Interview with Oleg Konovalov   1 comment

 

Today’s interview is with Oleg Konovalov, author of a book Organisational Anatomy: a Manager’s Guide to a Healthy Organisation. Welcome to the blog.

Thanks a lot for inviting to your blog! Great to be as far as Alaska, even virtually!

 

Tell us something about yourself. 

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I am originally from the northern area of Russia, Murmansk, which is above the Arctic Circle and similar to Alaska in terms of climate. For the last twenty years I am living in Birmingham (the UK) but still traveling to Russia to see family and friends from time to time. My work journey is quite colourful, from a deep-sea trawler engine room to the top managerial positions. I was operating businesses in the UK and internationally for 25 years and now concentrating on consultancy and lecturing. Feeling an irresistible craving for more knowledge went for MBA relatively late and eventually gained a doctoral degree from the Durham University Business School. So, I have two hats – practical and academic. I can be considered as self-made. All of these come irrelevant when I am on a river. I am very keen salmon fly-fisherman and nature lover.

 

That does sound a lot like the life we live in Alaska. At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer? (When did you write your first story, for example?)

I never thought that I will be writing business books – I am a hands-on entrepreneur and anything else is not for me. It was something not about me, for sure. Few years back my friend asks me to write a chapter for his book and it turned to be quite an interesting process. By that time I had a lot of research data on the nature and structure of informal relations in the Russian society and business which was a subject of my doctoral dissertation initially. I still resisted my friends who tried to motivate me on writing a book about it. I can’t tell exactly the moment my resistance to writing disappeared and I decided to give a try. I wrote two chapters on one breath and decided to carry on. It turns into a book “Hidden Russia; Informal Relations and Trust”. Whilst working on this book I started completely new research on developing a holistic view of organisations. This was absolutely natural ad very appealing to me as someone who thinks business most of the time.  Here I heard this magic click – decision to look at business and organisations using completely different approach, to write not what I like but from a manager’s standpoint, to write without academic steroids and popular templates creating a value for thousands. Only after that I realised that I am a business writer and my writing adventure had begun turning into Organisational Anatomy: a Manager’s Guide to a Healthy Organisation.

 

Tell us about your writing process.

Surely, it must be a moment of inspiration and some sort of serendipity to see a gap in management knowledge. I am always questioning everything as far as I remember myself and looking for answers around, whether it will be people, own experience, books, nature, behaviour of wild creatures or other clues. Being a nature lover is a great advantage. Nature teaches us to think, listen, observe and feel deeply and often irrationally. Each business process is natural and well-structured unless we make it messy. Writing about business should be the same – natural, intuitively digestible, structured and metaphorical, at the same time. One must understand a river as a whole, understand every slightest change and be a natural part of this environment if he wants to catch a trophy fish. Business writing is similar to catching that trophy fish – be a natural part of it and not superiority to it, see a beauty of processes, and logic of business environment.

Own experience is not enough to talk about something in business. I am collecting few sets of interviews with managers from different countries, industries and positions. Hours and hours spent reading all relevant to a subject literature. Then, I am looking for metaphors which can make a discussion organic, live and interesting. It is some kind of a test on viability of my findings.

In my view, as humans we can’t create anything cleverer than we are created ourselves. I am starting with drafting a book plan, chapter by chapter, putting down what I want to say in each section and how it will fit and add value to the main message. Thinking of a book layout and flow of discussion, I am asking few times “why” for each paragraph, section and chapter. The very first draft is written without any editing, grammar revision and even with patchy phrases and sentences. This is a version for testing logic and flow of explanation. Like a sketch from where I am going into details. I am brave binning pieces which seems to me dry and not reader-friendly. So, writing few drafts, moving bits around, deleting and writing again. Then it comes to correcting a huge pile of errors. It is long way before I am satisfied with a final draft. Business book is not a financial report or operation manual and must be very engaging.

 

What are you passionate about?

There are few things which I am really passionate about – new business ventures, exploring something new, reading, and of course, fishing and fly-tying. I believe that good quality work always leads to a good result. Put your heart and passion into everything you do and it will be rewarded. Don’t be passionate about yourself but be passionate about what you do.

 

I like that attitude! Have you written any books that made a transformative effect on you? If so, in what way?

Writing changed the way I think in philosophical terms. It allowed me to think more spherically, adding volume to everything I see. Writing is a conversation with readers. Readers add more dimensions to my concept and I am learning from their reviews a lot. Business book is a digest of something exceptionally big and so, writing is maturing as an expert.

 

Where do you get the inspiration for your books?

Oleg Konovalov Organization Book CoverHemingway suggested that it is not author job to judge but to understand. Being the businessman I know well that many questions remain open for managers and surely need answers. I am inspired by these halls and gaps in business knowledge, pitfalls in practice and my strong desire to make things better where I can. Book is not for me but for all these people across the world from Alaska to Melbourne searching for answers. I want to save their sleepless nights and daily worries.

 

What sort of research do you do for your books?

