#WorkingOutLoud on The Experimental Organisation

With ‘The Quiet Leadership Guidebook’ and ‘The Humble Leader’ books both in production, my main writing focus now turns to the interviews for ‘The Experimental Organisation’. In this work i will be exploring how Organisations learn to change: specifically, how, where, and how, they experiment, and the communities within which this happens.

The initial interviews are all with members of the IMAGINE Community, a network that provides a collaborative structure and space to come together to explore and experiment across a range of global Organisations.

At this stage i am interested to understand the role of this Community, as well as the ways that these respective Organisations are able to experiment: for example, are their experiments small or large, long or short, controlled centrally or elective locally, where are their spaces and capability to analyse what is done, or with what consistency do they approach definition, and so on.

The IMAGINE Community is not specifically methodology led, so when it is described as a ‘trusted’ space, that trust must have been mutually decided upon by the group. It’s certainly not been imposed or gifted by system or process alone. And i’m also interested as to why, and how, this type of ‘external’ or exceptional space enables, or helps, people to explore and experiment. And whether it is scaleable or repeatable.

For all our talk about ‘Communities’, it’s remarkably hard to find common factors that make their success assured, or their trust universal. They appear to be stubbornly social phenomena and hence more charismatic than programmatic, which may be a challenge for Organisations that wish to benefit from their presence.

Even in the early stages of this work, as well as the preparation that i’ve been doing beforehand, it’s clear that many Organisations are interested in the ability to ‘experiment’, but that there are about as many different definitions, or understandings, as there are people to ask.

Some Organisations seem to have all the right vocabulary, but little of the true behaviour, some have behaviour that is distributed at scale, but little structure, some have heavy structure, but little impact, and some appear to be highly agile without ever even trying.

The heart of this book will be the case study of the IMAGINE Community, as a collaborative venture, and case studies of individual Organisations and the approaches that they have learned that work for them. I hope that, with all of this, i can tease out shared and actionable ideas that people can carry into their own Organisations.

I’m aways struck by two things when it comes to ‘Experimenting’ in Organisations: everyone talks about it, but not that many organisational cultures manage to do it at scale. Some can do it as an exception, but in the everyday culture, they are too busy surviving to truly learn.

Some of the main questions i am looking to address include the following:

  1. What does it mean ‘to experiment’ – how they do it, what it gives them that they cannot find elsewhere, how they learnt to do it, and what it costs them?
  2. How does the ‘Imagine’ community work – as a case study, what can we learn, what has it achieved, is it replicable, what is the role of trust and structure, as well as storytelling and sharing?
  3. What is the role of structure, and with structure, what is the importance of control, or consistent approaches etc?
  4. What are the capabilities of experimentation, and are they intuitive, native, distributed, codified, or learned. And if so, how. And how do we find and access them.
  5. What are the costs of failure, and how are these costs extracted or paid? Do some Organisations have a better or different relationship with failure than others?

This is very tentative right now: the early interviews are really a listening space.

My aim is to weave this narrative as a natural follow on from ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’ book that i published last year, to move into the ‘how’ of the story.

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
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