21st Century Organization

Knock, knock, it’s 2014, we are more than one decade in the 21st century, and it’s time to think about transforming our organisations into fast moving feedback movements. A couple of days ago, Rogier Noort (@RogierNoort) interviewed me via mail about my upcoming talk at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit 2014 conference in Paris on 10-12 February 2014. You can find the full interview here (and this post has some extracts from it), but I wanted to expand a little bit on the objective and concept of the 21st Century Organization that I mentioned in that interview.

Knife-Painting-by-Francoise-Nielly

Image credit: Knife Painting by Françoise Niles

It’s the sort of organization we try to fight for with Corporate Rebels United (www.corporaterebelsunited.com). We have had many discussions about the “brand” of Corporate Rebels United. Maybe we’ll change it. The words “corporate” and “rebel” need probably some update or at least some clarification. The only thing that is probably still spot-on is the word “United”. The word “Corporate” is limiting, as it gives the impression that we are “only” targeting big Fortune 500 type of companies. On the contrary, we aim to inspire and activate anybody that is working in any type of organization, networks of people, cells, companies, or ecosystems. The word “Rebel” is probably not the right word either, but as I have said many times, I wanted to keep it as it has something “sharp” to it. We are people taking agency, empowering ourselves, not letting ourselves empowered by others; we are activists and do-ers. Nilofer Merchant nailed it in her 2011 HBR post, we she used the term “protagonists”.

To rebel is to push against something. To lead is to advocate for an idea. To rebel is to say “heck no.” To lead is to say “we will.” To rebel is to deny the authority of others. To lead is to invoke your own authority. A protagonist is a principal champion of a cause or program or action. The protagonist does not wait for permission to lead, innovate, or strategize. They do what is right for the firm, without regard to status. Their goal is to do what’s good for the whole. Protagonists help organizations become more competitive. After all, the word compete comes from the Latin com petter, which means “to seek together.” Their intent is to not to antagonize, but to drive towards something. Protagonists are willing to name things others don’t yet see; they point to new horizons. Without them, the storyline never changes.”

In essence it’s about leveraging the power and energy of people who act from their true selves. Nilofer calls that “Onlyness”: “In this era — the social era — the nugget of value creation starts with a connected human. We call this many things today: a founder, an entrepreneur, an innovator, an intrapreneur… whatever the name, Onlyness is *central* (no longer a nice-to-have) to what gets created. Until you celebrate your own ‘vision of the world’, you’ll be missing out (and so will the rest of the world). Onlyness is one of the 11 rules for the Social Era rules.”

The soul of Corporate Rebels United is indeed about a tribe of enthusiastic protagonists hungry for change. Positive change. Not an anarchist tribe, but a tribe of people who care for the companies they work for and want them to succeed in the 21st century of hyper-connectivity. We are deeply value and purpose driven. We have an ambition for progress, looking forward. We fight mediocrity, and applaud critical thinking. We want to give the best of ourselves. For doing good. For creating human connections between people. For letting people discover their hidden talents and powers. For taking people on a path of discovery, individual and collective relevance. We want everybody in the company and industry to think, to be and act responsible to increase value and wealth creation. Moving from ego-systems and creating eco-systems filled with meaning. We hope we can be a tribe/swarm for leading by being. To quote Keith Yamashita from SY Partners:

“Every leader, at some point in their career, decides whether or not to do the hard work of pursuing greatness. It’s a choice that’s not about satisfying their ego, but about holding themselves and their ambitions to a more enlightened standard of leadership. And it requires the worthy work of showing up as their best self every day, and making a lasting positive impact on their people, teams, customers—even society.”

We love and care for the organizations and networks that we work for and we want them to succeed. We want to reboot our corporate and organizational culture to install a 21st century, digitally native, networked and humanistic version, to accelerate positive viral change from deep within the fabric of our organizations, and to reclaim our passion for meaningful work. The ultimate goal is to find, articulate the drivers and values of “a modern, 21st century organization” and to live, promote, and breathe them every day in our own organization and networks.

But what does such a 21st century organization look like? In my research, I suddenly realized that it is the network dynamics that are fundamental to all the changes at speed and scale we witness. I took back the 2002 (!) book of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi “Linked: The New Science of Networks” (Amazon Associates Link), and started re-reading it with today’s perspective. As many of you know, I read a lot, and i am usually in many books at the same time. So it happened, that I switched to another book that resonates very strong with me: “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them” (Amazon Associates Link) by Joshua Greene.