I like and see it as necessary to talk with people a field. I am collecting full-scale open-ended interviews. For instance, I collected more than 130 interviews for my first book on Russian networks and almost hundred interviews were collected for my second book. Through reading of existing literature I am looking for unique approach for revealing problems and their nature. It may take a long while to gather and analyse all this pile of information. Any serious business book is a result of insightful research.

 

Do you have a special place where you write?

I don’t have a special place for writing. It could be my office, a terrace chair, coffee shop or on a plane. I always have a small notepad if I don’t have my computer with me. It is not a matter of place; it is a matter of time and inspiration.

 

Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer?

Writing Organisational Anatomy inspired me to continue a discussion of immaterial or metaphysical organisational processes. I am working now on a next book aiming to provide more answers and practical suggestions about organisational culture and ideology. Hope, it will shed more light on complex organisational processes.

 

That sounds like an interesting project. Do you write from an outline or are you a discovery writer?  Why?

IHidden Russia: Informal Relations and Trust by [Konovalov, Oleg, Norton, Andrew Laurence] am a discovery writer. We know very little about our life or processes we created ourselves; a fraction. I am not interested in repeating the same old stories using other words or pattern of discussion. Modern commerce desperately demands a next generation of sophisticated knowledge and understanding. If we would not learn how to manage processes effectively, then processes will be managing us. I see my role in discovering new horizons and encouraging others for brave and creative thinking.

 

What point of view do you prefer to write, and why?

Business books often concentrate on single process, or managers’ qualities, or on an author himself. I am standing on a position of organisation and synergy of functions. If we consider organisations as live bodies then it is pointless to write about one limb or part of the body. If we think of a newly born baby, are we concentrating on parents’ love to him or on the child’s health and growth? The same with organisations. Unfortunately, we often concentrate on our view of it making managers as outsiders, which is wrong in my view. It must be a holistic approach which considers how value can be added through effective functioning of organisation, its well-being and growth potentials. I am focused on a company itself.

 

This is my Alaska question which usually gets some funny answers, but you may too well-qualified for it. Here goes. I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

Can I ask for few more months? Maybe a year?  I love incredible North; and not bothered about cold, mosquitos, snow or rain. I will bring my fishing gear and need little to feel comfortable. It will be a great time for thinking, feeling myself, clear up my mind and strengthening my senses. Northern people are different – strong, wise, kind and supportive – I love them. And of course, fishing, mushrooms, berries. This would be a best time for reading Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hemingway, Jack London, and something historical.

 

That’s a great attitude to have with regards to the Alaska wilderness. Talk about your books individually.

So far I have two books published.  The first one, Hidden Russia: Informal Relations and Trust, was published in 2014 and  discusses a role, nature and structure of informal relations in the Russian society and business in terms of mutual support,  access to resources , operational principles and social norms and codes. Russia is very different to other world in terms of social relations, values and principles, where informal networks play a critical role. This book is based on a biggest in the world qualitative data set and written in more rigorous style.

The most recent book Organisational Anatomy: a Manager’s Guide to a Healthy Organisation is released couple of month ago by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. This book offers a discussion of a new management concept, “Organisational Anatomy”, which views organisational processes and functions from a biological perspective. This approach naturally explains the ongoing internal and external organisational processes and optimum configuration of different organisations. Organisations are live creatures which are breathing, functioning, moving and developing inside their specific environments. Biological examples offer a useful way of making sense of complex ideas, because they can be related to everyday existence. As such, this allows the reader to intuitively understand the organisations where they work and with which they interact.

By classifying different types of organisations and looking at their biological functions, Organisational Anatomy links existing theories and discusses five archetypes of organisations, namely – producers, knowledge-dependent, location-dependent, donor-dependent and state-affiliated organisations. By looking into their specific features, the characteristics of organisations of different ages and level of maturity, the access and utilisation of resources, and the development of productive external relations, this book allows the insights into the role of each function in achieving superior business performance. The Organisational Anatomy approach allows the development of a holistic picture, and will allow business to achieve higher performance and recognise problems and difficulties by considering organisational pathologies and diseases.

Organisational Anatomy gained excellent endorsements from fDi Magazine (Financial Times), UK Trade & Investment and other top experts. Thanks to the encouraging readers’ reviews the book gone into Hot 100 Best Business Books.

Now, I am working on a next book which is devoted to a discussion of organisational culture as a company soul and catalyser of performance. This book logically continues the discussion offered in Organisational Anatomy.

 

Was it your intention to write a story with a message or a moral?

My intention is to motivate managers and entrepreneurs for action guiding them through complicated organisational world.  I am focusing on issues which are important for all managers talking in understandable for all managers manner. I want readers to see this world as bright, multidimensional and fascinating.

 

What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?

I want readers to be confident in their capabilities, willing to get to the next level of professionalism through superior understanding, open their creative minds and be sure that impossible is possible.

 

You can find Oleg and his books on Amazon.

 

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One response to “Interview with Oleg Konovalov

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  1. Reblogged this on Daermad Cycle.

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