This is one of a series of posts as i build out an initial framework for the book on ‘The Experimental Organisation’. In this piece i explore the question of ‘where’ we experiment, and introduce the idea of three spaces: one we know, one we can imagine, and one that is occluded. This is a heavy abstraction, but i’m playing with pragmatic language and ideas at this stage.
Our thinking is wrapped up in our context: a learnt set of knowledge, experiences, and ideas that both enable us, and trap us, in their perceived concreteness. We can visualise this context in three ways: our INTACT frames of knowledge, which govern our everyday action and thought, our DIVERGENT frames, which kick off from what we know, and take us into a space of imagination, but which are nonetheless recognisable. These are not our everyday space, bur we can imagine them being so. And finally OCCLUDED frames, which are not simply beyond imagination, but are shadowed by it. Perhaps these are the spaces that, when we finally see them, we think ‘why did i not think of that’? These spaces may be simple, but are hidden from us by our own existing thought.
In this illustration i explore how we probe each of these areas, and the role of experimentation in so doing. Perhaps we can say that we can choose to experiment within Existing frames, often to learn how to optimise our actions, that we can learn to adapt, through experimentation, in Divergent frames, perhaps in order to evolve. But that Occluded frames will most likely replace structures of the present, and are hence revolutionary.
Organisations will tend to visualise Adaptation and Evolution as the outcomes of Experimentation, and hence may be surprised by redundancy and replacement: essentially may be overwhelmed by the learning from their own experimentation, and hence may resort to control and dominance to prevent that outcome. All Organisations want change, but many recoil from change that they do not own or control.
To rephrase this again: we work in the everyday within existing frames, and Experimentation may help us to learn new ways to do this. To optimise our actions. This type of experimentation may be how we address specific pain points, or exploit visible opportunity.
Again, within our everyday work, we may imagine different spaces of operation, and the Experiments that we carry out here will help us to adapt: these experiments may be about discovery, about rapid prototyping, about trial and error, or exploring the boundaries of space. Essentially these are creative activities, but essentially bound up in the known.
The third type of frame is Occluded from us: it is unlikely the space of everyday experimentation, but instead is partitioned off into special spaces or exceptional units: it’s the space of the dark arts of seeing the unseen, but it’s a dangerous type of knowledge.
Disruption may come from this space: our competitors are most likely to outcompete us through optimisation of existing ideas, or exploitation of niches, whilst our disruptors are more likely to fracture our structures of power and insight by emerging form occluded spaces. They outcompete not because they are bigger and stronger, but because they are asymmetric and unconstrained.
In ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’ book i introduced the idea of the Porcelain Organisation to describe this content.
This is part of #WorkingOutLoud on the structure and ideas behind the new book.