Throughout the living world, we find living systems nesting within other living systems.
The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision
We are all disconnected. We are all connected.
Which is it for your organization?
The question is posed not within the context of present day tribalism or social media. It is posed from the position of leadership within an organization.
Do you look at your organization and see silos? Or do you see connectedness?
Is it a living system or a decaying one? And how does this inform your strategy for growth or transformation?
Deep pauses around such questions are not often welcomed in our hyper accelerated world.
But a hyper accelerated path of disconnected silos is....well, do I need to tell you?
Sometimes a pause to connect is the best way forward.
Like it or not, though, 'can-do' has got to take its place in the list of
‘emperor’s-new-clothes’ solutions. Rely on it as a strategy,
and you are asking for trouble. It does not stand in for a plan.
Frank Hore/David Low
I have been increasingly aware of the dilemma — yes, often conflict — between "can-do" and strategic leadership. Both have a role to play in society and organizations.
As a systems thinking guy I fit more naturally with the strategic role. As a CEO I also sat in the chair which certainly required "can do" along with "must do"! That experience underscored for me the importance of integrating "can do" and strategy ( and must do).
As our societal, structural and organizational shifts become ever more evident, local to global, the tendency has been to look to the "can do" leader to deliver solutions. The deeper dive on underlying structural problems and strategies to address them may appear daunting to many.
As one who embraces complexity, I admittedly find this perplexing; and down right concerning at times.
A few years ago I came across an RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) blog by Frank Hore and David Low titled: " 'Can-do': no substitute for strategy". Its message resonated with me, and still does:
Like it or not, though, can-do has got to take its place in the list of ‘emperor’s-new-clothes’ solutions. Rely on it as a strategy, and you are asking for trouble. It does not stand in for a plan.I remember when Boards used to say ‘times are tough but good leadership will get us out of trouble’ when what they really meant was ‘we cannot see a way out of this; let’s hope the CEO can.’
Today the buck has been passed to can-do: with the right attitude, we can make the impossible probable......
Can-do may be a valuable attribute in most organisations but it must not be a sanction for firefighting to become the core competency.
Do you and your organization practice "can-do", strategic or integrated leadership?
...the decision to search for opportunities is an enterprising decision requiring entrepreneurial intuition and imagination and must precede the ' economic ' decision to go ahead with the examination of opportunities for expansion.
The Theory of the Growth of the Firm
Penrose was a pioneer economist in the resource-based view of a firm.
A view focused on a firm gaining competitive advantage by organizing around its internal resources.
She emphasized the importance of intuitive decision-making preceding the analytical economic decision in seeking opportunities. A topic I addressed a couple of weeks ago.
Such entrepreneurial leadership and decision-making can be challenging for established firms.
Their organizational culture can be highly rules based, overly process oriented or dominated by a particular leader.
All which can stifle entrepreneurial leadership and growth.
An organizational culture that fosters "entrepreneurial intuition and imagination" can help create what I call a mindful organizational system. The opposite: a minefield organizational system.
Minefield organizational system:
But the growth, and sometimes survival, of a firm often depends on it.
In every human organization there is a tension between its designed structures, which embody
relationships of power, and its emergent structures, which represent the organization’s aliveness and
The Hidden Connections
Having worked with a multitude of different organizational systems and leadership styles the designed/emergent tension resonates with me.
Another way I have described it is "linear vs. organic" or "Mind Map vs. Ganntt Chart" styles. Capra states we need both.
Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World poses that over time the linear brain function has become the master over the holistic function, the natural master.
Our systems and organizations, in turn, reflect a shift away from the wisdom and balance the holistic function provides to a system, whether small business or nation state.
Oh, I know this may sound a bit esoteric and impractical. But in light of all the shifts and changes in today's world is it?
Over the years I have often asked CEOs and entrepreneurs: "do you make your decisions intuitively or analytically"?
The answer almost always has been intuitively, followed by an explanation of how they need to justify their intuition through analysis to investors, boards and finance committees.
Whole leaders and organizations integrate designed and emergent structures, intuition and analysis.
Information is not knowledge.
The only source of knowledge is experience.
You need experience to gain wisdom.
Einstein may not have actually said these words.
They may be a paraphrase from John Locke's
Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
Last year I spoke with a founder of an AI (Artificial Intelligence) start-up and asked if their AI application could replicate wisdom. My question was received as if I was a museum curator.
Today information is considered by many to be knowledge. And algorithms might be considered to possess wisdom by some.
The end of last year I heard an interview on the radio with an early Facebook investor (Roger McNamee whose book Zucked has since been published). Among his insights about Facebook: 1) the online dissonance purposely facilitated by AI and 2) when humans curated information the dissonance was not as severe.
Seems human wisdom still has a role to play in our lives, at least for now!
The interview hearkened me back to a conversation I had a number of years ago with John Diebold, founder of The Diebold Group. He was a futurist who coined the word "automation". He and I shared a number of interests, particularly how technology, people and capital intersect.
The importance (and my interest in it) of that intersection has certainly not lessened over the years. I now include the relationship with the natural world to this intersection.
