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Becoming Easier Inc.

28 July 2018
 

The metaphor of organisations-as-machines is outmoded. It ignores the inherently social nature of work and turns the people who do that work into components to be engineered, slotted in, worn out and replaced. In the case of service organisations, it also inclines a view of customers as being the recipients of products, underestimating their active role in co-creating value. This is especially problematic in the case of public services, where seeing citizens and communities as passive consumers, risks evaporating their responsibility and independence, stretching the economic resources of the state past breaking point and undermining outcomes.

An alternative metaphor, organisations-as-ecosystems, has become popular and suggests that organisations are complex networks of interactions, inherently social, impossibly hard to predict in detail and therefore composed of a mess of intended and unintended consequences.

Ecosystems are complex, bound together as networks of interdependent strengths and needs, not as linear chains of cause and effect. This has some significant implications for organisations…

1. No more solutioneering and root cause analysis

When we fully embrace the nature of complex interdependence we accept that our organisation’s most central challenges neither have root causes or solutions - a pretty profound shift from the problem solving perspective our organisations have been familiar with...

2. Control relies on rapid adaptation everywhere

Complexity confounds accurate prediction in detail. The ripple effect of interactions that results when action is taken means that uncertainty of outcome is pervasive. Holding the dynamic equilibrium necessary to keeping an organisation in balance therefore requires constant and rapid adaptation. This has to happen all of the time and everywhere, telling us that decision-making cannot sit solely or even mainly in hierarchy. How information and authority flow within organisations therefore has to change from…

to…

3. Coherent adaptation relies on each part understanding its contribution to a bigger whole

Holding a dynamic equilibrium relies on maintaining a sense of the bigger picture even while working at grass roots; being able to see the whole beyond the parts. More simply, it means understanding how our own work connects to that of others to create value. Without this, adaptation has no anchor, except perhaps self-interest.

4. Win together or lose together

Self-interest cannot be dismissed. Unless the needs of stakeholders across an ecosystem can be met then we can only expect dysfunction. Optimising our organisations therefore looks like minimising friction between the needs of those in them and those affected by them (e.g. the needs of customers, colleagues and institutions). The better able an organisation is to meet all of these needs together, the more effective, efficient and sustainable it is likely to be.

Becoming Easier Inc.

All of this tells us a little something about what better, more humane and more effective organisations can look like, if we choose to create them…


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