A Conversation about Constant Change - 4

Q from Ed: Why is it important for human beings to experience discovery? How can we do this on a daily basis? And how do businesses and organizations develop ways to discover?

Delightful question Ed! Exploration, discovery, collaboration and relationships are all closely related. So from that perspective we discover all the time. Exploration is very common, discovery is less common than exploration, collaboration is less common than discovery, and relationships are less common than collaboration. This is how these four are related:

  • Exploration leads to discovery.
  • Discovery makes collaboration possible.
  • Relationships are a specific form of collaboration.

There's a cause-and-effect relationship here: exploration may lead to discovery may lead to collaboration may lead to relationships. All four are innate to human beings and thus part of human nature. That's the basic premise.

Exploration is always active: it's not possible to passively make some discovery. People understand this very well: we automatically question anybody who shares discoveries that are based on experience. "Does that person actually have enough experience relevant to that discovery?" we ask. When Warren Buffet gives advice on how to invest people pay attention because they believe this man has done enough exploration in the domain of investment to be credible. When I would give the same advice people would question my credibility because I obviously don't have any track record.

So to explore you need to take action whose outcome is highly uncertain. That's why exploration is risky: it requires time so that it may be considered wasteful. On the other hand, exploration might lead to discovery which might create new meaning. This is also risky because it may threaten the status quo.

Discovery is the result of exploration. You know this Ed. I loved your recent blog post where you admitted being a member of a geeky IT club in Asheville. You take a chance to go out and explore and this leads to discovery. If you would stay home you would discovery nothing. "Do one thing everyday that scares you" is about exploration and discovery. Discovery also leads to new meaning: your brain changes as you discovery. When you close yourself to any outside influence your brain doesn't change (apart from the normal aging processes). That's why people that love the status quo ridicule anything that's new and that looks like a threat. They believe it's the best way to fend off changes in our brain and our thinking.

Discovery may lead to collaboration. Ask any child (or just watch them). As we make new discoveries we may find new ways to collaborate. Children are being given great freedom to learn all kinds of forms of collaboration, and are actually encouraged to do so. Adults however are assumed to stick to certain forms of collaboration whether they like it or not: wait in the line, pay taxes, meet all kinds of obligations. Once we're assumed to be biologically and cognitively capable of doing the required collaborations for real there seems to be no way back. Fixed ways of collaborating are beneficial because they're the same for everybody, but they're also damaging because the more people buy into them the more resistant they become to change. I've been saying for some time now that there are no more masses (as in mass audience). There are only niches. And this is a great thing, because it increases mobility of people and habits, and it installs a ceiling above which forms of collaboration cannot rise. The moral question then is: "Which one is more important: all subject to the same, or the freedom to be different? And how do you determine importance?"

And finally collaboration may lead to relationships. Relationships emerge when people find value not so much in the collaboration as in the people they collaborate with. This describes institutions really well, but it also describes people falling in love. So in one setting valuing the people more than the collaboration is considered a drawback, and in another setting the same is considered wonderful. Go figure ;-) I believe relationships require continued collaboration in order to be maintained, unless we're in love with someone.

The important thing to realize for businesses and organizations is that discovery may lead to new forms of collaboration. And when new forms of collaboration do emerge this may put existing relationships and networks of relationships under pressure. The existing forms of collaboration define the existing relationships. When new forms of collaboration replace the old ones relationships are automatically re-negotiated. Thus is an unavoidable aspect of human nature, and understanding how these principles affect each organization and the people in them is extremely valuable.

I look at organizations as a network of relationships with continuity. This means the while people may leave the network and others may join the network itself has continuity. In such a network each person has relationships with at least a few other people, and since each person chooses different people the network becomes dense and resilient. If you look at organizations in this respect it becomes obvious that the network cannot be arbitrarily limited to the employees. It also involves customers and partners. Most businesses don't look at their own organization as a network of relationships that also includes their customers, but the human nature of all people involved follow these innate rules.

A very interesting opportunity for discovery is then to go out and explore that network of relationships, discover what people have in common and discover new ways of collaborating and in doing so potentially redefine the network. On a side note: I make a distinction between an organization and an enterprise, but I won't go into that here.

Question for you Ed:

Q: You talk about social contexts, I talk about networks of relationships, but I think we're talking about the same thing. In your professional life, how do you look at your commercial relationships (how are they created, maintained; how do they evolve?) And how do you look at economic value in relationships (compared to contracts)?