The new threads of ‘Organization’

A thread runs through it.

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

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.
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Lessons in systemic entrepreneurship. The time is now.

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.

In brief, the key lessons learned were:

  • Systemic interventions amplify strategic vulnerabilities
  • 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.

It reminds me a lot of what I’ve since read in The Power of Pull by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison of Deloitte’s Centre for Edge. Even the sub-line “How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion” echos of systems thinking and social innovation.

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.

So, whether you buy into the Big Shift, the Great Reset, the Macropocalypse, the Macroshift, the Great Remix, or just think “we’re screwed”, the time is now. It’s about our future. Don’t wait. Try. Reflect. Share. Repeat.

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A crack in the dam – opening a new domain.

It’s been in the works for awhile and I now think we’re really starting to make a connection between web tech (2.0+), venture investing, social innovation. That connection is going to unleash some tremendous innovations and a surge in the activity directly working on the challenges facing our civilization. It feels like the emergence of a new domain that will take some very different approaches to change and influencing the course of civilization. It seems inspired by open source, technology innovation, financial risk taking, a venturing culture, and now a deepening and deeply felt realization that there are more important tasks to tend to.

I’ve been digging deeply into this for a while (Venturing on the Frontiers, Open Everything <site>, and The Great Remix) and these two posts (Umair Haque and Fred Wilson) have me feeling that something just shifted. What I love is that this isn’t just the same old folks getting into this AND that they are coming at it from an understanding of how systems emerge. Umair uses the language of DNA and Fred is living it through his investment approach in web tech companies.

Maybe what it is, is that all the different groups I’ve been working/having the conversations with (MaRS, SiG, CSI, Renewal Partners, Communicopia, Causeway, Tides Canada, and Good Capital) are using different language to talk about the same things.

I’m not sure. What do you think? Is this just a personal moment are others sensing that some thing has shifted too?

Some related links – adding on to another conversation.

I commented on Fred Wilson’s Looking Forward post yesterday and he reblogged a part of my comment in his tumblog here. Tt’s been generating a few emails to me so for those that are interested, here are a few other links that follow that theme…

– A few of us are convening an event that is digging deeper into that mindset that riffs off open source
Ervin Laszlo’s Macroshift – a book about the evolution of civilization and the interplay of technology and mindsets (my highlights and links to the book – additional post here)
– A post of mine on this phase we are in that I’m calling “the Great Remix“. Additional posts here and here.
Stafford Beer’s work on information design of systems in an organizational context (my highlights and links to his book and work)

Forces at play in the The Great Remix

The final piece from this work on The Great Remix (see also) are a couple of presentations that explore the forces at play. I’ve yet to add annotated detail but here they are nonetheless.




Doing differently in the Great Remix

The one other piece that I’ll share from my exploration into the Great Remix (see also), is a part about how I see doing happening differently as we move forward.

The following four areas now describe how doing is different in the context of the Great Remix.

Employ Systems Dynamics
(From conductor to mix master)
As the systems of our civilization demonstrate instability and failure more frequently, openings are created for previously unexpected initiatives to emerge. We can’t know when or how but rather must work to condition the emergence of those initiatives.

Originally uploaded by mrhayata

Insights from the domains of systems science point to how systems work, providing essential knowledge into how to transform and operate within the systems we have. Leaders now require competencies more like those of a a mix master DJ as opposed to those of a conductor. While composers work with their orchestra to perform predetermined music, a mix master DJ comes to a room with an assortment of songs and sounds which they mix together according to the energy of the audience and the experience they hope to happen.

There are already many bodies of work in this area and the increasing rate of new works being published indicates the growing interest in this topic. Some particularly notable works include:

Distill to Essential Elements
(From buildings to bricks.)
Big things have tremendous momentum and aren’t easily remixed with other things. This manifests as resistance to change and slows the pace of evolution. It also sets the stage for more spectacular failures. Enabling the capacity to essentially remix our society into a system compatible with the common goal requires that things be re-mixable. This means breaking things back down into their essential elements – deconstructing their existing configurations – to reuse the valuable pieces in ways that fit the new context. Houses can’t be remixed very well, but bricks can.

