This is the fifth in a series of pieces entitled ‘From Domain to Dynamic’. Collectively they explore a new model of Organisational Design that moves beyond hierarchy, infrastructure, and control, and into social collaboration, communities, and Individual Agency at scale. In my broader work, i refer to this adapted entity as a Socially Dynamic Organisation, and explore how we will bring it into existance.
In the first article i gave a definition of an Organisation as a mechanism of collectivism to achieve effect at scale, and looked at how it built ‘domains’ to support this (and how everything else, from education to career was shaped in this image), and in the second we looked at the context of the Social Age and the way that emergent forces act upon these Domain Organisations. The third piece considered how we can move from a notion of Codified Strength (held formally) to Individual Agency (held socially and individually), and the fourth piece considered the idea of the ‘Porcelain Organisation’: one that holds incredible codified strength, but which shatters under emergent and un-modelled threat.
Today we will look through a different lens: many Organisations understand the need for change, and many are in the midst of large, complex, and expensive, efforts to adapt: from ‘digital fitness’, through ‘ways of working’, to ‘social learning’ and so on, they can see a shiny future. But many will fail to reach it, because they are locked into structure of power, consensus, and belief, that will ultimately hold them back. Good Organisations, full of good people, but failing, because they are structurally constrained (and often willingly so).
The route through this is to unhitch ourselves from these older structures: to disassociate power from position, to disconnect hierarchy from place, to deconstruct infrastructure from control. And to understand that this process of loss is actually the foundation of gain: you cannot change without giving a great deal away, but the prize is even greater. A Socially Dynamic Organisation is strong not through infrastructure and formal power alone, but rather through it’s people, and the overlapping social structures that permeate throughout it.
A Socially Dynamic Organisation is not simply an evolution into a new state, it is a parallel emergence into one. The best of the old, the best of the new.
Start with this position: an Organisation is a legal entity, with possessions, but also a series of stories. The ‘things’ give a context of existence: architecture in the physical domain segregates and sanctifies space, whilst both websites and social media profiles do similar in the digital one, but without the context of a third spatial dimension. So the phallic towers of Wall Street or Canary Wharf separate space and securely consecrate it, but the way we perceive them in culture, the stories we write about them, are where that power is held.
The very terms ‘Silicon Valley’, the ‘Bronx’, or ‘Rust Belt’, apply both geolocation and context to power, as indeed to some extent to the domains .ac, .gov, or .mil. But in the model of parallel existence, there is the location, and then there is the narrative. And in the context of the Social Age, the narrative is the harder one to control, not least because it is not yours to control, and there is not one, but many, of them.
An Organisation is a story that it tells (it’s written history, it’s induction and onboarding story, it’s legal records and published work, etc), and also that story that is told about it (customer reviews, testimonials, urban myths, alumni narratives, media coverage, personal narratives etc).
But those narratives just set the scene: on the inside, the Organisation is an entity of belief, held in the stories that are told by every individual: the job that they do, the pride that they feel, and the space (individual agency) that they have to operate within. As i have said before, stories carry within themselves a type of violence: they can empower and enable, or they can be imposed upon us as a limitation of space. They can constrain and control us, often by marginalising or characterising us in a way that is hard to counter.
So why is this web of storytelling important?
Largely because the move from Domain to Dynamic is not simply a formal transition in the physical realm: it is a transition of belief in the spiritual one! It is the fracturing of one narrative and the potential space for a new one to emerge. So in this view, change happens both structurally, and conceptually, at the same time in the same space, but with one view imposed by formal power, and the second one created collaboratively by the community itself, all underpinned by the individual narratives of every individual who forms part of the collective.
SO an Organisation is a collective belief: the story that it projects, the stories that are told about it, the consensual narrative of the internal teams, and the individual stories of belief and space of operation felt by every individual.