A Cooperative Book on a Cooperative Business

Life presents different challenges in rural America, as compared to urban and suburban America. Services aren’t convenient, windshield time is great and the elements have a bigger impact than in the city where there are greater resources on a per capita basis to defend against mother nature. Perhaps, it is because of these and other challenges that rural regions have given birth to so many cooperative forms of business organization.

Wired Differently provides the secrets about what makes cooperatives successful. It is a book about a culture, but it is also one man’s story of how the culture of the cooperative shaped him and how he and his colleagues shaped the culture of the cooperative so that it could continue to be relevant to its members.

Although Wired Differently is ostensibly about NISC, an IT company that is owned by 700+ electric and telephony cooperatives, any sort of organization; whether publicly traded, privately held, non-profit, or government, could benefit from the lessons.

As Dosch explains in the above interview, part of the motivation for the book was to educate potential new hires about the benefits of working for a cooperative, as compared to privately held or publicly traded companies that offer the potential for riches. NISC competes for employees against companies that can offer greater financial packages, so this book is a valuable way to explain a culture that one must experience to appreciate.

Starting with the idea of servant leadership, the book recounts many lessons learned from its 50+ years of serving its members. Dosch provides examples of their mistakes and learnings. and many examples of NISC employees, “doing the right thing always,” that were beyond the call of duty.

The very relevant example Dosch provides about his encounter with an entrepreneurial and service-minded taxi driver gives me hope that humans may be able to compete against the robotaxi future that Uber is currently developing.

Unlike many books from CEOs, this book isn’t about the self-aggrandizement of the author. It reflects the idea of him being the lead servant and it is obvious that he truly appreciates his long career and his extended NISC family.

Beyond the examples from his and his fellow NISC servants, he and his co-authors, Wally Goulet, and Tracy Finneman, cite relevant passages from many of the business books this author should have already read. In that sense, this book is worth the read just for the external references.

But it is the wisdom Dosch imparts from their real-life experience of having to develop products in a very competitive market that makes this book the most valuable. What makes NISC’s growth impressive is that it continued during the worst post-World War II recession and with a U.S.-based workforce; a workforce that would have been outsourced to save costs in a traditional corporate organization.

It is the strength of the culture that leads to the product and service success NISC has seen. From employee engagement to customer satisfaction, all signs point to a culture that facilitates the creation of products and services its members want and that is well supported by the NISC staff. This book is a must-read for anyone employed by any type of organization and the lessons apply whether in a rural or urban setting (and it may even bring a tear to one’s eye).

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