Monday, October 19, 2009

The Union of Evolution and Strategy - Part #4

THEME: Fall 2009 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

FOCUS: The Union of Evolution and Strategy - Part #4

Monday morning: October 19, 2009

Dear friends,

The fourth 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: “You can disturb but never wholly direct a living system.”

Whether we like it or not, linear logic does not always apply to a living system. Optimization seldom yields radical innovation. Most of the time, it maximizes the preexisting model. These points alone can be quite difficult to accept. Senior executives love logic and they love optimization. Thinking like Spock from Star Trek and focusing on making things better has been a hallmark of many seminars. However, in fitness landscape terms, the above authors note that “it is impossible to get to a distant and higher fitness peak (discover radical breakthroughs) by climbing still higher on the peak one already is on (optimizing).” Rather one needs to descend into the unknown and experience a journey of sequential disturbances and adjustments. Think Trough of Chaos.

With that in mind, here is the big question for this Monday morning: Are there guidelines that can help us disturb things in the general direction we’d like them to go? The answer is “yes” when we follow the following three rules. First, “design, don’t engineer.” Second, “discover, don’t dictate.” Third, “decipher, don’t presuppose.”

Let me explain using an example from the previously mentioned book. Airport lounges surround each gate. There are no signs or attendants who tell us what to do or not do in an airport lounge. The seats are arranged so conversation is with the person nearby. The arm rests are fixed in order to prevent people from lying down. The seats are usually bolted together so they are not easy to move. The result is that this design achieves the desired behavior with no overt rules or commands. Thus, Goldilocks smiles. Remember the Goldilocks Principle from last week: “neither too many rules nor too few.”

This week, remember that “you can disturb but never wholly direct a living system.” Therefore, design with an outcome/purpose in mind. Discover what is working and build on this platform, and decipher what are the second and third order consequences rather than presuppose that it will all work as programmed.

Have an amazing week,


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

Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257

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