It also underscores for me that the complexity of the world in which we now live. This complexity cannot be avoided by organizations whether in rural Maine or central London.
Many organizations understand this fact. They not only embrace complexity but create the future in doing so. Such organizations embrace vision and strategy.
Others tend to run from complex issues, vision and strategy. They believe they simply (and only) "can do" their way out of dilemmas and into the future. Until it's too late.
" One is asked then, to accept the human condition, its sufferings and its joys, and to work with its imperfections as the foundation upon which the individual will build wholeness through creative achievement. For the person with creative potential there is no wholeness except in using it. "
Robert K. Greenleaf
Isn't it our brokenness that connects us?
I have introduced myself to various thought leaders and people I meet at networking events with that question.
It is not your typical question asked over a canapé at one of those networking events where everyone is straining to read your name tag, deciding whether it's worth their time to have a conversation with you.
Admittedly, I have at times had a gulp in my throat as I ask it. And there are times my question is received with an uncomfortable silence and a downward stare.
But for me it is a real question, a genuine observation.
And for a number of people the response to the question is similarly real — and genuinely heard.
It resonates with many because it reflects a deeper truth people are thirsty to discuss.
And it is not merely esoteric. Whole leaders recognize this truth and connect the brokenness in us all into a new wholeness, even a new vision and organization.
It's actually an optimistic question. For by acknowledging our common brokenness we acknowledge our common good.
It opens up a whole new level of awareness to our creative potential to " build wholeness through creative achievement ".
Coercive power is the curse of the universe;
coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human soul.
Mary Parker Follett
We live in a world of systems, complex and increasingly disconnected.
Our times require vision, connection and collaboration.
Natural systems and technical systems compete, conflict and collaborate over resources to provide us water, food and energy.
Our human systems — family, organizations and community, provide a sense of belonging and common purpose.
We need balance between and among these systems to bring wholeness and resilience to our lives, communities and organizations. A leadership challenge.
It is the leader, as Mary Parker Follett observed nearly a century ago, that “must see all the future trends, and unite them.”
Follett is perhaps best known for her distinction of “power with” vs. “power over”.
“Power with” requires wholeness of leadership and organizational integration.
The challenge for such a form of leadership is to integrate values that enhance thoughtfulness, communication and competency within an organizational system.
Follett's century-old insights are timeless, and never more relevant.
And now we welcome the new year.
Full of things that have never been.
Rainer Maria Rilke
In my new year message last year I reflected on renewed purpose.
Over the year I explored how best to manifest it.
I sense I am not alone.
For me, it is a process of emergence, aligning purpose with vision.
" Things that have never been ". Or things that have been, renewed.
Whatever your renewed personal, community or organizational purpose, may the year ahead see it fulfilled.
A year of common purpose.
The story of Atlantic Global Resources (AGR) began in Cambridge, England in 1996 where I was studying global systems of innovation. New England born, my journey of personal and global awareness expanded.
The two bridges above represent that journey. The black and white photo shows the construction of the only granite cribstone bridge in the world. It is in Harpswell, Maine. My grandfather's Boston-based maritime construction firm helped build it.
The bridge in Cambridge, England is another representation of the journey. Through my studies there I discovered the significance of systems thinking; a perspective of the whole. This is how I think and the lens through which I see the world and organizations.
My graduate studies in organizational systems, culture and leadership brought into focus that a system was only as effective as its resources, particularly its people. These were insights my grandfather learned in a far different era and manner.
I was recently reminded of this when I walked across another bridge my grandfather's company built. It prompted me to remember a story and lesson told to me as a young boy. It was a story of how several men died falling off that bridge, swept away by the current.
My grandfather drove hours in the middle of the night to visit the home of each and every family who lost their husband or father to give them comfort and support. The lesson the story instilled in me at a young age was the importance of humanity and compassion in a leader.
A poorly educated, Canadian-born, self-taught bridge builder and entrepreneur knew when to lead from his heart.
He was a whole leader, with head and heart working in concert not in conflict.
It is a story and lesson for the ages.
Contact between man and animals and man and the natural world breeds, perhaps - sometimes - wisdom.
Steps to an Ecology of Mind
A number of friends have commented recently that they were surprised I had not been to London this past year.
My response: “ So am I, but Acadia National Park is a very seductive place!”
London does call, although these Acadia pictures may help explain why I have also considered this region to be home during the past year.
It has been a year of personal discovery and reconnecting with the natural world. Through it, I have been reminded of a path of personal and professional purpose reflected in a 20-year-old graduate school essay:
Business management and its system of governance in this environment [post Cold War] becomes not one of building technically guided systems but creating systems through leadership and conscience. The new “guidance systems” are not hierarchies with the clarity of purpose an arms race imposed, but rather intricate webs of personal, institutional and ecological levels of awareness.
It is a path from which I diverted in many ways. As I rediscover this path, I have a renewed purpose. It is like getting reacquainted with an old friend.
May yours be a year of discovery, perhaps getting reacquainted with an old friend.