Big Loop and Diminishing Loop Organisations

We can consider Organisations in terms of entropy: the way that energy is bled out of a system through friction, inertia, radiation, and opposition, over time. Organisations that wish to change, to be in motion, to be changeable and dynamic, nonetheless fall to local constraint and sub optimisation. One way to view this is in whether an Organisation can learn in big loops, rather than diminishing spirals.

The background to this is to understand the social nature and structure of Organisations: that they exist both in a formal structure (represented by the hierarchy and domains), but also within a social structure (of tribes and trust bonded units, gathered together in Communities that are meta-tribal and someone – but not entirely – interconnected). We have a cultural alignment with each of these types of structure, but the bonds of the social one will tend to be stronger than the formal.

When we talk about ‘tacit’ or ‘tribalknowledge, we are thinking of the ideas, knowledge artefacts, and action, which is held within those smaller social structures. And i suspect that most of our knowledge – and potential – falls into those spaces.

Follow this progression: an initiative starts at a grand level – the aspiration of the Organisation. That’s a Big Loop ambition and story. Then it cascades down through the structure, translating from ideas into pragmatic action. As it does do, variance creeps in – local conditions – local belief – local context – and divergent execution.

Variance may equate to ambiguity – ambiguity of compliance, ownership, power, and control. And that ambiguity may be persecuted by the centre. So it tends to be hidden.

The actual excellence of execution, as well as learnt knowledge around it, becomes divergent and hidden at the local, tribal level. And it’s never, or rarely, available to be shared, beyond those local and slightly interconnected social structures.

So Organisations talk a game of ‘Big Loop’ action – where they are able to experiment, prototype, act with agility, and be dynamic, but then they often fall into diminishing spirals of knowledge, where they are learning, but are not connected.

If this is true, then it allows us to frame the challenge of change like this: not to do ‘more’, but to be ‘more connected’, and indeed interconnected, between, and above, tribal structures. And to be able to hear more, and more divergent, stories, without provoking immune responses.

As part of my work this year i am exploring various ‘fragments’ of thought – ideas on Organisational leadership, culture, learning, and change, that are less well developed, but which have the potential to shape my practice. At this stage, much of this work is disjointed (i have previously described it as the act of graffitiing my own thinking).

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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