Monday, October 5, 2009

The wise organization

In times of accelerating change, the old top-down, command-and-control organization model is looking more and more like a dinosaur.

Change too slowly and new, faster moving competitors will wipe you from the face of the earth. Think what's happening to some of our biggest and most "blue chip" organizations like banks, airlines and motor car companies.

We've had all kinds of organization designs. The Matrix. The Entrepreneurial. The Machine Bureaucracy. The Professional. The Missionary. The Learning Organization. Even the Playful Organization, which I personally favor, simply because work should be fun.

But what about a wise organization design? It could be an organization that not only creates new knowledge constantly but wisely applies it in the interests of the entire community and not just the business or government agency. It's a new kind of organization we can expect in the emerging Wisdom Age, or its' economic equivalent, the Wisdom Economy.

And what if the strategic capacity was distributed throughout the organization so that all stakeholders -staff, suppliers and customers - were each responsible in some way for creating new knowledge, and the same people who make the decisions were responsible for implementing them? Not the flawed model where management decides the "what" and everyone else decides "the how". That's just command-and-control in disguise.

Instead it's like the connected knowing model of Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, where teachers and learners are equal participants in the process of creating new knowledge or refreshing old knowledge and making it relevant to day's new circumstances, helping to create the new wave of change rather than passively following the wave created by others.

The wise organization model distributes leadership and strategic and operational capacity throughout the entire organism. So leaders at every level knows how to do strategy, innovation, process redesign, quality improvement, marketing, sales, project management, stakeholder engagement, risk assessment and so on...and over time so does anyone/everyone.

It's an organization version of "the wisdom of crowds". Capability and knowledge creating capacity is like DNA - distributed throughout every cell, able to be acted upon, anytime, anywhere.

It's a design that closely approximates Mintzberg's missionary model, where people co-ordinate on the basis of belief, like a Kibbutz, a seminary or al Quaida. Anyone can and does step in to provide leadership as and when required. But it also transcends and includes all the other organization forms under the one roof, a kind of multiply flexible structure. much like an ecosystem or a brain.

So the organization can be incredibly flexble and is "able to turn on a dime", like a shoal of fish or a flock of birds.

So here is a workshop to try this out:

1. How might a "wise organization" operate differently from other organization forms. e.g. the machine bureaucracy, the entrepreneurial.
2. What roles/functions would a leader of a wise organization play?
3. How might strategy emerge and be shaped in an organization in which capacity was distributed?
4. What kinds of products/services might a wise organization offer and how could these be different to the present, mass market or custom-mass market products/services we have everywhere today?
5. What kinds of activities would be the best fit with the wise organization model?
6. What kinds of activities would be the worst fit with the wise organization model and why?
7. Make a list of some of the features of a "wise organization". What kinds of communication would you employ? How would you pay people. How would you involve the customers, the suppliers etc?
8. How would you start? What are the first 10 steps?

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