The Platform of Desire, Part 1

“It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.” - Marshall McLuhan

Recently, my friend David Pu’u asked me about my vision. In a moment of rare, uninhibited candor I said,

“I want to change everything related to 20th century organizational purpose and structure. I want to replace the institutions that created the problems we face now.  I no longer want to be sad because of the waste of human potential that I see around me.”

The structures that I am referring to are not just organizational structures, but also social, moral and ideological structures. It is important to understand that these structures are systems of processes that affect us through our experience of them. Circle of Impact

From the vantage point of my Circle of Impact model, my conclusion is that ideas change, relationships change, but the social and organizational structures that comprise the context in which we think and relate do not change without great forces of disruption.

This is especially so as social and organizational structures disconnect Ideas (Values, Vision, Purpose and Impact) and Relationships from the processes and order of the institution. These structures are highly resistant to change, and only change when people join together around a set of common values, a shared purpose and a clear understanding of what difference their organization should make.

The Structure Lives

I have had a long standing interest in the structure of organizations. Not the structure of the organizational chart; but the living structure, the one that actually functions.

If an organization's structure was a spy, it would be a double agent, both working for and against the people of the organization.

The structure of an organization, whether it is a bricks & mortal business or a social media business, is designed for a purpose. Henry Ford's assembly line that made the Model T was designed for the purpose of mass production. Facebook's platform structure is also designed for a purpose.

A business' purpose and the purpose of its organizational structure are not the same.  The former is born out of the values that inform its mission; the latter out of the need for order and efficiency.

Marshall McLuhan said a half century ago that "the medium is the message".  At that time, he was speaking about how the form in which a message is delivered is a message in-and-of-itself. The form of communication is as important as the content of the message.

The classic example from McLuhan's era, the 1960s, is the effect of the nightly pictures of the Vietnam War. During the dinner hour each night, we saw pictures of US aircraft dropping napalm incendiary bombs, of piles of dead bodies, of unclothed children running from the fires of bombings, and executions in the streets. 

The visual medium of television created an experience, whether accurately or not, which words in a newspaper or magazines, and governmental spokespersons could not. The medium was greater than the message in itself.

Today, the digital revolution is an extension of this same reality. Even in a day when any photo can be Photoshopped, pictures carry a stronger influence than words.

The medium, the structure, the platform is the message, and always has been.

It is important to understand how organizational structures and social media platforms affect us. They are not neutral, but a living context which change in response to our actions.

Consider for a moment the morale in your office today. Is everyone happy and productive?  Or are there people who are disgruntled and angry about being there.

Several years ago, in collaboration with a global group of colleagues, an ebook of a conversation about morale in the workplace was published called Managing Morale in a Time of Change. It is worth reading. Without stating it, the conversation points to the impact that organizational structure has on the people who work with it.  The structure attempts to dictate identity and behavior.  To paraphrase McLuhan's words at the beginning of this post,

"It is the experience of working within a highly integrated corporate structure, not the understanding of its structure, that produces issues of low morale."

The medium of structure is a message to which we must pay attention.This is true regardless of size or organizational form, whether industrial or digital. We are influenced by the structures of the organizations where we engage in life and work. This is also true for all things digital and virtual,especially the form of social media platforms.

Social Media Platforms as Organizational Structures

I began to think about this after listening to Mitch Joel's Twist Image and Joseph Jaffe's Across the Sound shared podcast as they discussed Facebook's future. I left a comment at Mitch's blog. Here's apart of it.

... Facebook is a new thing. But it thinks like an old thing. It thinks bigger is better. It’s the old industrial mindset. The bigger it gets, the harder it will be to change course. I’ve felt for some time that FB has about five years of relevance left before it is replaced by multiple platforms that someone figures out how to tie together without creating confusion. This is already happening.

Why? Because people change, and it isn’t that they want more, they want better or different. Facebook is changing their expectations, their behaviors, and their attitudes towards themselves. We already see it in the proliferation of so many different social media platforms.

Here’s where I see the shift.

It used to be that we individuals had to fit into the institutional structures, and Facebook is an institutional structure, to find relevance and identity. The institution was king, and we were simply serfs. Now, that scenario is flipped, and the individual is king, and becoming more so, and Facebook is just an optional tool for our use. For these platforms it is a race to relevance in a fickle marketplace.

