When the modern-day corporation was being developed, the current worldview was defined by Newtonian physics viewpoint.
But is organization as machine the right model for today? Can it be responsive enough? What are the alternatives?
Newtonian view is the world is like a great mechanical clock, a set of discreet parts, ticking along as a perfect machine. Governed by the laws of physics making every aspect of the machine predictable.
We see this theme run through every aspect of today’s leadership and management practices. We organize around discreet functional departments and plan with the expectation of predictable results. We constantly seek to optimize the “machine” for greater levels of efficiency.
Management’s key responsibility is the machine’s design and programming while the employees’ role is to contribute their efforts according to the machine’s design.
The machine perspective no longer fits today’s world, a new model is needed to address the challenges of a dynamically changing VUCA world.
A new approach is to view organizations as natural living systems, often referred to as biomimicry. Living systems learn and adopt to their environment making them more agile and responsive. Living systems operate as an ecosystem of interdependent entities. Each part of the ecosystem recognizes the importance of working together for the good of the whole, for only when the whole succeeds does the individual members succeed.
While living system offer a model for organizations that is more organic, agile and responsive, they are still not the perfect model for today’s challenges. Living systems respond, they do not create.
Living systems instinctively respond to their environment. Look at animals whose instincts are deeply coded within their being during their evolutionary development. When their instinctual responses no longer fit a changed environment, they die and are replaced by a new species better fit for the new environment.
Entrepreneurial organizations are seen as nimble and agile simply because, like a new species, they are designed for the environment they were created for. And like all living systems, when the environment changes and their instinctual responses no longer fit, they die. Think of IBM, Barnes and Noble and Kodak.
IBM dominated the enterprise computing market until the world shifted to desktops and lost their dominance to Microsoft and Apple. Barnes and Nobles was the leading bookseller until Amazon developed on-line retail. Kodak the leader in photography was undone by the shift to digital and today’s iPhone.
Companies excel when they are designed for the environment, they operate in. And all too often they die when the environment changes.
In a recent TED talk Martin Reeves of the Boston Consulting Group states that company life spans have decreased from over 60 years in 1970 to less the 30 years today. And even more significant, the percentage of companies that will not be around in five years went from less than 5% in 1970 to 32% today.
Living beings are living systems with all the attributes of agility, resilience and responsiveness. Unlike living systems however, living beings are not restricted to a fixed pattern of instinctual responses. Living systems not only respond to their environment, they create and recreate themselves to fit their environment.
Going beyond a living system perspective and viewing it as a living being shifts our focus and opens up new possibilities. We see it as a creative force contributing to our world. We see it as one who can learn and adopt, sense and respond. We see it as a living person with a soul, a heart and a personality to be nurtured and developed. We help it grow in capability and maturity so that it can reach its fullest potential.
Understanding Context is the key. Context is the set of beliefs and stories adopted to help us understand our world and know how to respond to it. In living systems, the Context is embodied in their design and they respond instinctively to their environment. For a lot of people and most organizations, the Context is buried in their unconscious and they also respond instinctively to the environment.
Living beingshave the ability to become conscious of their internal Context. They can reframe their understating, creating a new Context. A new context creates new instincts allowing the living being to again be responsive in a whole new environment.
Like a living being, a Living Organization must be nurtured, not programmed. It must increase both its capability and maturity.
An organization’s ability to execute and grow is directly related to its capacity. In the traditional view, the capacity is often thought of in terms of plant and equipment. When we view an organization as a living being, we see that capacity is driven more by the capability and maturity of the organization. More specifically, the capability and maturity of the leaders, the people and the processes.
Capability is the skills, knowledge and talents it possesses to respond to its world. A person who has to perform above their level of capability will feel stressed. Increase their capability and the same work level is easy to accomplish.
Maturity is its ability to be conscious of who it is, its Context, and reframe its Context to its current environment. With higher levels of maturity come higher degrees of agility, responsiveness and adaptability
As the organization, its people and processes mature and become more capable, there is less need for leadership direction and even development. Organizations become self-managing learning organizations, fluid and self-organizing around the needs of customers and markets. Increasing the capability and maturity creates the ability to do more with less.
Living Organization® Approach defines our 7 Step Design process to transform your organization from a machine to a living being.