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How to Dominate the Scary Space of Creativity in the Digital Era

May 22, 2016

We love our online lives. We know all too well how good It feels to click on our familiar apps and websites and hang out with those who like what we like and think what we think.

But there’s a danger lurking in comfortable conformity.

If all we see and hear are those who think and believe just like us, we can leave little room for new ideas and different perspectives.

These are the spaces where creativity stagnates and intolerance grows.

So, is this where our digital journey has led us? And, if so, is this where we truly want to be?

If not–if we are sure we want something better–how do we break free of this comfortable conformity and lean into the scary spaces of creativity and innovation?

Here’s a short video I recently did that tries to answer some of that:

 


 

Agree? Disagree? Let’s chat about it. Leave me a comment!

 

Success, Mindfulness, and the Concealed Costs of Hustle

May 8, 2016

Businessman running

NOTE: On Monday, May 9, 2016 we had an outstanding discussion on Blab to go far more in depth with this same topic.
Here’s the recording of that discussion.
Be sure to check it out!
http://bit.ly/HustleBlab

Success will never be the same again. As technology and social media transform business, entrepreneurs and other business leaders have no choice. They must find new ways of capturing attention, extending their influence and staying ahead of the pack.

At times like this, times of high transition, it’s common to look for new voices and new ways of thinking to help us navigate the uncertain road ahead. For regular viewers of YouTube and other social media platforms, Gary Vaynerchuk is currently one of the most influential of these voices. Despite an irreverent style and rapid-fire, potty-mouth banter, Gary Vee preaches a refreshingly holistic form of social-era evangelism. His message is one based on a razor-sharp understanding of consumer behavior, empathic concern for others and unflinching self-awareness.

 

The Misreading of Hustle

Yet, even with several best-sellers and near-24/7 media presence, one Vaynerchuk’s key ideas seems to be continually misinterpreted. And not only that: this misinterpretation has taken on almost cult-like status. I’m referring to the idea of “Hustle”.

In his latest book, #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness, Vaynerchuk devotes a whole chapter to the topic of hustle. This is for good reason. As he points out in the introduction, Vaynerchuk frequently finds that many take a superficial approach to this concept, sadly missing his deeper meaning.

Hustle is a passionate commitment working hard to manifest one’s own personal vision of success. But the key to hustle—and this is the part that many so often miss—is that it only has value when integrated with the entire #GaryVee approach. This is a commitment to success based on gratitude, self-awareness, empathy, and putting others’ well-being first.

 

The Cult of Hustle

A quick search of either Twitter or Instagram for the hashtag #hustle quickly shows that Vaynerchuk’s deeper commitments are all but lost. Instead we see scores of messages reflecting what I call the “Cult of Hustle.”

But the problem here is more than just misrepresentation. It’s misguidance. Instead of championing collaborative empowerment, the Cult of Hustle preaches an outdated message of self-celebrating narcissism.

I know this sounds harsh, but there is good reason. In a recent piece in The Atlantic, researcher Kristin Neff describes our culture’s fixation with self-celebration as the “cure-all in the quest for inflated egos.” But the problem is bigger than just a misguided understanding of self-esteem. When set loose in business, the Cult of Hustle serves up a profound misreading of contemporary business dynamics and the nature of success.

Outdated Heroicism

A close look at the popular notion of hustle reveals an underlying assumption that success is an heroic achievement. In this form of achievement, success comes from working harder, being smarter, and being more shrewd than anyone else. So, to feel worthy and attain the success I envision, many others must end up being “less-than me”.

Within business, this heroic approach to success is the same that helped leaders triumph in the long-gone industrial era. But the heroic leaders of yesterday aren’t going to solve problems in today’s volatile, socially-driven business environment. In today’s complex world, the Cult of Hustle just ain’t gonna cut it.

21st Century Business: A Need for Community

To get a better idea of what will cut it, we should look a bit more closely at the kind of challenges business now faces. Writing in Huffington Post, Ayelet Baron described the unique characteristics of 21st century business and what it now takes to be successful.

