A blog about organizations, change, design, leadership, and general topics.

  The nature and origin of change

Change is ubiquitous—present in all places at the same time. It is the fabric of life itself. No matter what we do, we are always standing in the middle of change. Everything in our world is in a state of transformation—changing form—all the time. Most leaders can tell you what this means when it comes to organizations: constant uncertainty. Organizations must adapt to change continually, adjusting business strategies to meet changes in their external environment. We know all of this to be true and we know change is continuous and ubiquitous, so why do we have so much trouble with change?

One reason is a lack of clear intention. Another is poor design or no design at all. Then there is human nature. Humans resist change because too much change is simply not comfortable. Still another reason is our mistaken belief that the universe needs our help to organize things. And, it's possible that we're just not that good at organizing--with the exception of Marie Kondo.

We can learn a lot from nature's way of changing. Nature changes organically and holistically, in step with everything else that is changing. Virtual form that we see in some organisms, for example, is form that takes shape for the task at hand in the moment, reshaping itself in the next moment, as needs and purpose change. With this type of form, an organization can adapt quickly. With this style of structure, leading is more of a process of staying in step, rather than having to constantly adapt.

Transformation is the way. Everything is changing form every moment. Nature has a way of being aware of its surroundings, its ecosystem of partners and their needs. Most human organizations transform awkwardly, at best. By the time an organization recognizes its need to change and begins "doing" change, it is often out of step with its ecosystem. This is where organizational learning comes into play. Awareness and observation of the larger ecosystem must become a higher priority. Highly successful organizations understand this and give time and resources to this important task. Margaret Wheatley describes an alternative way of looking at organizations and change.

There is a simpler way to organize human endeavor. It requires a new way of being in the world. It requires being in the world without fear. Being in the world with play and creativity. Seeking after what's possible. Being willing to learn and to be surprised. This simpler way to organize human endeavor requires a belief that the world is inherently orderly. The world seeks organization. It does not need humans to organize it" (Wheatley, 1996, p. 5).

In her seminal book, A Simpler Way, Wheatley points out that life is an expert at self organizing. Life self organizes around us without strategic planning offsites. My point is, we over plan and over think a lot of things, and we fail to notice the nature of things. Everything around us is constantly transforming—changing form, and every aspect of an organization is constantly changing as well. Yet, we continue to design inflexible structures within our organizations.

One more point on change. An organization is a reflection of the values and beliefs of its leadership and members. The degree of congruency between the values and beliefs of an organization's leaders and its members correlates with the power of an organization’s culture. When they are aligned, change is a whole lot easier. At Mindshift, we help you see organizations differently, as well as your role.

As an organization's purpose changes, strategy needs to change. When that happens, organizational structure must adapt. To become more transformative — able to change form as needed in the moment — organizations need to adapt impermanent structures and learn to be in a ready state of change. Like individuals, organizations exist in a state of becoming. Change is driven by the need to balance external adaptation and internal integration. At times, external forces affect an organization's basic purpose and identity. Simply stated, for organizations to adapt quickly, structure needs to be more fluid in form.

Our change model was developed from years of experience and a deep understanding of organizational and human behavior. The key to managing change is to have a guidepost or guiding principle for all change. This is what I think of as our meta or overall intention. Buddhism offers a good example.

Buddha's awakening left him with a singular intention—to reduce suffering in the world and increase happiness for all people. After experiencing his enlightement, he began teaching the Four Noble Truths about suffering, and the rest is history. That singular intention has driven the practice of Buddhism for nearly 2,500 years now. What is perhaps most extraordinary about this is how Buddhism has kept its teachings and focus on this one goal, with no degridation. Here we can see that in the midst of so much change for so long, the Buddhist community has remained focused and driven by its one intention. Once we establish our meta intention, we can see how each smaller change fits within our purpose, and adjust accordingly.

We design structure as virtual form that can adapt in the moment to address current needs. We design and develop to meet your emerging future, including capabilities. To create long-term sustainability, we design communities where people find meaning in their work and can identify with the values of the organization. Looking forward to the opportunity of working with you, learning together, and making a difference.

The End