It isn’t that these platforms are changing, people are changing by using these tools to express themselves in way that they did not have in previous eras. They / we will gravitate toward those platforms / tools we need right now. I find Facebook is the lowest common denominator social media platform that provides a basic level of interaction, but not much more. I know they are trying to add features, but the mold / brand is set. FB is a slave to their own brand, not we to them.

The medium of social media is changing us. It is a platform for change. And, we, just may be changing faster than the platforms can keep up. Why is this?

What is it about social media that makes it so appealing?

How does it touch us, touch those aspects of our lives that other structures can not?

How can we better utilize these platforms to align the Four Connecting Ideas with our relationships in the organziational structures where we live and work?

These are the questions that I find most compelling.

We'll look at these questions in Part 2 of The Platform of Desire.


The End and The Beginning Redux

In March of 2011, I wrote a post called The End and The Beginning.  Here's an excerpt.

What I see is:

    The Beginning of the End of the Progressive ideal.

     The  End of the Beginning of the Capitalist model.

     The Emergence of freedom and democracy on a global scale.

The first two, Progressivism and Capitalism, along with modern Science, are the principal products of the age of Enlightenment.

The Progressive ideal believed, and still does by many of its advocates, that through government control of science and industry a free, equitable and peaceful world could be achieved. Conceived during the 19th century as a belief that society could be perfected, and as a counter-balance to the industrialization taking place in Europe and the United States, it was an utopian belief in a well-order, controlled, uniform world.

The Capitalist model was born in a belief that each individual should be free to pursue their own economic welfare, and not be forced by government rules or economic servitude to do that which they choose not to do. It was the ideology that provided the basis of the industrialization out which has come prosperity for more people in history and the rise of the modern middle class.

Both the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have brought great benefits and liabilities to society. They form the two sides of virtually every divisive issue confronting the world today. They are quite similar, yet in very different ways. Both are organized around the control of power and wealth. Both have been institutionalized in the large, hierarchical organizations in Washington and on Wall Street, and in similar institutions throughout the world.

Over the past decade, the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have begun to show their age. The assumptions that underlie these ideologies are being challenged by forces of change that are beyond their control. Because the control of global forces of change is problematic and less realistic.

I wrote this before the Occupy Wall Street movement began.

I have thought for a long time that there was an evolutionary cycle of institutional decline taking place. Some of this change was the result of out-dated organizational and leadership philosophies, and some of it the emergence of technologies that provide for a more boundary-less environment for communication and collaboration.

This change is an organic process that will ultimately transform or replace most organizations. While I still believe this to be true, I also see that there is a revolutionary cycle of institutional destruction taking place as well.

Read these two different views of the Occupy Wall Street movement. First, Naomi Wolfe's The Guardian article, The Shocking Truth about the Crackdown on Occupy. Then read Matthew Continetti's The Weekly Standard editorial, Anarachy in the USA.

If both are right, then what we are seeing is the rise of political violence on a broader scale in America than we have seen since the late 1960's / early 1970's.  I see parallels from my youth in this generation of young people who rush to join the protests, without really knowing what they hope to change. Their frustration is shared broadly.

A few times over the past few months, I have heard business people in differing contexts say something like, "I'm not making any investments in equipment, no acquisitions of companies, and no hiring until after next year's election."  The reason, instability, a lack of clarity about the rules. In effect, they don't know how their investments will be taxed. As a result, they are forced to sit and wait, contributing to a further erosion of jobs and economic sustainability for families and communities.

This fits with the trends picture presented by Charles Hugh Smith in his post The Future of Jobs. Look closely at the 5Ds at the end of this list.

Most cultural and economic trend changes begin on the margin and then spread slowly to the core, triggering waves of wider recognition along the way. Thus some of these long-wave trends may not yet be visible to the mainstream, and may remain on the margins for many years. Others are so mature that they may be primed for reversal.

