Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.
He goes on to explain to that this drive also relates to purpose:
The most deeply motivated people – not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied – hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.
Given that organizations and our civilization are systems of people, this becomes a key perspective in understanding how organizations are changing and civilization might pivot. It also explains part of the popularity of the mobile, social web and its role in building a better future, sooner.
Personally I’ve benefitted from social communities for running, unschooling, and entrepreneurship. There is no question that I would not have been able to pursue as full a life as I have without them. And for most people who use the social web, I’m sure the experience is much the same. For the rest of you, don’t worry, this is just getting started. Take a look at the video below, think about what drives you and take the plunge… even if it’s just a few clicks at a time. There’s an ocean of awesome on whatever matters to you.
Organization is one of our most potent social technologies. In a world where chaos, connectivity, and creativity have risen to new heights, increased attention on the topic is both natural and welcomed. Quite simply, if our civilization is set to pivot, getting better at it will help us realize a better future, sooner.
My three favourite books on the topic are (reading recommendations at the bottom of this post):
I recently revisited them side-by-side to see what they had in common. What stood out for me were the themes conditioning, humanity, networks, and social technology.
Conditioning trumps control
Already back in Heart, Beer recognized the role of management as attending to cohesion, sensing for incipient instability and making the minimum of intervention. In both Future and Pull the authors are more critical of the dehumanizing effect of command and control driven organizations and zero-sum management practices. They all argue that control restrains the creativity, humanity and innovation needed for any organization to thrive and adapt in complex and dynamic environments. Designing and managing organizations is increasingly about creating and conditioning spaces for passionate people to pursue a common purpose.
Organizations are human first
In Heart, Beer talked about the ultimate manager being someone who achieved enlightenment – someone who was fully alive and aware of who they were. Similarly he saw the optimal organization as one ‘exploding into self-consciousness’. Future and Pull more simply recognize that people are at their best when they are free to pursue what matters to them, in short, when they are treated as human beings, not production resources. Where Pull dives into the shift from transactions to relationships and the role of trust, Future summons the moral imperatives of beauty, truth, love, service, wisdom, justice, freedom, and compassion.
System dynamics dominate
Information flow is at the heart of Beer’s Viable System Model and Heart excels at driving the rigor of design around information sensing, amplification and attenuation. Its purpose is primarily for being able to sense for incipient instabilities and opportunities within and around the system in focus. This systems perspective is more fully fleshed out in Future through a case illustrating the power of prediction markets in achieving more accurate forecasts than the best analysts. Pull goes further drawing from examples of how sharing, production and collaboration through social media foster natural innovation and illustrate how these dynamics lead to increasing returns. In fact, they argue, that the real value of an organization lies in its networks of long-term relationships.
Social technology playing a pivotal role
Before Beer wrote Heart, he led a Star Trek-esque roject using telex machines in Chile to manage a centrally planned economy. It’s hard not to have a chuckle at first glance, but the core principles of the design are at the core of the opportunity in the emerging ecosystem of social technologies we have at our disposal today. In Future, written at the start of Web 2.0, Hamel boldly declares “Argue with me if you like, but I’m willing to bet that Management 2.0 is going to look a lot more like Web 2.0”. While the novelty of Web 2.0 had worn off a bit by the time Pull came out, the examples of how social technology is enabling people to pursue their passion, connect, and create value are foundational to how organization actually happens today. It is of course about more than the technology, it is about the technology having reached a point where it nurtures, enables and is compatible with the other three themes above. It seems, these technologies are instrumental in allowing organization to happen more naturally, and of course with over 4 billion people connected, at a scale never before imaginable.
In summary, it seems that the technology of organization is undergoing a transformation, enabled by our social technologies, and powered by passionate people. It seems that we naturally are drawn to collaborate around purpose to create a better future, sooner, however that looks to us individually. It seems, even, like a rennaissance of humanity. Whatever it is though, it is on the upswing.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the great thinkers and writers discover next. I’m also, of course, looking forward to seeing what I can contribute to the game with things like Epic.io.
These are fun times to be alive and engaged.
>>> for those who haven’t yet read the above books… here’s my quick take on which is best for whom
Heart of Enterprise: A beast of a read but the most accruate understanding of what an organization actually is. Best for those who really really want to get their geek on… or those who are somewhat sadistic.
Future of Management: A powerfully passionate case for reinventing management. Best for those who are in management and in need of serious rehab from convention… if you don’t what I’m talking about, that’s you.
Power of Pull: A well researched and articulate understanding of how ‘organization’ is fundamentally changing. Best for those who want to understand what is going on right now and why… and those who are working to innovate for good right now.
I don’t think there’s any need to replay the state of the world. It’s pretty clear we’re in a period of intense change, where the many systems of our society have reached their limits, where our civilization is set to pivot.
