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“A theory has only the alternative of being wrong or right. A model has a third possibility: it may be right but irrelevant.” -Manfred Eigen
When you think of the current idea of the organizational model and how we work, be that in education, government, or business, in the historical scheme of things, is a model that hasn’t really been around for that long of a time.
For much of that time, the model has stayed pretty consistent, focusing on sustaining systemic efficiency, command and control leadership, a need for certainty and the avoidance of unnecessary risks, and very often choosing pride of product over support and commitment to people ways of operating. It is only in more recent times that there has been this push towards more adaptive awareness and deeper focus on effectiveness over efficiency, a more human-centered and less cogs in the machine ways of operating, as well as continually looking to evolve and expand the user experience both internally and externally, and embracing uncertainty and risk-taking that leads to more discovery, experimental learning.
Shifts that have stemmed more from necessity than necessarily from want. Especially as today’s accelerated, turbulent and often disruptive nature of change and societal shifts have changed expectations and brought forth this need for new ways for the organization and its leadership to operate and exist.
It is no longer enough to just focus on sustaining models efficiency, when frameworks of effectiveness are now required.
In a world that is much more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, our organizations and leaders within must be much more aware of what they are sustaining. What is considered relevant today, might and most likely will not be relevant tomorrow, and understanding this shift will allow our leaders and organizations to adapt more effectively to a changing world and uncertain future. It does little to improve our systems and ways of working to be both more efficient and effective, if what we are focused on sustaining and adapting to has become or is becoming irrelevant in a world that is changing exponentially.
And yet, just understanding when our strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems and models have become irrelevant and actually moving to an action or actions that creates the necessary change or needed transformation of those are two very different lifts. With one being much heavier and more complex than the other.
As Einstein is known for saying, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Which says two things to me; (1) the deeper the understandings we build around our organizational strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems and models, through ongoing learning and enhanced idea flows, the greater the chance that we make changes to our organization that allow it to be more efficient, more effective and more relevant to our changing world, and (2) you can only truly get to simple through full comprehension of the complexity that we are facing and that which exists and is inherent within each of our organizational ecosystems.
Understandings that eventually determine how adaptable and agile our organizations can and will become in the future.
For example, the digital disruption and/or transformations that we are currently facing serve as a tremendous example of (1) and (2) from above, in showing us just how complex the nature of change can be for us as individuals, leaders and organizations; and yet how important it is we find ways to communicate the need for change and/or changes to retain the relevance of our work in a simple and meaningful manner.
Too often we approach this work in a wrong or right manner, which undervalues the in-between and/or complexity of what we are facing as leaders and organizations. It is no longer about whether a strategy, practice, process, structure, system or model is wrong or right, but rather is it effective? And, is it relevant to the world that we are “now” living in?
Not the world that we used to live in…
Too often we try to implement change without taking into account the relevance and/or irrelevance of our current models. Too often we approach change in an isolated manner, focusing on parts of the system without seeing the whole of the system, often leading to unintended consequences that do more to hinder than improve the overall performance of the organization.
You can’t move towards continuous improvement and effective systems change, if you are not willing to attend to the irrelevance of the current strategies, practices, processes and models that are in place. That is not to say that progress cannot be made, just understand irrelevant parts can and will slow the process and in the end, weigh down the whole.
As for example, think of it like keeping outdated computers running on a systems network. The computers still work for the individual user, but their outdated performance becomes a drag, ultimately slowing down the entire network for all users. It is better for the overall performance of the entire network to remove those outdated computers, even though it may cause some inconvenience for individual users.
And yet, they remain on the network…
Unfortunately, many of our current strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems and models are disconnected from the future we are facing. Much like the outdated computers, we stubbornly refuse to remove them from the network, knowing that they are slowing and dragging the entire system down.
Awareness of these signals, of the slowing of our organizational networks due to outdated and irrelevant strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems, and models will be paramount to determining the necessity and need for change, and approaching and communicating the complexity of that change in a much more simple, transparent, and human-centered manner, will be vital to the continuous and effective improvement that makes our organizations more robust and relevant for the future.
Which ultimately evolves our organizations from one of sustaining the current, to one of adapting progressively to the future.