The key here is to be aware of each of these, think on which are most likely to impact your current profession and how, and estimate when that impact is likely to be expressed so that you can position yourself wisely in advance:

  1. Automation enabled by the Web…
  2. The cost structure of the US economy—the system-wide cost of housing, food, energy, transport, education, health care, finance, debt, government, and defense/national security--is high and rising, even as productivity is lagging. …
  3. The stress of operating a small business in a stagnant, over-indebted, high-cost basis economy is high, and owners find relief only by opting out and closing their doors. …
  4. The Central State has been co-opted or captured by concentrations of private wealth and power to limit competition and divert the nation’s surplus to Elites within the key industries of finance, health care, education, government, and national security. ….
  5. Financialization of the economy has incentivized unproductive speculation and malinvestment at the expense of productive investment. …
  6. The U.S. economy has bifurcated into a two-tiered regulatory structure. Politically powerful industries such as finance, education, health care, oil/natural gas, and defense benefit from either loophole-riddled regulation or regulation that effectively erects walls that limit smaller competitors from challenging the dominant players. …
  7. Selective globalization and political protection has created a two-tiered labor market in the US. …
  8. Financialization and the two-tiered labor market have led to a two-tiered wealth structure in which the top 10%'s share of the nation’s wealth has outstripped not just the stagnant income and wealth of the lower 90%, but of productivity, the ultimate driver of national wealth.
  9. … Looking farther out, there are emerging trends I call “the five Ds:” definancialization, delegitimization, deglobalization, decentralization and deceleration. …
  10. Definancialization. Resistance to the political dominance of banks and Wall Street is rising, and the financial industry that thrived for the past three decades may contract to a much smaller footprint in the economy.
  11. Delegitimization. The politically protected industries of government, education, health care, and national security are increasingly viewed as needlessly costly, top-heavy, inefficient, or failing. Supporting them with ever-increasing debt is widely viewed as irresponsible. Cultural faith in large-scale institutions as “solutions” is eroding, as is the confidence that a four-year college education is a key to financial security. 
  12. Deglobalization. Though it appears that globalization reigns supreme, we can anticipate protectionism will increasingly be viewed as a just and practical bulwark against high unemployment and withering domestic industries. We can also anticipate global supply chains being disrupted by political turmoil or dislocations in the global energy supply chain; domestic suppliers will be increasingly valued as more trustworthy and secure than distant suppliers.
  13. Decentralization. As faith in Federal and State policy erodes, local community institutions and enterprise will increasingly be viewed as more effective, responsive, adaptable, and less dysfunctional and parasitic than Federal and State institutions.
  14. Deceleration. As debt and financialization cease being drivers of the economy and begin contracting, the entire economy will decelerate as over-indebtedness, systemic friction, institutional resistance to contraction (“the ratchet effect”), and political disunity are “sticky” and contentious.

So, a picture emerges that promises the economic and political environment to be more unstable and volatile over the coming year. I believe this requires us to make a change in our perspective about the way we view the evolutionary changes that are working in tandem and at time against the revolutionary changes of the past few months.

Understanding the Transition

Many of the people I am with on a daily basis feel a strong ambiguity towards institutions, like government, business and religion. Many of these institutions are failing, declining, or evaporating before our eyes. I don't need to go into the reasons why. It really doesn't matter that much because to a great degree, it is a function of the transition from one era to the next. I don't believe we can stop those changes. Our course of action is to be different. Here are some of the ways we can adapt to this changing social landscape.

1. Develop Parallel Structures that provide a buffer against the disintegration of legacy institutions. Creating parallel and redundant structures provides a greater margin of security against the shifts that are taking place. The thinking process behind this is to define the four Connecting Ideas of Mission, Values, Vision and Impact for your organization, and then answer, How do we create the structures that can fulfill the potential that resides in this ideas?

2. Develop Networks of Trust that provide a community of collaborators who stand with one another as economic conditions worsen. If society moves towards a more anarchic, violent place, then having a network of trust is essential for security and safety.

3. Develop a Long View / Big Picture that projects out how new ways of working can become sustainable.  Right now, using traditional plannng methods, it is very difficult to create a long range plan for development. Yet, without some clarity about the Big Picture, we are at the mercy of the current fashionable idea. Build a Long View / Big Picture around the Values that are most important to you and to those who are in your network of relationships. Strong values lived out in our relationships are an essential strength for being more adaptible in the face of revolutionary change.

4. Develop an Independent, Adaptable Mind that is able to discern the Big Picture in the moment of decision. Don't let someone else tell you what to think. Think for yourself. Do your own research. Read broadly. Think critically, with a view to understanding context, trends and what the Big Picture is. Engage in conversation, ask questions, change your mind, and build a network of people who are just as independently like minded.

