Tag Archives: change

The Fallacies of Control & the Quick Fix: On Culture and the Complexity of Organizations

Anyone seeking to change an organization has known the pitfalls of trying to control behavior and motivation. Setting goals and expectations is not so hard. One-off wins tied to an event or a compelling speech can move the needle. But execution over the long-term .. including any lasting, sustainable change in thinking .. is another matter.

Ask Lou Gerstner, the man who moved IBM from hardware to services in the 1990’s, who said:

Culture is not just one aspect of the game, it IS the game.

I’ve always seen this as a fundamental breakthrough, a wake-up call for change the modern organization. Yet leaders will routinely, if not obsessively, plod through short-term ideas for long-term results, without ever seeing the fallacy. What’s missing is an understanding of how people in groups behave, and the implications that complexity has on an organization.

I won’t try to unpack all that here.  Frankly, it’s enough to fill a book (or two), and the subject of some in-depth posts. But for the sake of discussion, let’s establish a premise:  people in organizations are driven more by a need for belonging and conformity with group aspirations, and less by draconian measures to direct, incentivize or otherwise control it’s members. In this light, culture can be defined (if loosely) as a set of groundrules for survival, based on what has worked in the past.  New leaders and programs come and go.  But the memory of groups runs long and deep.

Try changing the minds of an organization on how things work. Ask Lou Gerstner.

For our #orgdna chat on MON 9/21/15 from 9:30 to 11:00pm ET, let’s tee up the conversation like this:

  • Q1. If we can’t control behavior or results, what CAN we influence? Does environment play a key role?
  • Q2. Why do organic ways of thinking (forests, ecosystems, viruses) provide rich metaphors for understanding people in groups, and org culture in general? 
  • Q3. What can leaders try to do in the near-term to impact the long-term?
  • Q4. Can a culture be changed?

The #cdna community of thinkers became the #orgdna community last month, to better describe and focus our dialog.  I think we’re off to a great start. Evidence?  When one chat among a few of us creates enough ideas for 2-3 more chats, imagine what can happen if we keep going, learning as we go, even as we expand and diversify our group?

Please join us. The conversation gets more lively with more ideas in play. And lord knows we enjoy a lively conversation.

As always, thanks for stopping in.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Possibility and the Connected Thinker: On Hashtags, Change & the Cultural Imperative

For people to connect, they need a space to come together. It must be a distinct place, familiar to those who gather there and welcoming to visitors who may have the chance to join. Visualizing such places in the world of brick and mortar is not difficult. The corporate conference room. The town square. The coffee shop. The water cooler.

In the context of internet spaces, we must rely a bit on our imagination to craft that common space. We might use blog sites like this one on wordpress .. which we refer to as our “framing site” .. to post our ideas and frame problems to be solved.

Twitter is where we talk it out. And that demands a versatile hashtag.

The #cdna community, with this site as it’s home base, is finalizing a new hashtag for the next 3-years of conversation. Why 3 years? It makes the decision important enough to invest some time, and transient enough to allow for mistakes. On the internet, of course, nothing is permanent. Our current tag “#cdna” is 3 years old this month. As discussed last month, it’s time for a change, a new hashtag that’s more intutive in describing what we’re about. But in spite of some ambiguity, something manages to bring us back each month, bridging conversations with insight and energy, going beyond simple social media aquaintance.

Part of the equation is personal relationships, no doubt.

But another part is harder to define, because it is more capability or capacity than a tangible action. It is a breeding ground for ideas.

We might to choose to call it possibility. It’s what happens when thinkers come together, bringing a small but willing supply of insight, energy and a little focus.

To date, #cdna dialog has been about organizations at large, including how they seek to tackle change, and how they contemplate learning. It may seem a broad set of brushes, but we’ve used the rich palette of our experience to help us paint (re-paint, and paint anew) the complex problems and possible solutions that face leaders of all industries, spanning for-profit and non-profits alike, taking on the large and the small, the global and the local. For complexity theorists, a strong thread of social complexity is at work here.

Bruce and Alice said it well earlier this week, helping me define the kind of community we are talking about:

On Monday, 8/24, at 9:30 p.m. we will bid adieu to #cdna the hashtag, and finalize our go forward nom du chat from a small list of alternative finalists:

  • Q0. Which hashtag best represents #cdna interests for the next 3 years? #orgchange (or #orgchg) #orgdna #futureorg (or #futrorg) #21cOrg #nextorg (we’ll accept these and other nominations from the virtual twitter floor, but these have provided the most traction so far) ..

