I recently picked up It’s Business Time: Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry, by Robert H. Johnson and Jon T. Ruark. I wanted to share a kind of synopsis of the book, and some thoughts.
The book itself is short, and a quick read, at 75 pages. This was welcome break in my Masonic “reading diet” which has lately had some pretty dense & heavy books. “It’s Business Time” is divided into a sections that describe business concepts for Freemasonry, just like the subtitle says.
You might even think of it as a collection of “Short Talk Bulletins” on business aspects of the fraternity, rather than a single book espousing a “right way” to do Masonic business.
Each section outlines a different view (or famous book) on business and leadership, and then describe the parallels from the business world to the Masonic context. The sections cover the following approaches:
- Who Moved My Cheese? Or, how to accept and adapt to the inevitability of change
- Lean for Lodges – or, sources of waste in Masonic life, and how lessons from the Toyota Production System apply.
- The Candidate and the Challenger Sale – or, different methods of communicating with members & candidates. This section covers different “sales personalities” and how they approach relationships differently
- The Startup – which covers the “Lean Startup” methodology and how not to take risks until they’re actually needed
- The One on One – lessons on growing individual members
- The Sales Funnel, or how we can think about addressing Masonic retention problems
- How to Win…Members and Influence…Brothers? An adaptation of Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to win friends and influence people”, which focuses on psychological skills, relationship & rapport building, and persuasion
- The Agile Way – lessons from software engineering and the Agile Manifesto, on how to adapt quickly, and what to pay attention to.
Something for Everyone
If you followed that, you should be left with the impression that this book covers a lot of ground very quickly, and it does. In a very short book, there’s something for everyone: leadership lessons on how a Master might deal with grumpy past masters are in the same book as how committees and secretaries might help cut down waste. Pulling experience from other fields and benefiting from it is important in keeping a multi-century fraternity relevant going forward, and this is definitely the first book most brothers will ever see that compares Freemasonry with a software startup.
A thing I thought the book did very well was correctly framing the situation that the fraternity is in. “We’ve always done it this way” is certainly a cliche joke in Freemasonry, and we do have a strong cultural tendency to rest on our laurels and pat ourselves on the back over the timelessness of the institution, but the book contains some tough love that Masonic leadership needs to hear:
- Change is inevitable, “no innovations in Masonry” can ring hollow when some are needed to stay relevant and when the 3rd degree itself was an innovation
- We’re doing a terrible job at retention. Full stop, the data is clear.
- Masonry is not too big to fail, that is to say, adaptation over time is a hard requirement, the institution is not immortal “just because”
These things bear repeating, in part because people don’t want to hear them, and it’s so easy to avoid conversation of unpleasant realities.
Leadership and Interpersonal Lessons
Probably the best part, and most applicable to Masonry was the adaptation of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It was like a manual on how to use the trowel; not a set of shallow “techniques” to work on your brothers, but how to show genuine interest. How to understand what motivates people, and how to get resonance on shared goals. These soft skills are things, that when you read about them – you can sort of instantly recognize they were things that just came intuitively to the best leaders you’ve run across in your life.
The primary criticism I have about this book is simple: Masonry isn’t a business. To be fair, the authors themselves cover this, and don’t claim that Masonry is a business. The differences though do creep through in spots, and it’s useful to remember that the book should be viewed as adapting a corporate path, and not adopting a corporate path. Did you notice that one letter difference? Adapt, not adopt.
Masonic lodges are all volunteer. “Employees” don’t get fired. “Customers” and candidates are similar in important ways but also different in important ways. Revenue is important, but often not in the front seat, and profit is pretty much a non-concept in Masonry. The differences between Masonry and business are the point where the book is at its weakest, for example in the section about Toyota and Lean Manufacturing. This section lists the kinds of waste (defects, over-production, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and extra processing) and I think it was the weakest because of the distance between Freemasonry and an auto manufacturing plant.
Still, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don’t think it’s useful to view Freemasonry an assembly line for candidates (sit still brother while I weld this Fellowcraft catechism in place in your head), but the Toyota mindset is still worthy of some consideration. There is certainly substantial waste in Freemasonry, and it pays to break down the different sources, and address them. Some ideas though (Toyota manufacturing) are clearly going to take a lot more adaptation than others (Dale Carnegie’s for example).
It’s about the Principles
The reason I bring this criticism up (Freemasonry is not a business) is because even in the corporate world, it is easy to lose sight of the principles (such as the Agile principles) and find yourself verbatim adopting practices and processes, typically driven by a consultant. Talk to 10 “agile software companies” and you might find only 2 following agile principles, the rest having implemented a consulting framework based on the principles, which is not at all the same thing.
Wise leadership should avoid that, and first try to grasp the principles. That is why the most critical word in the entire book is adapt.
The book was very worthwhile, and for US $15 gave me a useful pile of things to think about in the context of my lodge. I think I’d particularly recommend this book to men who are in line as officers but haven’t yet reached the east for the first time. Men who have some time to plan and form opinions about the way they’d like to lead will be very well served by taking this information on board.
I’m a big fan of the general message that Freemasonry does need to evolve and adapt. It’s useful to beg, borrow, and steal good ideas wherever they may come from, and the authors did a very useful job surveying business thinking from the last few decades and showing how this might be done.
Since we’re talking about an amount of money that’s 2 plates at a pancake breakfast (at most) – I suppose the real question is why you don’t already have a copy in your lodge. My advice is to skip the $9.99 Kindle version, pay the extra $5 and buy the paper copy, because you should leave it at your lodge for others to read, and paper is easier to share around.
You can find the book available on Amazon, or through other sellers, ISBN 1980830126.