5. Develop the Character of Resiliency that refuses to quit or fail, but continues to adapt and learn. This resiliency comes from an inner strength of courage and confidence that we can go through any difficult situation and remain true to ourselves. To be resilient requires us to see ourselves as more than the victim of current circumstances, but able to adapt and change to create the structures and relationships needed to advance forward.

6. Develop Traditions that Celebrate Values that unite people together as communities of shared mission and responsibility.  Of the four Connecting Ideas, Values is the only one that does not change. Our values are the glue that holds us together in times of crisis and stress. It is the core strength of every lasting institution. Those people and institutiosn that are able to change are the ones whose values are greater than its organizational structure.

7. Develop the Leadership of Personal Initiative in every social and organizational setting you touch. The attitudes and behaviors of entitlement and dependence, which have been nurtured by the institutions that are declining will not sustain society in the future. The freedom of the individual is the freedom to lead through their own personal initiative. The key is understanding that this initiative is the leadership of the future, as person who are free to act, join with others to create the parallel structures that are needed to replace the structures in decline.

The End and The Beginning Redux

I'm still convinced that we are witnessing the decline of Progressivism as a viable system for society. I'm also convinced that Capitalism as it has developed in the late 20th / early 21st century is not sustainable. I am more convinced than ever that individual freedom and the liberty of democracy are the trends that will carry us through the violence of the next generation. I say so because the era that is passing away before us will not go quietly. But go away, it will. That too I am firmly convinced.


The Picture of the Future in a Box - Update

Update: Ross Dawson writes about the importance of 3D printing in his post - How 3D printing will transform the retail industry: the opportunities.

This post is a continuation of the ideas presented in The End and The Beginning. In this one, I want to focus on three culture shifts that impact what leadership means in the 21st century.

A picture of the future in a box

Let me begin with this picture. 3dsystems-RapMan-Students-6

Here is a student using a three-dimensional printer. The blue object in the middle of the picture is being printed. This is a kit that individuals can buy for around $1,300.

All you need is a basic CAD program to begin to create prototypes of your ideas. 

I recently saw this model, RapMan 3.1, and the BFB-300 3D printer demonstrated at Hatchfest in Asheville. Rajeev Kulkarni, Vice President of Global Engineering for 3D Systems spoke on the uses of 3D printing.  His presentation described a extremely wide spectrum of application for this technology. The most impressive use of 3D printing is to create human organs from the cells of the recipient. See Antony Atala's TED2011 presentation to grasp the magnitude of this innovation in medicine.

This picture of innovative technology points to the social change that is occurring because of the advance of technology. Besides lowering the cost of prototyping and manufacturing new products, people can now take their ideas from conception to market in a shorter period of time.  Kulkarni spoke about what used to take months to produce that now can be done in a matter hours or days.

Three Shifts

As I listened to Rajeev Kulkarni's Hatch presentation, I realized that in these printers I saw three significant social shifts. When the cost of manufacturing and production time are reduced, and the technology becomes affordable for individual use, then we are moving through a transition period from one era to the next.   The shifts that I see taking place are:

1. From consumers to creators / producers

2. From mass market to mass customization

3. From a mass culture to a local culture

 Let me describe each.

1. From consumers to creators / producers

With the use of basic design software and the RapMan 3d printer, any individual can become a producer of products for sale. The materials that can be used in the printing process are extensive. So, no longer will people have to depend on the marketplace to provide the products that he or she needs. With some ingenuity and business sense, they can make a shift from being a consumer of products to being the creator and producer of them.

Of course, six billion people will not automatically shift from being consumers to creators / producers. And every producer needs consumers to buy her product. Yet, it does not take many people embracing this shift in culture to dramatically impact it. The picture above is of an school girl in England using the RapMan printer.

Imagine every school in your school district having a 3d printer to complete a learning process of idea creation to product completion. Imagine the change of mind that comes to the students in that school when they can create, and not just consume.  Imagine a generation of men and women who think of themselves as creators and producers, as leaders, rather than just consumers of other peoples' creative output. 

One of the first realizations I had about 21st century leadership was that it was about personal initiative, not about roles. Leadership begins with personal initiative. Tools like these 3D printers place into the hands of people the opportunity to initiate, to create, and to produce products and solutions that can make a difference. 

