Shifting Our Individual and Organizational Stance

“The “new” is disruptive. The “new” disturbs. The “new” requires change. The “new” is not easy.” -via Scaling Creativity and Innovation

Learning, especially deep exploratory learning that brings forth new ideas and thinking can be incredibly disruptive. As it can upend what we always thought, what we always considered, what we always believed to be foundational, steady and true. It can also dig deep into our assumptions, bias’ and theories that we hold tightly, too. Which is why learning often serve us individually and organizationally as a noun, when it should be engaged as a verb.

Learning should consistently be pushing not just for our involvement, but for our evolvement. In all actuality, learning at its basic core, preceded by a time of exploration and discovery, should initiate at its base, some form or sense of change, if not transformation.

But far too often, learning is a noun. It is engaged as a continuous exploitation of the known, safe and tame, far from thought-provoking or cognitively demanding or disruptive.

Whether individually or organizationally, we tend to create this image of who and what we are, a strong sense of identity that serves as a guide or a north star. However, that very same sense of identity can become a limiting and diminishing force, both individually and organizationally. Especially when new thinking, new ideas, new learning, and new knowledge are at odds with that very identity. When it makes us question who and what we were, and what we are. When the “new” is clashing with that core identity, we can become not only dismissive of, but outright opposed to that learning and what that learning represents to our established core identity.

Eons of leaders and organizations have had to face future irrelevance and obsolescence by their very denial of new thinking, new ideas, new learning, and new knowledge in the present.

However, be that individuals or organizations, we are slowly coming to grips with the understanding that sustainability can no longer be embraced over the adaptability that is now required of us all. Especially as that accelerated level of irrelevance and obsolescence has taken a greater hold on our present and coming futures.

Or as Jan Barstacht shares from Stafford Beer in Why Systems Must Explore the Unknown to Survive in VUCA Environments, “Once new things have been discovered and learned about, then the system must actually integrate this information into itself and use it to change its behavior. In other words, the system must allow the new discoveries to become part of its identity. This has significant consequences as a system is its identity.” For which Barstacht adds, “that the system must allow the new learning to change what it is.” It is no longer enough to gain or acknowledge the new learning, if that new learning has no impact.

Barstacht shares that organizations need to consider the “epistemic stance” of the organization or system, which is a term that refers to “how open a system is to allowing newly formed memories to change who/what it is” which “applies to any learning system, whether that is an organization or individual leader.”

Today’s leaders and/or organizations can no longer afford to entrench themselves in an “epistemic stance” that is aimed at preserving an identity that may be guiding the leader or organization toward future irrelevance or obsolescence. Neither can either ill-afford to dismiss new thinking, new ideas, new learning, and knowledge just because it is at odds with a leader’s or organization’s current “epistemic stance” and “core” identity. Rather, the leader and the organization must be able to learn to deal more effectively with the polarities exist between that organizational “stance” and identity, and new thinking, new ideas, new learning, and new knowledge, especially when they are odds with each other.

Rather, adaptable thinking and systems must replace traditional mindsets and fixed systems.

In today’s dynamic and often volatile times, leaders and organizations must remain flexible and malleable to an ongoing influx of new learning and new knowledge, while avoiding the rigidity and brittleness of entrenched and ingrained identities and mindsets. When identity overrides information, learning becomes an organizational noun.

“Complex systems that demonstrate the behavior of ‘willingly open yourself to explore the unknown to perceive the pattern that creates and connects complexity’ have the capacity to create the situational understanding they need to cope with VUCA environments.” -Jan Barstacht via Why Systems Must Explore the Unknown to Survive in VUCA Environments


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