In The Living Organization® Framework, an organization’s Context field plays a key role in its ability to create the desired outcomes.  The Power of Context provides the greatest impact and perhaps the greatest leverage for creating results according to Wolfe’s Law.

What is Context and how do leaders work with it to achieve the outcomes they desire?  In Part 1 of this series, we will address what is Context and how it is created.  In Part 2, we will address how to work with Context, reframing it to align with strategy.

What is Context?
If you are a machine, Context is the set of software instructions that define how to perform your function.  It tells you what to do in response to various stimuli.  It is the machine’s programming.

If you are a living system, a tree, a bird or a fish, Context is the genetic code that made you what you are. It is the stored instincts developed during your species’ evolution. It is the code that tells you how to behave and respond to life’s events.  It is what makes a hawk search out field mice and Canadian geese migrate every winter.

As a living being, we are an extension of a living system and part of our Context comes from the evolution of the human species.  We might call this the instinctual part of us.

However, human beings have a key difference from other living systems.  We have the ability to add to and refine our instinctual makeup. We go further than simply inheriting our Context: we createour Context.

Context is Created
Think of the development of a person, yourself perhaps.  You have certain beliefs that you have developed over the course of your life. These beliefs started forming when you were very young.  You experience an event and you have a response to that event.  To make sense of the experience, you created a story about what it meant and how you should deal with it.

Each story forms a specific pattern of energy that is stored within your psyche.  As you experience similar life events, the story about what it means and how to deal with it is repeated.  With each telling of the story, the pattern becomes more stable and well defined.  It quickly turns into unconscious responses, like the code of a computer, defining your response to any event that appears similar.

In addition to the stories you created, you were also exposed to the stories of your family about how the world works and what it means to be you.  Stories you may have chosen to adopt, or perhaps reject and replaced with a different story of your own creation.

For example, I grew up in a lower middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn.  I was the youngest of three children.  There were many times when my mother had to take care of my older brother because of some physical challenges he faced.  In my world, as a young child, I experienced my mother caring more for my brother than me.  That was the story I created.

Was it true, did my mother really care for my brother more than me?  Probably not, but in my world, it was a truth.  Once that story pattern was established another story formed; I had to please my mother to get her attention and her love.

Of course, these are just a couple of the many stories that I formed that governed my life.  There were many others centered around being a child of Jewish immigrants, growing up in Brooklyn, being an American and so on. Some I chose to accept and some I chose to replace with a different story.

This collective set of stories shaped my sense of self and my role in life.  It formed the Context pattern that shaped every decision I made and every action I took.

An organization forms its Context the same way.  During its formative years from start up to early success, it tells stories in response to the events it experiences.  These stories give meaning to its actions and choices.  Stories define its sense of identity, its view of reality, and shape the decisions and actions it takes.  Rarely is this done consciously.

Typically, these stories emerge from the way the entrepreneur and the early leadership team respond to the challenges they face.  These responses turn into the stories that are told about why we do what we do. They create order and meaning and make sense of the world it is operating in.   As the organization grows and takes on more people, these stories propagate.  They become part of the collective unconscious, the Context of the organization.

How does Context work
Context is the set of energy patterns formed by the stories.  These patterns filter what comes in and what goes out.   These patterns define who we are, which in turn define what we do.

When referring to people, Context is known as our personality, our ego patterns, our habits, our unconscious triggers etc.  The Context pattern of an individual defines their responses to the life’s events.  It determines how they enter relationships, how they organize to get things done, how they relate to money or any other aspect of life.

In organizations, we typically associate the automatic response of an organization, “how we do things around here,” as its culture.  However, culture is actually the outward manifestation of Context.

Context defines how each organization responds to the challenges it faces. It defines how it will handle customers, how it will respond to difficult situations, how it develops products, how it handles conflicts, its orientation to risk and every other aspect of how the organization operates. It defines what is and is not possible for the organization to accomplish.

Next Blog – How to Reshape Context Patterns.