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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.
The Innovation Book (2014)
Porter offers us nothing, just the ‘design school’ mumbo jumbo that can look back and point at the moving pieces, but which can predict or make nothing. There is no there there.
Peter Greenwood, Why Good Strategies Fail: Lessons for the C-Suite
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.
Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian, Information Rules
- Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, cited by Michael Copeland via Wired
love @dickc’s clarity about what’s important
Culture eats strategy for lunch - Shawn Parr