In this context organizations are bundles of people and assets that organize around a purpose, work towards a set of goals, deliver an offering (product or service), and develop a set of core competencies. Similarly, people are grounded in purpose, driven by passion, accumulate experiences, knowledge and connections, and develop competencies and insights. The capacity to remix elemental components of organizations and individuals directly relates to our potential in the Great Remix.

Dynamic Organization in Individual Context
(From phonebook to crystal ball)
Context is essential for people to make meaningful connections to each other and to other knowledge. Humans are extraordinary at dealing with context and substantially limited without it. Take language for example: phrases or statements out of context can be taken to mean very different things – a reality made abundantly clear by sensationalist media.

Through the context lens, information is best when:

  • presented with the context it came from
  • received in the configuration most relevant to the context of the recipient
  • exchanged through the point where both contexts converge.

In venturing for example, imagine if rather than relying on an individual mentor, limited by their own individual context, the venturer was able to access the essential insights, experiences, and connections of a 1,000 entrepreneurs filtered according to the context of their individual and immediate situation. That would be like moving from phonebook to crystal ball.

Allying the Frontiers
(From discrete domains to friends on the frontiers.)
Given the purpose of quickening the evolution of our civilization toward the common goal, it is imperative that we foster the convergence and interaction of those that are taking initiative on the frontiers across all related domains. In this context we see the commonality between many discrete domains such as technology, science, mathematics and philosophy.

Connecting those with purpose primacy related to the common goal across all domains would be a high-leverage opportunity. Doing so could better orient and leverage all activity working toward the common goal regardless of domain.

The Great Remix

Part of my silence over the last few months has been from some deep-digging I was doing in an engagement with the Social Innovation group at MaRS and with the Centre for Social Innovation. One of the great things about the engagement was an opportunity to push deeper into what’s underneath social innovation, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. What’s come from that is seeping into most everything I’m doing right now – and so it’s about time I get back to posting what I’ve been discovering.

Perhaps the most profound observation during the course of this exploration is that social innovation and social entrepreneurship are not so much intentional movements as they are phenomena of the evolution of civilization.

As civilization reaches an increasing degree of complexity we are being confronted by the limits of the system that created it. This is being experienced as systemic instability and failure in everything from credit markets to climate change to the remix of the music industry. While we don’t know how things will evolve, we can be sure that whether through intentional actions or systemic collapses, we are entering a period of increasing reconfiguration – “the Great Remix”

At the same time numerous fields of study are converging on the realization that “everything is connected” and that connectedness, connectivity, and emergence are fundamentally important areas of understanding. This realization is key to learning how we might successfully steer our civilization toward a just and sustainable state.

The movements of social finance/innovation/entrepreneurship/tech all bring different perspectives and at the same time share a common ground. From this common ground will come the new initiatives and systems that change the trajectory of our evolution.

Common Ground
The frontiers of the evolution of civilization share the common ground of:

Interdependent in a “common goal”
Acknowledging a greater common goal of a just and sustainable balance among people and the planet.

Driven forward by “purpose primacy”
People and initiatives that hold a primary purpose directly related to the common goal are the catalysts of civilization’s evolution toward a just and sustainable state.

Action taken through a “practical approach”
The strategies and actions of these people and initiatives tend towards:

  • Sustainable financial viability;
  • Practical and productive application of techniques and approaches from non-traditional domains; and
  • Distributing increasing control, earnings, and assets into the communities they serve.

The people and initiatives in this domain tend to be increasingly expressive of the following values:

  • Exhibiting the qualities of open, fluid, and dynamic
  • Providing spaces for people as they are and as they want to become
  • Embracing the richness and wisdom in differences
  • Acting with a light spirit, sense of fun, creativity and a perspective of opportunity

I’ll post some more excerpts from this (‘Doing Differently…‘  and ‘Forces at play…‘) and my other recent work over the coming weeks as I get back into the groove.