Care to vote on this? Try this poll, courtesy Poll Daddy:

With new hashtag in use, we’ll embark immediately on our next conversation: the notion of “Cultural Imperative” using the following frame:

  • Q1. If “Cultural Imperative” is a firm conviction that an org must have and embrace a healthy one, where do we look for it? #culture
  • Q2. How do we define culture beyond a collection or roll-up of behaviors? #strategy
  • Q3. What can happen to organizations when culture is ignored? #leadchange
  • Q3. Can leaders improve and/or shape their organizational culture, and if so, how? #leadership 

Note the crossover tags listed. These may prove important in the conversation, as we seek to further contextualize our ideas and their impacts in broader, related domains.

More on culture? Have look at my original 2010 org culture series.

Ok. Hashtag change is ambitious. Brands are rarely if ever able to pivot and survive. Can an online community pull it off? Let’s give it a go. We will continue to meet each 3rd or 4th Monday of the month at or around 9:30pm ET, to afford our west coast members a chance to get home at 6:30pm PT.  We’re still trying to solve for the global chat equation. Stay tuned on that one.

For now, we’ll look for you Monday .. let us know your hashtag preferences !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Dialog for the 21st Century Organization: A Focus on Culture, Change and Learning

AMG152695b WeaveI had a fascinating exchange Saturday morning with Panteli Tritchew and Ken Gordon, sparked by a response from Mike Itzius. It was a spontaneous twitter chat (sometimes called ‘async’) that sparks from a tweet or two, aided by twitter-enabled phones with alerts on audible.

We brainstormed a few threads that run through the modern organization. Even in our short dialog, it was clear: there are so many interrelated threads, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s been a challenge for #cdna too, as it’s long been for leaders.

Where does change in an organization begin?

Since mid-2012, a group of us have chatted on these topics under the concise but obscure #cdna hashtag. The tag was short and sweet and it served us well. But with conflicting use now among genetic scientists and stock market traders, we need a new moniker.

In our impromptu Saturday chat, we touched on organization development (“OD”), change in general, and the various aspects of learning that weave in and out of these sometimes academic topics.

We didn’t mention, but have in the past, culture, the forces of social complexity, knowledge management (“KM”) and of course, the overarching umbrella of leadership. Those topics often get woven into our chats. Together, they are the fabric (resilient or otherwise) of the 21st century organization.

Add all that up and it’s one whopping hashtag.

But we must find a new one. A hashtag to focus the conversation must foster freedom and independence of new ideas. We can tap other tags (and their stakeholders!) as specific topics afford. I’ve found #orgchange #orglearn and #orgdev all have links back to individuals or corporate initiatives, and some great content. Tags like #leadership and #change need no introduction. We just need a twitter place to call our own.

What do you think? Here are some Q’s to help us sort it out:

Q1. Org Change – the action or the destination?
Q2. Org Leader – the critical catalysts?
Q3. Org Development – the practice and the mission?
Q4. Org Learning – the capacity .. & the missing link?
Q5. Org Complexity – the game changer (if we explain it?)
Q6. Org Culture – the ultimate enabler?

I hope you can join us MON 7/20 at 9:30p ET, 6:30p PT. We’ll take on each thread one by one, to see what kind of magic we might weave. By the end of the chat, we should have clarity on our new hashtag. Until then, we’re still #cdna ..

See you online!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Unpacking Diversity in the Organization: Implications for Critical Thinking

When we chat with co-workers and friends, it’s no suprise that different backgrounds among those in the group can enrich the conversation, introducing a depth that is difficult when everyone speaks from the same perspective. This is the notion of diversity in social interaction. It’s the case against echo chambers and group think.

But I think we should also ask: How deep does this go, and what are the forces at work?

