Monday, October 12, 2009

The Union of Evolution and Strategy - Part #3

THEME: Fall 2009 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

FOCUS: The Union of Evolution and Strategy - Part #3

Monday morning: October 12, 2009

Dear friends,

The third 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, that we explored during the Fall 2009 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable was the following: “... the components of living systems self-organize, and new forms and repertories emerge from the turmoil.”

On the surface, this principle seems completely obvious. Yet, we need to remember that self-organization is “the tendency of certain (but not all) systems operating far from equilibrium to shift to a new state when their constituent elements generate unlikely combinations.” The result of self-organization is called emergence. An example of this is when a jazz ensemble creates an emergent sound that no one could have imagined from listening to the individual instruments.

Now, remembering what we explored last week related to fitness landscapes, we need to understand that self-organization generates new routes on the fitness landscape. Emergence, on the other hand, generates new destinations on the fitness landscape

With this in mind, those gathered examined six guidelines for harnessing self-organization and emergence. The first, according to the book, Surfing The Edge of Chaos, is to “decide whether or not self-organization and emergence are really needed.” Ask yourself whether you are dealing with a technical problem or an adaptive problem. In particular, are new routes and new destinations sought?

Second, “analyze the health of your network.” Self-organization arises from healthy networks. If there are dysfunctional teams, personal or cultural elements in place, then this could reduce the ability of a social network to self-organize.

Third, “remember the Goldilocks Principle: neither too many rules nor too few.” I really like this one a great deal. In many organizations, there are too many rules and regulations and not enough common sense. In other places, there is so much freedom that it feels like a scene from the movie, “The Lord of the Flies.” The authors note that “the key to self-organization resides in the tension between discipline and freedom.” From my experience, this tension is manageable when there is a healthy strategic nexus in place, i.e. mission, vision and core values plus a high ownership strategic plan.

Fourth, in order to create self-organization and emergence, we must harness the power of Requisite Variety. As you may remember, The Law of Requisite Variety states that “... survival of any organism depends on its capacity to cultivate (not just tolerate) variety in its internal structure.” With this in mind, we need to bring more people together from different fields and backgrounds and then let them work on the problems before us together. This generates fresh perspective and new lines of thinking.

Fifth, we need to look for the preconditions of emergence. As one who does a lot of executive coaching, I often see these preconditions as problems that keep surfacing, or contradictions between words and actions. In an organization, there may be an incongruence between supply and demand, or unexpressed needs at the employee or customer levels. All of these elements hint at emergent possibilities and help identify when an issue is bubbling toward the surface. For those who have been with me for quite some time, think of Heifetz’s observation about ripe and ripening.

Sixth, self-organization and emergence should not be thought of exclusively as episodic occurrences. They can occur episodically and they can become a sustaining competitive advantage. More than one issue can lead to multiple moments of self-organization and emergence at the same time.

This week, remember that “the components of living systems self-organize, and new forms and repertories emerge from the turmoil.” Review the above six guidelines for harnessing self-organization and emergence. Ask yourself if you are living and working in a healthy network.

Have a terrific week,


Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change

Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I think I just evolved figuring out how to do a blog. Thank you Geery for the help!