Back in 2001, Ervin Laszlo wrote about this in Macroshift. He found a common pattern in civilizations over the course of our history. They set out on a trajectory based on certain combination of technology and mindset. At some point, that trajectory becomes unsustainable and the civilizations reach, like any system, a bifurcation point. Either they breakthrough based on a new combo of technology and mindset or they breakdown. While breakdown is alarming, it’s been pretty common in the history of civilization. The only problem is, this is the first time our civilization has been global. Breakdown would really, really suck.
Today, I believe that the emerging system of social technologies and the corresponding mindset founded in connectedness and purpose are the combination that offer a new, more sustainable trajectory. By social technologies I mean both the tangible ones enabling the mobile, social web, and the intangible ones like facilitation, inquiry, design, engagement and organization.
Perhaps the most simple and compelling reason is that where we find our selves is a product of what we’ve created in the past. Similarly the only way we can fix it is by creating new things that put us on that new trajectory. For that to happen, we need to move fast and from a different place than we did when we created this mess. And that’s where the social technologies and mindset come in. Social technologies give us unprecendented capacity to create effectively and efficiently. The mindset, on the other hand, gives us the presence and perspective to do it more constructively.
So that’s how I think we’ll make our pivot. Ventures do it all the time on their path to success. Civilizations have proven they can do it to. Now it’s our turn to do it together.
From where I sit, I know we need to, I think we can, I believe we will.
Late last fall I had the opportunity to conduct an intensive review of the Vartana initiative on behalf of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. Vartana was an initiative to create a chartable bank in Canada dedicated to serving the voluntary sector. It held the promise of changing the availability of capital for the sector and as a Schedule I chartered bank, influencing the Canadian financial services industry. While ultimately felled by the financial services collapse of 2008, it holds some valuable lessons in entrepreneurial pursuit of systemic change.
Ideation is the missed opportunity in systemic entrepreneurship
Communication is a critical organizing capacity
To put it simply, systemic entrepreneurship is, well, really stinkin’ hard. The path is more ambiguous, the context more complex, and resistance greater. It tests the entrepreneurial process to its fullest. If I look to my own entrepreneurial experiences, communication was always the ultimate core infrastructure. But the more systemic the aims, the riskier the initiative and the longer and more iterative the ideation process. It’s in those areas that entrepreneurial self-destruction most show their face.
From the Vartana experience, I found:
Vartana demonstrates that initiatives seeking systemic change require both adequate investment in up front ideation and strategy formulation and an infrastructure that has the capacity to respond commensurately to systemic resistance and volatility.
More broadly, I pressed the issue of entrepreneurial infrastructure:
…entrepreneurial infrastructure is not to be confused with conventional governance models that focus on executive limitation. Rather it should be designed to enable proactive and focused attention to governance, strategy, and execution. It must enable founding contributions from many; leveraging instead of hampering what are traditionally seen as conflicted roles like founder and funder. It must enable entrepreneurs to do the impossible in an environment that is flexible, yet that has the capacity and rigour to address the scale of the challenge at hand. It must create a space that nurtures meaningful engagement, rapid iteration and routine reflection, and transparent decisionmaking that remains grounded in achieving the intended impact with optimal levels of investment.
Which brings me to my final point. As we pay attention to the systems of our society and find whatever we are working on increasingly influenced by changes in those systems… we elevate ourselves out of traditional sectoral silos. This isn’t an issue isolated to commercial, social, government or civil sectors. It’s an issue about our future and particularly those intent on creating a better future, sooner.
The one thing that seems universal in all these is passion, that unmistakable blend of purpose and persistence that drives things forward. It’s what brings that small group together to get something done, when no one really knows yet what they are doing or how it will happen.
Isn’t it funny then (not) that the tools we most associate with getting things done (task-lists, project plans etc.) are so devoid of passion. We’ve somehow come to think progress is painful and mechanical. Obviously it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but greatness doesn’t come from a bunch of robots on an assembly line either.
This was not a case of “oh, sorry, Twitter must have somehow unfollowed you”, it was a case of “ya, I unfollowed you… and everyone else.” You see, I’ve long valued Twitter a brilliant discovery tool – both for information and new relationships. Reading Power of Pull recently reminded me of that which got me to…
Well, this morning while waiting for a meeting I happened across a tweet that led me to a post which mentioned ManageFlitter (oh Twitter how you do that to me). I’ve tweaked my follow list a few times there before but this time when I got there, I decided to start entirely from scratch. Not because I’m bored with who I was following, but because I want to reset the power of Twitter to pull me in new directions. With a new venture underway it felt like the perfect time to do it.
Twitter though is nothing without snark. And so my first follow of course had to be the person who outed me. I wonder who’s next.
Fear is the mortal enemy of creativity, innovation and happiness.
