REVIEW: Henry Mintzberg Understanding Organizations…Finally! (BOOK)

Colin Jordan
3 min readMar 16, 2023

Henry Mintzberg’s new book is defined as much by what it advocates for you to do, as much as by what it advocates for you NOT to do. The sign of a solid writer and expert in specified subject matter is someone who can highlights the pros and cons, even within the confines of their own arguments. Mintzberg succeeds on this front, and then some. Plus, he has a solid and wry sense of humor to apply along the way. “Success can also breed failure in other ways.


Many Personal Enterprises are brought down by founders who expanded them at a pace beyond what their markets or finances could handle, thanks either to miscalculation — more likely, lack of calculation — or narcissistic over- reach. With great success the entrepreneurial personality can feel in- vincible, attributing his or her success to some magical talent, rather than to deep engagement in the business,” he writes in a key passage of Understanding

Organizations…Finally! “Even with sensible growth, to avoid agility metamorphosing into rigidity, the structure may have to develop beyond what the chief is prepared to accept.

Together with this comes the challenge of succession in the Personal Enterprise. How to fill the shoes of a chief who has managed in such a personal fashion? Can one entrepreneur succeed another? More likely, the organization may have to metamorphose into another form. Meanwhile, see the box for how not to manage succession… Many people love to work in Personal Enterprises. They relish the intimate, informal relationships, the excitement of growing something new, the charisma of the chief.

But others reject all this, feeling like cattle being led to market for someone else’s benefit. With the broadening of democratic norms into organizations themselves, the Personal Enterprise has lost some of its luster, perhaps especially among young people entering the workforce — at least as employees, if not founders. To many of them, the Personal Enterprise looks paternalistic or maternalistic, if not downright autocratic.”

By breaking things down on an individualized level, Mintzberg is able to give just about every relevant party to the topicality of this book their due. There’s never the sense he’s rushing through things, or making things too simplistic in their delivery so the widest audience understands. He’s matter-of-fact, straightforward, and always finds ways to word in appropriate jokes, humor, and wit.

This is particularly evident with respect to the following text, following the topicality explored in the previous citation. “Has this personal form of organization otherwise become an anachronism?” Mintzberg writes. “Let’s hope so in the case of the populist leader, but not elsewhere. Just look at all the exciting start-ups in so many unexpected places, with many young people keen to make a go of some- thing new.


It is the Personal Enterprise, social as well as business, that sustains healthy development in our world of organizations, and always will. Thus we must continue to prize this personal form of organization initiative, not only for creating enterprises and turning established ones around, but also managing many simple organizations, especially small ones.”

Colin Jordan



Colin Jordan

Graduate: McNeese State University, Avid Beekeeper, Deep Sea Diver & Fisherman, Horrible Golfer