Thanks to Jamie Billingham for teeing up 3 diverse perspectives on this:

  • Ev Williams (@ev of Twitter fame, now CEO of Medium) talks on the importance of ‘identity (or cultural, or gender) diversity’ to drive healthy, balanced discourse within a company [read more]
  • Scott E Page (a professor at U.Mich with expertise in emerging field of complexity) talks about the academic basis for diverse thinking [read more]
  • Jamie (a fellow #cdna collaborator, @jamiebillingham) offers the alternative of cognitive diversity, expanding on the others with an eye toward the implications [read more]

Add it all up, and there’s a strong case for all aspects of diversity in our organizations, as it shapes our collective mindset and influences our culture. The need may be most acute when it comes to deeper, more analytical thinking in groups.

At one level, it’s intuitive. People thinking differently generates more ideas.

To me, what’s NOT as intuitive, especially in the critical thinking context, is the importance of establishing such diversity in our organizations and teams, and the difficulty of sustaining it. Among collaborators, the forces of commonality create a comfort zone that often trumps diversity. Sameness is simply easier to manage. What are some of the factors that can make ‘nuturing more difference’ easier? Let’s have a look:

  • Q1. Types of Diversity. Why do sociology and psychology portray diversity differently? Which view is more common?
  • Q2. Recognizing Difference. We often work alongside others like ourselves. Do our shared filters and behaviors mask diverse views? What is the leader’s role?
  • Q3. Paradigm Blindness. Kuhn wrote we often can’t see past our own professional or world views. Does embracing diversity change this?
  • Q4. Managing Diversity. What are the most difficult challenges to overcome?
  • Q5. Culture. When and how does culture enter in?
  • Q6. Are there more Frames of Reference? We’ve focused so far on two major views: sociology and psychology; are there more?

As input to Q6 and to fuel a deeper dive on how we think and how we filter, consider the following graphic from The DNA of Collaboration, Chapter 3.

Shifting Frames of Reference.  Disciplines that introduce cognitive diversity, based on different paradigms of how things work, how problems are organized, and where we focus.

Shifting our Frames of Reference. Disciplines that influence cognitive diversity, based on different paradigms of how things work, how problems are organized, and where we focus.


Let’s discuss in our next #cdna chat, Monday 4/20/15, at 10pm ET.

Most every 3rd Monday evening a group of collaborators comes together at hashtag #cdna for a conversation on the dynamics and potential of critical thinking. Join us. We’d love your input.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Innovation Within Our Sphere(s) of Influence:

The first point in any decision to change is a realization or recognition there is a need; that is to say, we have deemed our Present Condition to be Unacceptable. Ideally we have quantifiable measurements, and that may not be the case. We then envision a Future Condition which is forecast to be desirable.

Having decided we want to bring about this Future Condition, a Plan of Action is developed and implemented. There are a number of variables to be considered, sets of terms which drive the type of activity. The combinations of these variables are not fininite; however, they need to be understood and the impact examined. We can look first at the two broad categories (these are depicted in the attached Chart):

  1. Adoption which results in Change; and,
  2. Innovation which leads to Transformation.

These terms are defined as follows:

  • Adoption: The use of a different method from that which is in current use;
  • Change: Substitution to become different;
  • Innovation: Changing the established in favor of new methods or ideas (in use for the 1st time);
  • Transformation: Resulting in new composition or structure; thorough and dynamic.

Joseph Pine II in his 1999 book “The Experience Economy” describes the transformation of the economy from: Agrarian to Commodity to Service to Experience. The logic and support is quite clear and leads us to understand economies are dynamic. I was able to hear him speak a number of years ago where he noted his understanding of the next stage in the evolution of the economy. Pine described the Transformation Economy.

In the Experience Economy a vacation to Paradise Island in the Bahamas is exactly what it is intended to be: a wonderful experience. The time and expense meet the requirements of our expectations; however, we exit the same as we entered. Two weeks in the Colorado mountains at a retreat that focuses on exercise, diet, and mental health is intended to cause us to “take better care of ourselves” following that event – we anticipate a Transformation.

For final consideration: Spheres of Influence. There are five binary spheres in-play giving rise to complexity of combination. These spheres are:

  • Ourselves | Others  – (Personal reach);
  • Present | Future  – (Time horizon);
  • Direct | Indirect  – (Intensity of Action);
  • Individual | Group  – (Extent of reach);
  • Actual | Virtual  – (Network involved).

We accept the general need to change or become irrelevant. Adoption may be the course for organizations and individuals in most circumstances – applying “tried and true” methods to achieve the desired condition. When is Innovation the better choice?