As it prattled around in my head during my run this morning it struck me that fear is death. It’s an insatiable beast that tries to consume everything it encounters. It sucks energy out of us and pulls us back from progress. It makes us cower. In big ways and little ways. And each time we do a little bit of us or our relationships die.
But fear is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to uncover and let go something that pulls us back from life. It’s what the fear really wants and the only thing that will satisfy it.
In either case it means something has to die. Fortunately, the choice is ours. And for me, life depends on it.
UPDATE 100808: Thought some more about fear on my run yesterday. Fighting fear is futile, it will just show up elsewhere. It’s choosing to go forward while the fear is there. Let the fear be. Watch it, understand it, but don’t let it stop you from what you want to do. And definitely, don’t try and stop others from doing what they want to do because of it. Those are sure recipes for rot and decay.
My recent adventures with my local utility offered up some great lessons on system failure, design, and purpose. I’ve jotted them down here as hunches to look back on rather than a epiphany of understanding.
Systemic failures can and will happen. They will happen often and their occurrence is an excellent opportunity to better understand your systems and the things that system is interacting with. Elimination of failure is impossible and probably unhealthy. Not learning from it is irresponsible and undoubtedly inefficient. Also, failure is subjective. What might look like massive failure to one participant in the system maybe be inconsequential to the rest of the system and vice versa.
Systems design should never have compliance as an objective. Compliance is a condition. Designing for base targets turns a system inwards as opposed to inspiring it to grow and contribute. Designing for purpose and even tangential goals might produce unexpected gains, quite possibly from the failures it produces. The design should go further to anticipate those failures, make them small and handle escalation of failure iteratively to do everything possible, not just the minimum required to avoid massive failure from the perspective of any participant in the system. And finally, people are a valuable part of any system. Our capacity to process patterns and complexity is unparalleled. Designing them out of the system can actually decrease efficiency and efficacy.
Like any system, it’s purpose and patterns permeate it’s entirety. Purpose should be productive and pull the system forward. It is its reason for being. When system designers lose their sense of purpose and instead boil, or allow a system to be boiled down to a spec list it will all but guarantee a lifeless system. The system may well meet the criteria of the project, but it will have lost the greater purpose it is there to fulfill.
In my recent experience, a system failure on my end collided with a system failure in a regulated utility. On my part I relied on more signal than I was getting from the utility. On the utilities part, they relied entirely one communication channel (on-bill messaging), the minimum required by law. They failed to use multiple failure signals (un-paid bills), or changes in patterns corresponding to changes in systems, or their in the street people with a relationship to the customer, to stop the repeating failure. Instead they allowed the system to escalate to a costly and inconvenient option of physical gas disconnect, something that could have been avoided with an email, mailer, phone call, or on door notice… all which would have cost the company far less and allowed a customer relationship to be fulfilled.
Why it happened I suspect has to do with an image of a customer as a switch as opposed to a human. As a regulated utility with monopolistic privilege it is understandable to see how this might develop, and it is likely an expression of the nature of the current purpose of the organization. From my perspective, it sure seems to make sense and whether it is indeed true or not, it is how I will perceive and express those perceptions of that utility. And that’s my final lesson… if the purpose of the system is subjective, and if purpose permeates systems, the failures of a system could have disproportionately large influence on the ultimate purpose of the system… so design with purpose, design for failure, and design with care.
This a story of how UnionGas disconnected my natural gas service WITHOUT NOTICE.
This morning we received a notice on our front door that our gas had been disconnected. We were home at the time but the gas guy just hung the notice on the door AFTER turning the gas off. Stunned, I called UnionGas. They told me that I hadn’t paid in 6 months. Stunned again, I looked into my payment history and sure enough I hadn’t paid. I thought I was paying, and had absolutely no reason to believe I hadn’t been paying because, well, they GAVE ME NO NOTICE. Simple solution, pay up? Nope. Now that the gas has been disconnected, I will be without an essential utility for a minimum of 5 days.
This is outrageous. As a regulated, essential utility, they should be required to make every effort to contact the customer PRIOR to shutoff. I had been paying monthly for 4.5 years without a problem until the cancelled their ePost service (which is how I pay almost all my bills). That’s when the problem started. They say they tried to call, but they had the wrong number. They cite the on-bill notice – on the bills which I hadn’t been seeing anymore. Best I got was a notice saying my online bill was available. No email OR snail mail saying, you are now overdue. Nothing to tell me my gas would be disconnected. Fair warning? Bullshit. They visit the house every month to read the meter. If all other communications fail, they still have an opportunity to leave a monthly notice on my door. Clearly they can because they did just that… AFTER they disconnected my gas.
This is an epic fail in so many ways. On my part this slipped through my otherwise solid bill/accounting management. On their they blew it in terms of customer service, billing system integration, and responsibility as an essential utility.
UnionGas you suck and you are getting away with it because you are a regulated utility. What options do I really have?