The 21st century is about community and open, two-way conversations. We no longer need to yell at people and broadcast to get their attention. People want to engage in conversation and be listened to.  The new breed of leaders respect people and allow for communities to form where they no longer need to be at the head.

This is not just feel-good rhetoric. It’s a prescription for the kind of volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous problems today’s entrepreneurs face every day. Problems like these simply will not yield to the old, heroic model of authority and expertise. New thinking—like that offered by Gary Vaynerchuk—is now needed to meet these new challenges.

So if the Cult of Hustle is better suited to a by-gone era of success, what is the alternative? For that, we should talk briefly about mindfulness.

 

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The New Era of Mindful Business

The idea of mindfulness comes from the ancient traditions of Eastern contemplative practices. Mindfulness is a way of seeing the world based on Acceptance, Non-Judgment, Letting Go, Non-Striving, Patience, and Self-Compassion. For centuries mindfulness was more a practice for monks and yogis, but in recent years the concept has gone mainstream–this includes business as well. Forbes, Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, and The World Economic Forum have all recognized mindfulness as an important pathway for cultivating the kind of focus, self-reflection, and emotional intelligence now needed for success.

In the Cult of Hustle, success demands unwavering attention to one’s own skills, needs and self-determined goals. But in business today, success requires something different.

So rather than focusing on personal achievement, the focus turns to quieting the inner chatter and emotional reactions that regulary block our ability to notice the weak signals that often preceed opportunities before they emerge.

But this becomes much harder to do when we are laser-focused on hustling.

Can Social Business Reverse Our Growing Crisis of Innovation?

March 21, 2015

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Recently I was talking with a friend who works for a Fortune 500 company. When I asked about social media and collaboration, there was a slight chuckle. “Even if we had time to collaborate” my friend said, “the bosses have no interest in new ideas. All they care about is this insane push for us to hit our numbers.”

I must admit I was not completely shocked. Even with the enthusiastic press and daily chat feeds calling this the ‘new era of social collaboration‘, I knew that a majority of workers remained more like my friend than not. And given the recent data it makes a lot of sense.

 

America’s Crisis of Innovation

As Steve Denning recently reported, America remains mired in a generations-long innovation crisis. Despite the nation’s rebounding economy and renewed optimism, most American firms simply can’t compete in the global marketplace.

While we might be quick to point the finger at broader economic and political factors, two recent polls suggest that the causes may be much closer to home. In fact, they may be within the workplace itself.

 

An Epidemic of Disengagement

Data now suggests that a large majority of American workers spend their days in environments that discourage collaboration and creative thinking. While this is especially the case with millennials, a majority of workers of all ages feel discouraged from thinking outside the box and contributing new ideas.

Reporting on a study recently published by the firm MindMatters, Denning notes that

Only 5% of respondents report that workers in innovation programs feel highly motivated to innovate. [And] while more than half the respondents (55%) say that their organizations treat intellectual property as a valuable resource, only one in seven (16%) believed their employers regarded its development as a mission-critical function. (in Forbes)

Add to this a recent Gallup poll finding that more than two-thirds of American workers feel disengaged from their jobs. Here again, we see millennials hit especially hard.

According to Gallup,  over 71% of millennials currently feel disengaged from their work. Gallup reported that

This finding suggests that millennials may not be working in jobs that allow them to use their talents and strengths, thus creating disengagement.

 

The Gap Between Aspirations vs. Execution

For businesses, these numbers reveal a significant disconnect between organizations’ professed ambitions and their daily execution. While business and political leaders might say they long for the kind of fresh thinking needed to reestablish dominance of global markets, those on the front lines hear quite a different message.

Indeed, many managers seem to be taking page right out of Frederick Taylor’s playbook for Scientific Management by, essentially telling their workers You’re not here to think. You’re here to do!

This leaves us with a question: If social business is ushering us into the next wave in innovation, how can a social mindset help to reverse this epidemic of disengagement?