Proposed Questions for the chat scheduled for January 19th, 2015:

  1. Adopt to Change and Innovate to Transform; Correct or other categories?
  2. What are our Spheres of Influence?
  3. Is there a way to determine if Innovation is better that Adoption?
  4. Can we utilize Pine’s Transformation Economy concept to build a biz model?
  5. What happens when the Desired State forecast proves inaccurate?

Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts and discuss them with each of you!Innovation.3

Intellectual Property Evolves: IP 3.0 and the Value of Good Ideas

Can we unlock innovation on the collaborative web?

Can we unlock innovation on the collaborative web?

It’s no overstatement. Good ideas are the fabric of creativity and innovation. Small wonder that over time we’ve learned to hoard and protect those good ideas. Fear of economic survival has been a great motivator. Our personal and corporate livelihoods .. in the context of income and profit .. can seem tightly linked with knowledge and resources that are ours alone.

Only problem? The forces that seek to protect our best ideas help us to strand them, starving them of opportunity to grow. It’s ironic. But in our attempts to protect, we suffocate. We always hurt the ideas we love.

Steven B. Johnson has written extensively on new ideas, and he may be the clearest contemporary voice on the subject. Much of his thinking comes down to a radical, almost sacrilegious notion: the best ideas come from other great ideas. Corporate attorneys will tend to bristle at this. It’s counter to all we know about the value of ideas in a competitive market, and the legal structures put in place to protect our good and valuable property. That’s well and good. It’s based on 5 centuries of legal precedent. But are we paying attention to structural changes in the markets themselves, and how insight is flowing faster all around us? Are we starting to slip behind those who are better at listening and collaborating?

Let’s reflect on the evolution of ideas in the commercial space, to see where the concept of Intellectual Property (or more commonly “IP”) may go:

  • IP1.0 Knowledge as Property. Using patents to protect unique designs, inventors claim rights to exclusive ways of doing something in hopes of economic advantage, but the rights are routinely contested in courts, tying up ideas, time and dollars.
  • IP2.0 Commons. Establishing intent to share ideas in the public domain, a new system provides  a way to classify shared content; while promising, the value and mechanics of the model are still being worked out.
  • IP3.0 Collaboration. An open and free exchange of ideas has been mostly on the commercial back burner, rendered inviable by centuries-old capitalist tradition of control and exclusion. Is the knowledge economy held hostage?

I am not suggesting we abandon IP and its associated legal underpinnings. Too much has been invested here, with whole industries and companies built on it’s foundation. The Creative Commons is clearly a step in the right direction. But for the long term, and especially as we consider the forces at work in a knowledge based economy, plodding along slowly may be the greater risk.  If we continue to hoard and protect our best ideas, hoping to cling to a razor thin economic advantage, we are effectively cutting off sources of further innovation.

I believe there are several collaborative building blocks in a healthy knowledge economy, elements of a framework that can unlock the flow of thinking that leads to deeper innovation. I’ve written on this topic, and we should continue to unlock its elements.

The practice of Knowledge Mangement (or “KM”) also continues to make inroads on how we marshall our ideas, but it’s an undertaking that often struggles. There are lessons to be learned from this, even as KM practitioners search for new paths forward.

It’s impossible, of course, to reduce innovation to a formula. Though many models are in place to help us visualize competitive knowledge and the dynamics that influence it (Porter’s “5 Forces” comes to mind), the evolution of ideas .. true innovation .. always comes back to people working with people. Our best ideas are made richer and more viable with the input from somone else. And our own musings may be the inspiration that brings the vague notions of others to fruition. Whatever the model, we’ll remain suboptimized as long as we hoard our best ideas. The advance of knowledge simply doesn’t work when it is kept behind locked doors. In 1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter:

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Illuminating, yes, but an insight on ideas that has been generally lost.


  • On Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 1pm ET, I spoke at a webinar hosted by the Special Library Association’s Competitive Intelligence Division. We talked about evolving perspectives on how organizations and even ecosystems gain knowledge, exploring trends shared in this post, as well as some of the key drivers in Knowledge Management.  I hope you were able to join us.
  • If you missed it, here’s a link to the SLA CID recorded webinar page on You Tube; watch for our session to be posted soon.
  • We’ve also linked to the webinar PDF.

