December 12 , 2006
The Nine Seeds of A Sustainable Way
The following nine conditions of healthy natural ecosystems are key in developing healthy, productive organizational ecosystems. Balancing these conditions will maximize an organization’s effectiveness and long-term viability.
1. Purpose – an organization’s -- reason for being. In effective organizations, the purpose is unambiguous, well-communicated, and well-understood by all employees and stakeholders.
2. Profit – the ability to function successfully in an ecological niche. Profit is the intelligent allocation of resources such that no more energy is used to ensure survival as is necessary. Profit is adding more value than an organization consumes. The Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet and Profit comes to play in this domain.
3. Freedom – the ability to self-organize around an organization’s purpose, thus ensuring that critical needs are supplied with critical intellectual and physical resources.
4. Well-Understood Limits – an understanding of the human, environmental, and logistical limits of an enterprise – which maximizes creative use of resources through meeting the challenge of transcending those limits. Limits help prevent overshoot, which damages an organization’s overall working system.
5. Feedback and Learning Orientation – constant feedback is critical to allow an organization to function at the “edge of chaos,” and to avoid either overshoot or organizational lethargy. Without effective feedback systems an organization – or ecosystem – is at the mercy of its competitors and environment.
6. Innovation –Innovation insures survival in the midst of a changing environment, and meets new challenges with new ideas and forms of behavior.
7. Diversity – diversity and specialization ensure that an organization doesn’t become a monoculture. Homogeneity in thinking, viewpoints, living, etc, can lead to stuckness – and greater vulnerability to sudden, transformational changes in the environment.
8. Adaptability – the ability to nimbly respond to required change perceived through feedback processes. Adaptability is about seeing the current reality for what it is, and aligning behavior with desired outcomes. Course-correction is a hallmark of healthy natural ecosystems. Without an ability to course correct, an ecosystem stagnates.
9. Interdependence – perhaps the most critical hallmark of healthy ecosystems, interdependence creates organizational synergies that lead to success within a given niche.
Bob Dylan and Visionary Leadership
January 6, 2006
Legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan is more visible today than he’s been in years. His autobiography, Chronicles Part I is a best-seller (he’s working on Part II), and Martin Scorsese’s recent PBS documentary, No Direction Home, has brought Dylan into the consciousness of many who were unaware of his musical depth and breadth. Just this week XM Satellite radio announced that Dylan will host a weekly show starting in March. Next month in San Diego choreographer Twyla Tharp will stage a play about Dylan that she will eventually take to Broadway.
I’d like to propose a leadership model based on Bob Dylan’s words, life, and music. Dylan presaged and led the way into new musical idioms. Whether he would admit it or not (and he probably would not), his leadership influenced the general culture both through his music as well as the influence his music has had on other musicians. Dylan’s career clarifies that elusive concept of visionary leadership.
Dylan is an interesting study in leadership. His personality runs counter to the classic leadership persona, but the results he’s achieved are undeniable. And that’s the point. Visionary leaders are often quirky, off-beat, and frustratingly fickle. They may not conform to the patriarchal or matriarchal persona many followers find so comforting. They “presence” the emerging future. They know who they are, and resist the attempts of others to label them. People follow them anyway. One striking example of Dylan’s leadership is that he didn’t follow his customers – they followed him.
OK, here’s a first shot at a “Dylan Leadership Competency Model”, created through key events, the impressions of his contemporaries, and his lyrics, mostly gleaned from “No Direction Home.”
You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows
- Saw where he wanted to take his art and took it there
- Created the future through shifting the musical paradigm. He wrote songs the likes of which “[he] had never heard before.”
- Creative Destruction – literally destroyed and recreated the Dylan brand time and time again throughout his career.
- As Liam Clancy said in “No Direction Home: “He articulated what the rest of us wanted to say but couldn’t say.”
- Led by example.
I’ll know my song well before I start singing
- Listened to his intuition
- Knew what he was not
- Wrestled, questioned, and searched
- Was open to suggestion and was willing to change
He not busy being born is busy dying
- Creative destruction and reinvention of self – 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
- Asked provocative questions. Brought people face to face with their own freedom to choose – confronted them with their attachment to the past, and inability to move into the future – existential decision. See: Blowin’ in the Wind
- Experimented with new forms
- Unfroze old patterns of thought with his music
- Musical expeditionary in the truest sense
- Changed people’s perceptions and understandings of the folk form/rock form
- Articulated reasons for change
- Master storyteller
What good am I if I know and don't do,
What good am I?
- Was willing to be misunderstood, scorned and “booed” in order to follow his muse
- Didn’t let the customers dictate his direction
- Took huge professional risks with most paying off
- Dared to be audacious
- Acted with chutzpah and audacity to get where he wanted to go.