Pushing Social Even Further

There is little doubt that social technology is a key player in the  future of work.  The current dialogue focusing on social tools and strategies for workplace engagement is an important one. It’s a wellspring of transformation for what business currently is and will become.

Yet if American business is serious about reviving innovation, the conversation needs to go even further. As future-leaning thinkers, we will have to expand our current dialogue and consider an even bolder vision for the potential of a social mindset.

For instance, can we push the idea of “social” further to envision management practices more open to uncertainty and the risk-laden terrain of creative thinking? If so, we may open a doorway to collaborative cultures more welcoming to risk, uncertainty and new thinking.

 

The Risk of Looking Deeper

But there is an important caveat: any meaningful conversation about opportunities must also consider the forces impeding them. In some cases this means coming face to face with issues perhaps considered too delicate to discuss. For example, for managers this will likely mean examining the deeper reasons why they treat innovation and change more like threats than as opportunities.

I’ll explore some of these deeper reasons myself in the next piece. But for now I hope to hear some of your thoughts on pushing the social mindset, expanding creative thinking, and exploring the barriers to innovation.

 

The Collapse of Expertise and Rise of Collaborative Sensemaking

March 11, 2015

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If organizations are going to thrive in turbulent times, they must surrender many of their most cherished assumptions and start leveraging the power of collaborative knowledge. But this won’t be easy as most continue to believe in the same top-down knowledge management strategies common to the machine age.

In the social era, the power of collaboration is key and collaborative knowledge generation–or sensemaking–is essential for staying competitive amidst the messy, complex challenges that define our hyper-connected universe.

But there’s a glitch: paying workers to collaboratively solve problems and cultivate ideas flies right in the face of traditional management thinking and its belief that the only valid source of knowledge is authoritative expertise. So, clearly, a new understanding about knowledge and the role of expertise is needed.

Traditional Management: In Authoritative Knowledge We Trust

Sociologist Bridget Jordan has observed that “The power of authoritative knowledge is not that it is correct, but that it counts.” How true!

Jordan’s point hits home on several fronts: First, it speaks directly to management’s long-standing use of expertise to justify its own authoritative management style.  This is embodied in the belief that for every challenge there is only “one best way” to address it. This helps explain why authority is automatically bestowed upon the appointed “experts” assumed to know the “one best way”.

Jordan’s point also illustrates the false dichotomy organizations still foster between managers whose job it is to think and workers who are only there to do. This manager/worker split can be traced to the very origins of management thinking. It was a key premise that Frederick Taylor, the founding father of modern management, used in his theory of scientific management. So it’s not surprising that, even today, we still hear managers lament that their people “just don’t get the big picture!”

Integrating Expertise With Sensemaking

But I also want to avoid the risk of going to the other extreme and declaring that expertise has no value and needs to be banished. Collaborative sensemaking is crucial; yet it needs to be tempered and integrated with the broader perspective and enduring insight afforded by more rigorous and tested thought. In this way expertise becomes as an important but equal component of a dynamic and evolving sensemaking landscape.

Suggestions For Introducing More Collaborative Strategies

So what can managers do, and what about the role of leadership?

Peter Morville has said that those in positions of authority should see themselves as “decision making architects”.  This implies using positional power smartly–not to control others, but instead to create cultures and contexts in which mutually-empowering decision-making becomes the norm.

For those looking  to make a start on this journey, here are three suggestions:

  1. Look for pockets of resistance: If you know of departments or programs continually complaining that “management is out of touch”, they may be right! This may be a good place to start introducing more integrative knowledge practices.
  2. Change your story: Narratives are powerful tools for transformation; you may want to revise your own message about the power of expertise vs. workforce input. A more inclusive message valuing integrative knowledge validates workers’ knowledge and opens the door for more social sensemaking strategies.
  3. Create outlets for collaborative sensemaking to take place: Venues will differ based on the organizations’ size and type of work. But still be sure to seek out ways to incorporate social technologies for unlocking collaborative potential.