Best regards .. have a safe and happy holiday!

Chris aka @sourcepov



Wheatley’s Latest on Social Innovation: Do we Regroup or Redouble Our Efforts?

Most of us can name our role models, including, if not especially, our favorite visionary thinkers. Their ideas resonate. They speak, and it all makes sense. So when Margaret Wheatley shared her doubts on our ability to influence social change and social innovation on a large scale, it was more than a wake-up call for me. It was more like a bucket of ice water.

Sure, it makes sense to hedge on our boldest forecasts. But should we conclude, as Wheatley has done, that there’s no evidence for lasting social change?

Let’s challenge that.

Listen to her 2013 interview or skim the transcript .. posted on i-Open courtesy Betsey Merkel, and shared on Twitter by my friend Bruce Watluck. Wheatley’s concern centers on the ubiquitous psychological resistance to change that she repeatedly encounters in her work. It’s a resistance fueled by powerful cultural forces that feed on self-interest and narcissistic thinking. We can see evidence of this everywhere, of course. We can see it in our ads, as she says, as well as in our sports and in our leaders. It’s a sobering message.

She’s left a door open. Some light still shines through, offering some hope. Wheatley acknowledges three fundamentals that remain in her work and her vision:

  • Strong relationships based on trust
  • Deeper thinking in teams, creating “islands of sanity”
  • A personal practice of reflection

So she hasn’t abandoned efforts to inspire, or to guide deeper meaning. She still talks of embracing and advancing the human spirit. But I’m afraid the elephant is still in the room.

Let’s not retreat on the scale of what’s possible. There’s too much at stake. Education. Healthcare. Energy. It’s a long list. So let’s ask this ..

How long should social innovation take? It’s certainly not overnight. And with extended timeframes, the critical element of resilience .. our ability to sustain visionary leadership .. comes into play. It’s interesting she has written on a parallel theme, perseverance.

From what I’ve read about culture and prevailing paradigms, I think it’s likely that social change would be best measured in decades, at a minimum. The larger the ecosystem, the longer change will take. The more entrenched the social conventions, the longer it will take to unwind them and to develop new ones. A few examples of decade-plus emergent innovation I’ll offer as evidence: the transformation of IBM from hardware to software (10-15 years), the American Revolution (50-60 years), and the global Human Rights movement (100 years plus). Each of these studies in social change took a long time to happen. Each was more fragile and difficult to achieve with scale.

Yet all these examples led to lasting ecosystem change. We can trace evolution from important initial conditions, strong and persistent local catalysts, environments that allowed new rule systems to emerge and to ultimately survive. These are features of a complex social system, one that learns and adapts.

I believe emergent innovation is possible. If I’m right, we’ll have to be patient. We’re wise to start small, and build slowly. Ultimately, as our innovation expands, we’ll have to lead with incredible resolve, operating within and among strongly connected, resilient, and well-aligned communities. And we’ll have to have the long term view.

For our #cdna chat at 8pm ET on MON 9/15, let’s take apart Meg Wheatley’s arguments and my own, to see what we might make of them.

  • Q1. Is social innovation dead? oversold? not fully baked? or misunderstood?
  • Q1(b.) [emergent] Are social change and social innovation interchangeable in the context of this frame?
  • Q2. What are your views on our ability to influence change in social settings (e.g., culture)?
  • Q3. [emergent] What is your sense of Wheatley’s concerns re: cultural resistance?
  • Q4. How does the time dimension factor into our chances? Can we accelerate our desired change?
  • Q5. What are the fundamental drivers in the discussion of social change?

I’ll bring an open mind to this, as always. But so far, I’m holding out for possibility. I have a deep conviction in our ability to make things better. Let’s discuss it.

Roughly once a month, a small but growing group of independent thinkers comes together around hashtag #cdna to unpack social learning and the nuances of intentional collaboration. It seems we always take a little something home. Given time, we may just come up with some new rules ..

Join the conversation using http://tweetchat.com/room/cdna .. simply sign-in with your Twitter account, and authorize the app ..

Hope to see you there !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Related reading:

  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).
  • Margaret Wheatley, A Simpler Way (1996).
  • Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (2006).
  • John Miller and Scott Page, Complex Adaptive Systems (2007).
  • Chris Jones, The DNA of Collaboration (2012).


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