BarabaseiMoral Tribes

Barabasi writes:

  • “Companies, firms, corporations, financial institutions, governments, and all potential economic players are the nodes. Links quantify various interactions between these institutions, involving purchases and sales, joint research and marketing projects, and so forth. The weight of the links captures the value of the transaction, and the direction points from the provider to the receiver. The structure and evolution of this weighted and directed network determine the outcome of all macroeconomic”
  • “in markets the standard strategy is to drive the hardest possible bargain on the immediate exchange. In networks, the preferred option is often creating indebtedness and reliance over the long haul.”
  • “A me attitude, where the company’s immediate financial balance is the only factor, limits network thinking. Not understanding how the actions of one node affect other nodes easily cripples whole segments of the network”
  • “A scale-free network is a web without a spider. In the absence of a spider, there is no meticulous design behind these networks either. Real networks are self-organized.”

Moral Tribes is based on the premise that:

  • “We need a kind of thinking that enables groups with conflicting moralities to live together and prosper. In other words, we need a metamorality”
  • “We need a moral system that can resolve disagreements among groups with different moral ideals, just as ordinary, first-order morality resolves disagreements among individuals with different selfish interests to think in new and uncomfortable ways.”
  • “Cooperation between groups is thwarted by tribalism (group-level selfishness), disagreements over the proper terms of cooperation (individualism or collectivism?), commitments to local “proper nouns” (leaders, gods, holy books), a biased sense of fairness, and a biased perception of the facts.”

Now we can do our magic trick of mixing and matching and try to do some sensemaking out of this 😉 These network- and moral tribe effects fundamentally change all aspects of what we understand by a company:

  • Organizational structures: from hierarchies to wirearchies
  • Leadership: holding ourselves to a more enlightened standard of leadership, and evolve to leadingship (see many other post on leadingship on my blog)
  • People motivation: from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators
  • Competitiveness: redefine from winner takes it all to it’s Latin origin of “com petire” which means “to seek together”
  • Speed, scale and quality of innovation with different capabilities on social, computational and design dimensions. Netflix deploys software code every 2 minutes (!). Amazon answer customer response times are down to 9 seconds on average (during Xmass peak period !). How does one create ultra fast innovation feedback loops in such high velocity execution  environment.
  • Processes: from Gate-keeping to Gate-Opening, with ultra fast iterations and ultra fast feedback loops with customers.
  • Decision making: moving away from pure ROI and NVP based models into social decision making based on heuristics, narrative, probabilistic analysis of disruption and risk possibility analysis (a big shout here to the thinking of Haydn Shaughnessy), and all that again ultra fast, in real-time.
  • Value creation: from benefiting “only” the shareholders, towards value creation for all stakeholders. We have to start thinking in terms of ecosystems “system-innovation”, and the impact of our actions on the society at large and our long term sustainability
  • The role of the CxO functions: from “officers” to “enablers”. What if the CFO could reinvent herself into the “Chief Innovation Enabler” in stead of the budget gatekeeper?

fairburn-3

Image Credit: Pen Drawing on map by Ed Fairburn

As mentioned in the Enterprise 2.0 interview, there are many challenges along this journey. Let me recap them once more for you:

  • The challenge is – whether we like it or not – that organizational anti-bodies exist and will always exist; they will always resist change, and we have to be aware of this, and still keep on fighting.
  • The challenge is to move beyond some myths of change that sound good in a manifesto, but that have little or no effect in actual viral change at scale in organizations.
  • The challenge is to act like a real swarm, like a virus that “infects” the organization at scale from deep within its own fabric.
  • The challenge is to “activate” our people into doing, to create a do-ocracy.
  • The challenge is to optimize the swarm for speed, trust and scalability between idea and action.
  • The challenge is to make sure that everybody feels included.
  • The challenge is to maintain one value set and one value base.
  • The challenge is to be respectful.
  • The challenge is to be relentless and persistent.
  • The challenge is to remain kind.
  • The challenge is to have the courage to stand for your true self, every day again.
  • The challenge is to make all the above economically relevant, if we want to have the attention of the executives of our organizations

My hope is to find allies to help us in spreading the virus of the 21st Century organization. I don’t know what form that may take; maybe a collective of savants that can coach organizations on this path? Something else? Let me know. My hope is that as a collective we can move beyond the abstraction level of social, organizational, and transformative concepts, ideas and science. I’d love to see that we reach a tipping point where we pay more attention for the humanistic, self-driving and self-motivating energies of human beings, where being is our basis and reference point for leading why and what and how we shake the tree of organizational culture and practices.

As David Gelernter recently said: “A world that is intimidated by science and bored sick with cynical, empty “postmodernism” desperately needs a new subjectivist, humanist, individualist worldview now—not just scattered protests but a growing movement, a cry from the heart.”

Looking forward to your feedback, contributions and ideas for alliances to make this happen.

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