 A Deeper Awareness of Social 

As we move deeper into the often-awkward shift from industrial heroicism to social interdependence, organizations of all kinds must look closely at what it means to be “social”. Social is more than a buzzword, and it’s more than having a company Twitter account. At its center a social mindset is about a more dynamic and integrative way of seeing the world.

For organizations commited to thriving in this new era, social must be at the heart of their worldview–how its culture and leadership understands reality and their role in it. Nothing better reflects this understanding than how those in authority–day in, day out–balance their commitment between expertise and the creative processes of collaborative sensemaking.

Deep Disruption (Part II): Three Key Insights For Igniting Creativity & Collaborative Sensemaking

March 1, 2015

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With the massive, disorienting surge of digital technology and social sharing, organizations are forced to think more and more about managing disruption. But managing disruption is no longer enough.  These days, new tools and insights are needed in order for organizations to leverage disruption–and in so doing, unlock its deeper potential as a source of creativity and resilience.

This piece offers the following three key insights to help you get a jumpstart on that.

  1. Disruption has always been a normal part of life. By speeding things up, technology simply makes that fact unavoidable.
  2. Because disruption challenges familiar norms, it offers an opportunity to break from outdated, formalized routines to fresher, more integrative thinking.
  3. Disruption eats heroic solutions for breakfast; complex challenges call for problem-solving rooted in collaborative sensemaking.

 

Disruption: It’s Here To Stay; In Fact, It Never Went Away

Insight #1: Disruption has always been a normal part of life. By speeding things up, technology simply makes that fact unavoidable.

Voltaire once said “Everything is fine today, that is our illusion.” Thus, given the choice, who wouldn’t choose to avoid disruption? So it should be no surprise that some firms find the term so fraught with angst that they’ve actually banned uttering the word itself.

Yet, on the other end of the scale, thought leaders like Harvard’s Clayton Christensen  or James McQuivey have taken a different route and instead championed the idea that disruption is a critical tool for those seeking market dominance.

But despite appearances, disruption is not a new phenomena; infact, it’s always been here. Consider for instance that the ancient Greeks debated the issue of change vs. stability just as fiercely as we do today. For us, it may seem new, but that’s only because for thousands of years customs and institutions were so stable it was easy to believe that change was an isolated event. The only difference now is the frequency with which the illusion of stability is accosted.

This is why we need new thinking based on the notion of deep disruptiona broader approach to disruption that aims to dispel the angst by overturning the idea of change-as-the-exception. Deep disruption draws from those thinkers like Whitehead and Follett who saw disruption as an opportunity to engage with the natural, creative flow of life itself.

But as many are aware, seeing disruption as an asset flies right in the face of traditional organizational thinking. With its mad quest for perfect prediction and unshakable stability, modern management continues to operate from a 400-year-old mechanistic mindset that favors stability over change, rules over sensemaking, authority over experience.

Even nearly a century ago–as the height of the Taylor’s scientific management craze–some were calling for more responsive alternatives. In 1924 Mary Parker Follett saw that to be effective business needed a new way of thinking, one that saw disruption as a reservoir of renewal and creativity. She wrote “it is disruption which leads to fresh and more fruitful unitings”.

With the emergence of social business practices we now have the change to leverage the fruits of disruption. By offering platforms for both customers and workforce share ideas and insights, disruption becomes a portal for a kind of collaborative sensemaking that brings together diverse perspectives. In turn, this results in new ways of seeing challenges and approaching opportunities.

 

Disruption: A Gateway To New Thinking

Insight #2: Because disruption challenges familiar norms, it offers an opportunity to break from outdated, formalized routines to fresher, more integrative thinking.

