designing the future, Indirect Work asks readers to look back at a reality of human error so that we might understand the working of society first and build forward from there.
One of the book’s standout features is its use of “intermezzos”, short exercises for readers to complete in between the book’s chapters to examine how they are learning and question how they are choosing to learned. Accepting the author’s word or examining them for efficacy from their own experience. While many books of the genre set out to offer a practical component, they rarely manage to do so with as much clarity, relevance, and actionability as Sanford’s playful device; the reader is truly set up to start doing the indirect work, as they read. This organizational choice is one of many that works to package relatively complex ideas into a cohesive whole that unfolds logically and easily. Given the book’s subject matter, it makes for a particularly interesting read to analyze how some of the very concepts that Sanford is discussing are present in her formal choices. She is clearly in tune with how human beings interact with and internalize new ideas; it is evident not only in her ideas themselves but also in how she transmits them to her readers.
Indirect Work is as boldly refreshing as it promises to be; be prepared to question what you know and reconnect with what truly makes us human.