Hired the best and let them run with their talent
And it ain't in the ones that ain't got any talent but think they do.
- Worked with musicians who wanted to contribute to the creative process – and he let them.
- Didn’t micro-manage – trusted his bands to do what they did best.
- Encouraged experimentation
- Expected excellence and generally got it
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull.
- Let’s face it – he invented the fusion of folk-rock.
- In listening to Dylan interviewed, time and time again I cringed as I heard interviewers trying to pin Dylan to one side of a dichotomy. Dylan nearly always resists being defined, or defining himself or positioning himself. Perhaps this is because Dylan’s paradigm is far more nuanced than yes/no, left/right, folk/rock. Here are lyrics that speak to that paradigm:
What's good is bad, what's bad is good, you'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom.
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they're breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong…Ring Them Bells
Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time.
But all the people can't be all right all the time.
I've heard you say many times
That you're better 'n no one
And no one is better 'n you.
If you really believe that,
You know you got
Nothing to win and nothing to lose.
I'd like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to drop me a line. By the way, you can search the entirety of Dylan's oeuvre on his website, www.bobdylan.com
Interdependencies Systems Thinking Conference
After returning from Pegasus Communications' excellent Sytems Thinking Conference, themed "Embracing Interdependence: Effective and Responsible Action in Our Organizations and the World," I was most impressed with the following:
W. Edwards Deming on job titles, per Peter Senge:
Instead of asking, "What do you do for work," ask, "Who depends on you, and whom do you depend on." Ask each member of a team this question, and you've got a powerful -- and meaningful -- conversation.
Peter Senge, on making sense of life on global interconnectedness:
The times we're living in are unprecedented in human history; we've never been "here" before, e.g., The decisions I make about how to live determines opportunities for people the world over. To make sense of the "Global Village," the environmental issues, and issues of social equity, we have to improve our powers of abstraction; we need to be able to perceive the whole, not necessarily fix it.
Peter Senge, on perceiving interdependencies:
We're limited by our inability to perceive interdependencies through space and time -- both stretch beyond our perceptual horizons. We have to visit those places, and convene conversations with constituents the world over to push spatial horizons.
We can broaden our temporal horizons by thinking in terms of stocks and flows, e.g., water filling a bathtub. Intuitively we sense that there is a relationship between the flow rate, the level of water in the tub, and the rate the water is draining. By understanding those basic relationships we can forecast eventual outcomes. The lens of stocks and flows allows us to glimpse the implications of our impacts on our communities and on the world.
Peter Senge on elders and children:
Proactively engage both elders and children in our critical conversations. Also, don't shy away from considering the impact on family members of business decisions -- talking about family in serious business meetings -- within the context of the business being discussed -- should become a norm.
Mary-Catherine Bateson (Daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson):
Adults depend on children for meaning in their lives.
Optimizing parts of the whole suboptimizes the whole.
David Isaacs, on asking the ultimate facilitation question:
Ask yourself this question the next time you are faced with a monumental problem to solve:"What is the question, if answered, that would allow me to shape a solution to this problem?"
Leroy Little Bear, on listening:
We must learn how to listen better. Suspend the revving of your response mechanism while listening. Take in the spirit of what the other is trying to say. Remember the power of silence -- you don't need to fill in silences with your chatter.
Leroy Little Bear, on the constraints of dualism:
Reminder to distintangle ourselves from dichotomous thinking. There is no need to be hemmed in by the boundaries of dualism. Without dualism, you must embrace the flow of life, and thus interdependencies. Dichotomies beget dichotomies.
Story of the Zen monk: Unless you empty your teacup (pre-conceived notions and busy thinking), I can't fill it.
How many consultants perform a situation analysis, write the report, and then leave? How often are those reports implemented? If implementation does occur, how do the employees take to it?
Using a meta-management approach can be a win-win proposition for both consultant and client.
A meta manager inventories the talent of an organization, convenes that talent, and guides them (usually working closely with a project lead) in the work that belongs to the client. The same work consultants are asked to perform. The results don't belong to the consultant -- they belong to the client.
Meta-management is the way to attain both results and capacity-building for organizations, rather than creating a dependence on an "expert's" skills. Rather than stepping in as an expert, consultants and seasoned managers can use this "shadow expert" approach to build new skills within an organization or team, and to achieve results that are undeniable artifacts of those new skills.
Meta-management avoids the systems archetype of "fixes that fail" by using symptoms as opportunities to build capacity, rather than in framing them as mechanical failures requiring a handyman's expertise.