Way back in 1911, the father of modern management, Frederick Taylor prescribed the following approach for dealing with breakdowns and inefficiencies:

…there is always one method and one implement which is quicker and better than any of the rest. And this one best method and best implement can only be discovered or developed through a scientific study and analysis of all of the methods and implements in use. (p. 9)

This “one right way” thinking is the product of the mechanistic assumptions upon which modern management thinking is built. Given the assumption that there is only one right way (which, coincidently, is usually the same right way advocated by senior management), it follows that any disruption to that one right way, left unchecked, will trigger widespread angst and the system’s eventual collapse.

However, as we’ve heard, mechanist, one right way thinking is simply useless in the face of the complex, highly ambiguous challenges common to a knowledge-based economy.

Consider, for example, Morgan’s point that

If a system has a sufficient degree of internal complexity, randomness and diversity and instability become resources for change.  New order is a natural outcome. (p. 252)

But cultivating such an order, requires a clean break from modern management’s rationalist ideal of knowledge creation. As I wrote previously,

Valid knowledge is based on rational thought that allows for order, stability, and the control of outcomes. Any knowledge based on collective experience or emotions is flawed as it is highly subjective and contextual.

Thus we see how traditional approaches to knowledge management can view randomness and diversity as distractions or even threats. If a system depends upon predictablity and order for its survival, nonrational or subjective knowledge will only undermine the status quo.

And this is exactly why, more than ever, we need this kind of subversive thinking. Not only do organizations need new ideas, they need new platforms for generating them.

And therein lies the beauty of social.

 

Disruption: Out With Heroicism & In With Social Sensemaking

Insight #3: Disruption eats heroic solutions for breakfast; complex challenges call for problem-solving rooted in collaborative sensemaking.

Einstein said “No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it.” The beauty of social business is in the power of connection; that connection, if properly framed, can generate more effective ideas along with new ways of collaborative thinking that hold the potential of transcending the complexity of the problems they address.

As we see how social business has developed so far, we see preliminary indications of the emergence of new, more socially-connected forms of thinking. As an example, Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt make the case that enterprise intergration of social platforms is about far more than information sharing; it’s about developing a new, more open relationships between and amongst customers and employees. Here we see collaborative knowledge-sharing as the newly emergent norm.

Thus, we can quickly set aside the notion that social business is only about giving everyone an equal say. It’s about so much more more than that. By giving voice to new thinking that goes beyond the Tayloresque one right way mindset, social sharing is a clear indication of more dynamic and distributed modes of idea generation. In this way rapidly emerging collaborative platforms signal the development of more complex responses to disruption based upon more complex forms of collaborative sensemaking.

Thus business’s integration of social platforms offers the promise of more diverse and distributed ways of making sense of the world.  As the disruptions grow ever more confounding and the sugar pill of Voltaire’s “Everything is fine today” grows ever more precarious, humans must cultivate ways of understanding each other and the world that go beyond the familiar patterns and tap into new systems of thought we can only manifest together.

Deep Disruption: New Insight For Social Era Organizations (Part 1)

February 10, 2015

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There’s little argument that, for organizations of all kinds, disruption is now a critical topic of conversation. As the digital networking of nearly everything in our lives rapidly errodes any notion of “business as usual”, more than ever we’re forced confront the unexpected. However, for many, this growing experience of disruption pushes us to confront a unsettling irony; that is, while disruption has become an increasinly pervasive part of our lives, recent discussions on the topic view it as heroic strategy to insure dominance and stability.

This approach not only limits organizations’ ability work with their people, it subverts valuable opportunities to strengthen resilience and build the kind of shared awareness that will generate greater opportunity and innovation.

Welcome To The Era of Disruptive Innovation

While the dictionary defines “disruption” as that which “breaks apart or alters so as to prevent normal or expected functioning”, I’m seeing a bastion of industry experts approaching the topic quite differently. For example, Harvard’s Clayton Chistensen champions a very different view of disruption. Though his framework for “disruptive innovation“, Christensen proposes a view of “disruption” as a visionary stategy aimed at capturing market share.

Despite increasinly vocal critiques (here and here), this approach has helped make “disruption” one of the decade’s primary business buzzwords–albeit in a narrowly-defined way.

