Within the maelstrom of change as organisations seek to adapt to the new realities of the Social Age, there’s an important aspect to consider: in a new space, our historic strengths may be our contemporary weakness. The codified strength of an organisation is often desperately narrow, so whilst the boat feels both large and strong when moving forward, it’s extremely unstable in a heavy swell from the side.
It’s in the nature of organisations to accrete system, process, and control: they optimise within the known state, drive consistency and replicability to scale, they align to value chains and extract profit and achieve purpose. They build strong walls and set out deep foundations. They become strong in one dimension.
But growth comes through change, and change takes us away from our strong foundations: those things that made us strong can leave us brittle when subjected to disruptive forces that lie outside our mindset, modelling, and experience.
In itself, this would not be a challenge, if we were able to move, but we can be constrained by our own mindsets, our pyramids of power, and the tribal ties we have in the current culture. We are safe where we stand.
The constraint we face is often not imposed from outside: it’s generated from within.
The second risk we face is that the areas we look to diversify into are often emergent, and in that context, open to disruption. So we are in a double bind: rapidly emergent spaces, and disruptive innovation from without, countered with a loss of our own strength through scale.
Creating external, dedicated teams, isolated innovation labs, arms length capability, is often an approach, but it misses a key part of change. We need to evolve culture, and mindset. A humility to accept the need to change, an experimentation to find out how, and shift in power, away from hierarchy to reputation. These are factors we can influence.
Ultimately, in times of change, we need individual agency: the capability to hear weak voices within the system. Formal strength can build a tower, but social strength can move it.