Broad Shifts in Organisational Learning #2 – Gaps

Our conception of a challenge can frame our response to it: are we adapting within a known framework, or innovating a fundamentally new framework? Essentially a question we should ask is whether it is more efficient and effective to adapt the old, or whether we should build anew. It’s a question we should ask around our overall approach to Organisational design, and learning in particular.

Is the old adaptable – or should we renew?

Organisations cast a shadow into the future, from their past: they hold legacy strength to face known challenges that keeps them safe – but that very safety may not only preclude their ability to change, it may occlude their ability to even see the need.

In this series of sketches i have been considering this challenge: ultimately it may lead us to a set of questions we should ask ourselves, or others, and in turn into action. But let’s start by considering where the gaps lie: this is not a definitive list, just a set to start with, that considers the CONCEPTION of the challenge, our CAPABILITY that we hold or need to face it, the SKILLS we carry, and the STRUCTURE we exist within.

Skills and Capability have an uneasy relationship: one view is that skills are individual, and capability is what they deliver, but the relationship is doubtless more nuanced than that. In the broader context of the Social Age we should ask the degree to which capability is an individual, or distributed social, effect, and where it is owned, as well as how we can engage with it.

The old path may be that we built capability, developed skills, and owned the whole package through employment and measurement, but today we may be engaging with distributed capability that seemingly builds itself within hidden social communities, and we rent capability according to need, in a dynamic marketplace that permeates the walls of both our, and other, organisations.

This relates to our conception of the challenge: do you, or your leaders, or your teams, have the vision needed – and is that vision held within legacy frames, or unconstrained in new ones? We are all constrained by what we already know, but we can also be deluded by what others say (or what HBR tells us). Truly independent thinking may be something we believe that we have, but may be more elusive than we would like to admit.

Alongside vision is our understanding of opportunity – do we simply see a problem space that extends from our ‘known’, or does the future hold opportunity, and if so, can we conceive it, and are we able to articulate it. And should we even try? Is opportunity likely to be clearly defined in a rapidly changing ecosystem, or should we instead be seeking opportunity clouds or spaces – broadly defined parameters of opportunity, and building the skills (and capability) to coalesce these into defined pathways?

Some elements of capability are clear: the rise of metadata – the conversations about mining and exploiting our internal capability, the prevalence of new technology, but what may be less clear is the interconnection – the ways that these fibres weave together into a strong sail, as opposed to a tangled knot. It’s easy to procure capability, but it’s extremely hard to find synthesis and synergy. 

Whilst dreaming is easy, it’s extremely hard to be excellent.

All of this loops back to structure, something i explored in great detail in ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’: structure is not the purpose of an Organisation, but it is the most visible aspect. Structure enables us, but also constrains us. Not only our action, but our thinking as well.

Adaptation, the change we seek, will require change in structure: probably away from the monolithic and vertically segmented sort, to a more diffuse, smaller, and reconfigurable one. This is hard on so many levels, but primarily because power in the modern organisation is intrinsically rooted in structure, to to change structure removes people’s power, and with it their safety, security, and pride. Change is always an act of violence against structure, and hence power and people.

Perhaps the answer is to lead with purpose, and only later tackle structure: if we lead with structure we provoke immune responses.

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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1 Response to Broad Shifts in Organisational Learning #2 – Gaps

  1. Pingback: Broad Shifts in Organisational Learning – #3 Through The Cracks | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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