What I find missing in all this recent talk is much consideration the broader dimensions of disruption–such as unintended upheaval, unexpected tragedy, mistakes, miscalculation, human error, etc., etc. Throughout history, important thinkers have viewed this kind of disruption as an opportunity for insight and creative expansion.

Instead, organizations seem to believe that disuption, as they see it, is valued just so long as it supports established expectations or strategic objectives. And when it doesn’t, someone is surely to blame!

It’s time we started talking about disruption from a broader perspective.

 

It’s About an Outdated Worldview

I’ve previously discussed there are three long-standing beliefs now derailing modern management’s ability to adapt to a world where rapid change and unexpected turbulence are the norms. The first of those beliefs is

1. The universe was designed as an orderly, mechanistic system where permanence and stability are the norms. Change and/or disruption is an irregular event and indicate a breakdown in the natural, intended order.

For most managers, struggling to meet objectives and keep everyone happy, this stability-seeking worldview translates into a workday mindset that goes something like this:

  • This organization can only be effective if conditions are stable and orderly.
  • My job is to make sure sure things stay that way.
  • So when things aren’t that way, I need to use my authority to enforce more control because…
  • Someone screwed up or is working against me.

In all fairness, it makes sense that most managers would think this way when everyone around them, including top management, thinks and reacts in the same way. In fact, for most manages–even if they wanted to adopt a more open attitude about disruption–the pressures to follow traditional thinking and maintain order are enormous. But as history shows us, this is not the only way to think about disruptive events.

 

A (not so) New Way To Think About Disruption

There’s another way to think about disruptive conditions that that I’m now calling deep disruption. While the concept of deep disruption itself is not new, the term is needed in order to distinguish the notion from how many organizations now think about disruption. In contrast to the view of disruption as a kind of bold strategic intiative, deep disruption goes beyond strategic tactic and instead points to the underlying, nonlinear essence of life itself.

To better understand deep disruption let’s look way, way back to 500BC or so–that’s a couple hundred years before thinkers like Socrates and Aristotle. Around this time most people thought of the world a fixed, stable place, but a gentleman named Heraclitus proposed a very different view of the world and the role of disruption .  Rather than seeing disruption as an unwelcome mishap, Heraclitus saw it as the natural state of things, a creative force underlying the whole universe. From his perpsective change and conflict were not problems at all, but instead reflected the natural flow out of which the new and creative were constantly emerging.

Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed…. Cool things become warm, the warm grows cool….It is in changing that things find repose.
Heraclitus

However in coming back to the future and all the challenges and demands we now face on a daily basis, it would be easy to think that Heraclitus’s view of things is nice thought, but quaintly outdated. But we should not be so quick.

 

Deep Disruption and Modern Management

As we know, today modern management is closely wedded to a mechanistic view of reality.  A central premise of this mindset is a belief in rational causality, i.e., events should flow smoothly in a logical chain of cause and effect relationships. Given this assumption, it is easy to understand why we would then assume that, in today’s world, anything of value or imporance could only emerge through a kind of “disruption-free” process of planning and execution.

However, as Claudio Ciborra has deftly pointed out, this is far from the case. In his amazing book The Labyrinths of Information: Challenging the Wisdom of Systems, Ciborra makes the point that some of the most important innovations of our era have emerged through highly disruptive processes. Unintended errors, random experimentation, patchwork solutions, and blind chance have all played a central role in the emergence of some of our most valued innovations.

One of his central examples is the development of the internet which, as we know,  started out as a way for government scientists to share information. Later on, of course, it became much, much more.

After detailing a number of similar examples, Ciborra summarizes his point by saying that

At a closer look, all these cases emphasize the discrepancy between, on the one hand, ideal methodologies and plans and, on the other, the realities of implementation, where chance, serendipity, trial and error, or even gross negligence seem to play a major role in shaping systems that will become of strategic importance and reference, but only after the fact. (pp. 39-40)

So there is ample reason to believe that a deeper awareness of disruption and how to work with that is needed.  For organizations of all kinds, the challenge becomes how to do that while still attending to the many rational, linear processes that remain critical for effective operations. That’s a topic I’ll take on in Part 2 of this posting.

