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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
- Stowe Boyd
- Stowe Boyd
Stowe Boyd, Is ‘cultural fit’ a cop out? In general, yes.
'Instead of fitting in, we should be looking for places to work that fit us.'
Go read the whole thing.
- Stowe Boyd
Stowe Boyd, Manifesto For A Third Way Of Work (in progress)
Stowe Boyd, Our Time Is Not Our Own: Time Is The New Space (2011)
I’ve been involved in a complex discussion with a broad group of social tool makers, org culture theorists, change agents, and others, regarding the nature of change in organizations and the role — and challenges — of change agents. I decided to recap thoughts on organizational metaphors (a la Gareth Morgan) and Joanne Martin’s work on organizational culture, and then connecting it with Henry Mintzberg’s work on emergent strategy.
From Martin’s viewpoint, I am advancing an argument that is –as its core — a usurping of the guiding metaphor of organization culture.
Today’s entrepreneurial culture in business is grounded in an integrative metaphor: the CEO as visionary develops a strategy for the business, then lays it out so that others in the elite rally around it, and then it is inculcated into the controls and culture of the business, which are monolithic."The coming cooperative organization is scary, because it places ambiguity and uncertainty at the center of organization dynamics. It is based on not knowing exactly what to do, in a world increasingly difficult to read. It values experimentation over execution, places agility above process, and puts learning ahead of knowing. It asks more questions than it can answer, and it may not even know how to answer them."
But the reality of business is that the average employee is increasingly disengaged: they are rejecting alignment with the leadership-provided storyline and monolithic culture. At the very least the reality is that culture has drifted into a differentiated form, with various subcultures believing what they believe, and varying degrees of dissent, rebellion, or passive assent.
From the mindset of integration, this is a manifestation of a sick culture, and something to be fixed. From the mindset, however, of fragmentation, this is a middle ground, a transition zone. As we head toward a more cooperative form of work, and leave behind the consensus requirements of the ideal integrated culture, then the role of leaders change.
As I wrote in the recent piece Moving toward emergent strategy: slowly, if at all, the nature of strategy changes in a time of great change, when the future is difficult to foresee. The role of leadership changes with it, as well. Instead of concocting a strategic vision and pushing it out to the organization through cultural and managerial channels — the deliberate style of strategy — leadership must shift to distributed, action-based strategic learning about what is actually happening in the market: emergent strategy. This, as Henry Mintzberg observed, does not mean chaos, but unintended order.
To come full circle, if the goal of my circle of friends is to concoct a way to way to help change agents within business organizations, I feel we should start with a metanarrative about the changed groundwork for business, the shifting role of strategy and leadership, and, lastly, the fading of consensus and collaborative organizational culture as a consequence.
The coming cooperative organization is scary, because it places ambiguity and uncertainty at the center of organization dynamics. It is based on not knowing exactly what to do, in a world increasingly difficult to read. It values experimentation over execution, places agility above process, and puts learning ahead of knowing. It asks more questions than it can answer, and it may not even know how to answer them.
The power dynamic for change agents is always all uphill: if they want to lead the business forward, they have to convince leaders that they can’t stop the future by saying no, and the best way ahead is through. But we would be making a mistake by sticking to the contemporary metanarrative, one that would reduce this to increased alignment, immediate increases in productivity, or near-term fixes in what is viewed by management as a broken culture.
The challenge, then, is not to reëngage the workforce in solid, uniform cultural norms and allegiance to the company’s official vision — an approach more suitable for the previous decade or century — but to disengage management from the limited metaphor of Martin’s integration mindset. And the place to start is by reconsidering the nature of strategy — and its practice — in a postnormal, chaotic, and changeable world.
An excerpt from Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think starts by restating Mark Granovetter’s arguments on the strength of weak ties in social networks — they connect you to people unlike yourself — and ends with me, of all people, talking about the way to make sense of the torrential stream of communications in a social world:
Clive Thompson via Wired
Mind you, acquiring a network that feeds you surprising and valuable knowledge doesn’t happen on its own. Like most of our new digital tools, crafting a good set of weak links takes work. If we don’tengage in that sort of work, it has repercussions. It’s easier to lean into homophily, connecting online to people who are demographically similar: the same age, class, ethnicity and race, even the same profession.
Homophily is deeply embedded in our psychology, and as Eli Pariser adroitly points out inThe Filter Bubble, digital tools can make homophily worse, narrowing our worldview.
For example, Facebook’s news feed analyzes which contacts you most pay attention to and highlights their updates in your “top stories” feed, so you’re liable to hear more and more often from the same small set of people. (Worse, as I’ve discovered, it seems to drop from view the people whom you almost never check in on — which means your weakest ties gradually vanish from sight.) As Pariser suggests, we can fight homophily with self-awareness—noticing our own built-in biases, cultivating contacts that broaden our world, and using tools that are less abstruse and covert than Facebook’s hidden algorithms.
If you escape homophily, there’s another danger to ambient awareness: It can become simply too interesting and engaging. A feed full of people broadcasting clever thoughts and intriguing things to read is, like those seventeenth-century coffee shops, a scene so alluring it’s impossible to tear yourself away. Like many others, I’ve blown hours doing nothing of value (to my bank account, anyway) while careening from one serendipitous encounter to another.
Others have complained that ambient awareness stokes their FOMO — “fear of missing out,” the persistent dread that there’s some hashtagged “happening” they’re missing out onrightthis instant, a sort of hipster recency paranoia on overdrive.
The trick here is mindfulness. We need to notice when our dallying in the ambient world is taking us away from other things we ought to be doing. Stowe Boyd, a pioneer in social media, once compared ambient signals to a stream of water. You go to a stream to take a sip — not to try to inhale the entire thing. “You take a drink, and you walk away until you’re thirsty again,” he told me.
Stowe Boyd, What Drives Us?