THEME: Fall 2009 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report
FOCUS: The Union of Evolution and Strategy - Part #2
Monday morning: October 5, 2009
The second principle, based on the research and writings of Richard T. Pascale, Mark Millemann and Linda Gioja in their book, Surfing The Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business, we explored at the Fall 2009 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable was the following: “Nature is at its innovative best near the edge of chaos.”
First off, Pascale and others pointed out that “the edge of chaos is a condition, not a location.” It creates upheaval but not dissolution. It is not the abyss. It is a sweet spot for productive change.
Next, they explained that “Innovations rarely emerge from systems high in order and stability.” Andy Grove, retired chairman of Board at Intel explained it this way: “First, you must experiment and let chaos reign. That’s important because you’re not likely to successfully stumble on the answer at the first sign of trouble. Rather, you have to let the business units struggle and watch the dissonance grow in the company. As this unfolds, you enter the second phase of change, which I describe as the Valley of Death. Doing away with established practice and established people - tearing apart before you can put together something new - is not fun. Talking prematurely about changes that disrupt people’s lives and are not truly believed can undermine efforts before you really know what you’re doing. But once they are in place, it is essential for leadership to speak clearly about what to do. At this point, you are on the other side of of the Valley of Death and you can describe the future that lies ahead.”
Now, before we go any further, I like the term Trough of Chaos much better than “Valley of Death.” The latter term would scare the pants off every beginning middle level manager and quite a few senior executives if it were used on a regular basis. Therefore, I will stick with the Trough of Chaos.
Recognizing that the trick is to navigate close to the edge of chaos without falling into it, Pascale says there are three essential navigation devices. First, there are attractors, analogous to a compass, which orient a living system in one direction and create an impetus to migrate out of the comfort zone. An example of an attractor is a vision or BHAG. It generates a compelling aspiration amongst employees to move.
The second navigation device is the use of feedback. How and when an organization amplifies or dampens feedback can act like a throttle or brake to the move in the first navigation device.
The third navigation requires us to understand the concept called the “fitness landscape.” This is a term used by ecologists and other life scientists to map the relative competitive advantage of species. As Pascale notes, the “higher degrees of fitness are depicted by linear height on the landscape,” and “the loss of fitness is visualized as going downhill in this three dimensional territory.”
Here is a great example of this concept from the book, Surfing The Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business. “When a threatened species, such as the North American coyote, is driven from it’s traditional habitat by human extermination programs, it descends the fitness landscape toward the edge of chaos.... It must learn to cope with different terrain, climate, and rivals, and to find new sources of food.” Once it learns to adapt and urbanize, the coyote’s fitness increases and it carves out a niche on a superior fitness peak. As it moves uphill, i.e. better adaptation, a species will reach a subsidiary peak. Biologists call this perch on the fitness landscape, “a basin of attraction.” They also note that to get to higher peaks, a species must “go down to get up.”
In the world of business, Monsanto developed genetically improved crops, and the innovation catapulted it to a new peak. However, once the cultural environment changed and genetically improved crops fell out of favor, especially in Europe, then Monsanto was seen as “the instigator of Frankenstein Foods”. The result is that it went downhill from it’s new peak.
This week, first remember that “nature is at its innovative best near the edge of chaos.” Second, review the three navigation devices with your team and in particular where you are in the “fitness landscape.”
Have a wonderful week,
Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change
Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257