 

Putting It Into Action

By now it should be clear that, to meet the challenges we now face, a broader awareness of disruption is needed. Going beyond popular tenets of “disruptive innovation”, an awareness of deep disruption would afford organizations with the mindset needed to engage with the uncertainty and ambiguity that increasing define the emerging social era.

But even beyond this awareness, what we also need are methods of practice. As I’ll detail in the next piece, the key is in developing a new, more integrative ways of understanding our own thinking process and how we communicate that with those around us. Ciborra points to exactly that when he suggests that “technology may require us to speak another language, less formal and structured, more fragmented and oriented to recombination” (p. 26).

For some companies, like IBM, this process of recombination is well underway and bearing fruit. For others, sadly, there is instead a wide-spread disappointment that things aren’t like the used to be along with an unremitting frustration that “someone screwed up or is working against me!”

 

The 3 Crumbling Pillars of Modern Management

January 29, 2015

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As I survey mainstream organizational practices for the past 100 years, these are the principles I see underscoring nearly all mainstream leadership models and approaches to organizational change:

1. The universe was designed as an orderly, mechanistic system where permanence and stability are the norms. Change and/or disruption is an irregular event and indicate a breakdown in the natural, intended order.

2. Valid knowledge is based on rational thought that allows for order, stability, and the control of outcomes. Any knowledge based on collective experience or emotions is flawed as it is highly subjective and contextual.

3. To be effective, human action should produce order, stability, and
intended outcomes. Such action is assured through adherance to universal rules and rational planning.

Here we can easily see the influence of Cartesian thinking and the notion of a mechanistic universe. Even with those models considered “more progressive”, such as servant leadership, or self-directed teams, when you scratch below the surface, you find these same three principles.

 

The interesting thing is, looking at these practices throughout the 20th century, we also see the quiet but growing emergence of a so-called “counternarrative” of organizational thinking.

 

The earliest, and perhaps boldest, example of this counternarrative is in the writing of Mary Parker Follett. Writing in the 1920s–a time when Frederick Taylor’s “Scientific Management” movement was in full swing–Follett’s work is nothing short of revelatory.

 

Taking on the notion of an orderly universe that was understood through rational thinking and implemented through proper planning, Follett believed that, to be effective, management had to acknowledge the world’s inherenent complexity. Unlike Taylor, and nearly every other thinker of her day, Follett saw the world as a dynamic, ever-evolving creative process that was demanded strategey based upon collective self-discovery.

 

While management practices rooted in the three constraining pillars remained the widely accepted norm not only throughout the 20th century, but well into the 21st as well, what we also see is a slow but growing infiltration of more organic, humanistic influences vis a vis Follett.

 

Systems theory, Senge’s Learning Organization model, and complexity-based management theory all represented efforts to introduce a more dynamic, evolving worldview modern management practices.

 

As we now are starting to contend with disruption on an heretofore unimaginable scale we will see the emergence of even more radical advancements in organizational theory. While the particular shape or form of these models remains unclear, there is little doubt such advancements will need to go far beyond traditional task-structuring, power-distribution practices.

 

Instead we will need management thinking that addresses the radical developments not just in workplace practices but in personal identity. As we thinking about what each one of us is experiencing through the tsumani of digital disruption, the need for such new thinking should be clear.

 

We need a new awareness of organizations and management that do far more than what the thinking in these domains has done before; we need thinking that takes on our evolving relationship, not only to the workplace, but to each other and the world at large.

 

This means that–by necessity–organizational thinking has to begin accomodating fundamental human processes such as our rapidly evolving relationship to dialogue, and how our shifting notions of change and causality have now created an entirely new work environment than what we could have imagined even a generation ago.

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