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In a Turbulent World, Successful Organizations are Masters of Weaving

May 13, 2017

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In the 1988 movie “Working Girl” with Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford, there is a pivotal scene in which the distressed working girl, Griffith, proves to a corporate mogul that she, a “mere” secretary, was the real mastermind behind a lucrative merger deal. Griffith’s character proves herself by talking the mogul through the mental twists and turns — involving shock jocks, the New York Post, charity balls, and visions for corporate expansion — she traversed to forge a vision of an inspired business venture.

The scene is brilliant, but not just because it deftly saves the day for Griffith so she can finally get the corner office as well as Harrison Ford; it’s brilliant because it illustrates how the ability to interweave seemingly unrelated concepts, influences, and interests is — now more than ever — one of the most important capacities organizations can now possess.

New Thinking About Thinking For Turbulent Times

In an era defined by extreme levels of complexity and upheaval, traditional brainstorming processes and problem-solving strategies are often proving themselves to be little more than distractions. These methods — holdovers from the industrial era — rely upon linear thought processes and proven formulas. This rational underpinning makes them fairly unreliable in a world where butterfly effects and black swan events can unexpectedly shift or decimate the best-laid plans or practices.

For this reason, businesses that wish to not only survive, but thrive through during these turbulent times will need not only new thinking, but new ways of thinking about thinking in order to do things like magnify weak signals and leverage the power of group intuition.

A (Not So) New Idea

And while the challenges most businesses now face seem unprecedented, the notion of interweaving disparate thoughts or influences as a key strategic asset was first introduced nearly a century ago.

Business professors will tell you that contemporary management practices as we now think of them originated in 1911 when an engineer and efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced an evidence-based model of organizational operations he called scientific management. Taylor’s model was steeped in data gathering and logical thought processes. As a result, such esoteric pursuits as trusting one’s intuition or mixing together things that did not appear to belong together was quite taboo.

But a contemporary of Taylor’s, social reformer and management consultant Mary Parker Follett, saw things quite differently. For Follett, the mechanistic world view that Taylor so idolized, while useful at times, was far from the be all and end all. As Follett saw it, the world not a giant mechanistic construction; for her, every thing and thought in the universe exists as part of a complex and ever-evolving experience of interweaving forces.

For this reason, Follett frequently declared that interweaving was the basis of all creative processes. Furthermore, she also believed that, for managers, the ability to perceive and facilitate interweaving was one of the most important things they could do. As Follett saw it “the ceaseless interweavings of new specific [situations], is the whole forward movement of existence” (1924, p. 134).

Interweaving and Anchors

However, as encouraging as Follett may make it sound — or as enticing Melanie Griffith may make it look — for both managers and workers navigating in contemporary organizations and their near-constant turbulence, the process of interweaving is rarely simple or without substantial risks.

Today, both managers and workers are typically overwhelmed with unknowns and anxieties. For this reason, those striving to weave solutions in environments dominated by turbulence and ambiguity need to have reliable anchors in order to serve as a constant source of coherence and stability.

I recently proposed a model to help organizations navigate turbulent environments in a manner that fosters innovation and personal growth. Since introducing the Anchors and Sails model (not even 24 hours ago) I have had several exchanges that have prompted me to recognize even broader implications than what I had originally envisioned.

Several of these that I’ve not yet discussed, dive deeper into the relationship between anchors and interweaving. I plan to discuss these implications in more depth in the next several days.

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