2. From mass market to mass customization

The nature of product development cycles used to be months, even years, necessary to bring a product to market. As a result, it required that product to have as wide an appeal and as long a shelf life as possible. With the advent of technologies, like 3D printers, this is changing. Now in a matter of a few hours, a specialize part can be designed and produced for a customer.

There are a couple implications for this shift.

First, it changes how a company relates to the marketplace. In a one-size fits all world, the marketplace is the lowest common denominator. In a mass customized world, the individual is the market. Marketing to individuals is different than to a mass culture. This is the insight that Chris Anderson wrote about in his book The Long Tail.

Second, it makes the relationship between manufacturer and consumer more important. I've learned this as a consultant. I cannot approach any project as if there is a formula that applies to every other organization in their industry. I have to build a relationship of interest, inquiry and adaptive response to meet not only their expectations, but their needs. I enter into their organizational setting with a set of tools, not unlike a 3D printer, though I don't have one, and use my tools to address the needs that they have.

In a mass customized world, relationships matter, and that is a key to managing the shifts that I'm identifying here.

3. From mass culture to local culture

Prior to the 20th century, life for most people from the beginning of time was experienced in small towns. I remember my grandfather telling me near the end of his long life that the most significant invention in his life time was the radio. When asked why, he said, "Because it showed us what life was like in other places."

The 20th century was a century lived on a global scale, with World Wars and multi-national corporations, and, with institutions that were designed for a mass culture. It was a perspective where one size fits all, and that all people are to be treated a like. Individuality was rebellious and conventionality was the norm.

Those days are slipping away as innovations, like 3D Systems printers, make it possible to create a business that serves customers globally from an office in a small town with an internet connection.  It is the twin developments of innovation for individual productivity and the failure of large organizations to function in a one-size fits all world.

As a result, the meaning of global and local is changing. It is less about a mass market culture of sameness, and more about a culture of relationship where I can serve you, regardless of where you or I live. We can be connected. We can communicate, collaborate and coordinate our projects from wherever we sit today.

It isn't just that we live in a time of the long tail, or that technological innovation provides a basis for mass customization or a better foundation for individual initiative. Each is true. At a deeper level, it means that any individual with a minimum investment can pursue their own sense of calling as a person, and do it in a social context of others who share their vision and commitment. This is an emerging reality that will seriously impact the nature of leadership and organizational design in the future.

One way of understanding this development is to see this as the ascendency of the local. I've written about it here, here and here.

The key to making a local orientation work is openness. For many people, local is just another word for provincial, or closed. However, if local is less physical place, and more a relational space, then we can begin to see that my local can include colleagues in Japan, Pakistan, England, Canada, and my neighbors nearby in Asheville.

In a local community, you share a concern for people, for families, for education systems, the business community and for those less fortunate. It is a concern for the whole person, not just for the transaction.

For example, I can share a concern that my friends in California have for the economic and social conditions of their small coastal town, and feel that as their community grows, that I contribute to their growth.

A local community orientation can function in any social or organizational structure. It is the heart of team work. It brings personal initiative, shared responsibility, and common goals and values together.

Leading Through These Shifts

The implications of these shifts for organizational leaders is fairly simple. It means that instead of being organizational process managers, we must become culture creators. The culture that forms from our leadership provides an open environment for individual initiative, relationship building, and shared responsibility.

The local in this sense is like the ancient Greek polis as described by Victor Davis Hanson in his fascinating book, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. He writes in the introduction,

The early Greek polis has often been called a nexus for exchange, consumption, or acquisition, but it is better to define it as an "agro-service center." Surplus food was brought in from the countryside to be consumed or traded in a forum that concurrently advanced the material, political, social, and cultural agenda of its agrarian members. The buildings and circult walls of a city-state were a testament to the accumulated bounty of generations, its democratic membership a formal acknowledgment of the unique triad of small landowner, infantry soldier, and voting citizen. The "other" Greeks, therefore, were not the dispossessed but the possessors of power and influence. Nor is their story a popular account of slaves, the poor, foreigners, and the numerous other "outsiders" of the ancient Greek city-state. The real Greeks are the farmers and infantrymen, the men and women outside the city, who were the insiders of Greek life and culture.

The rise of independent farmers who owned and worked without encumbrance their small plots at the end of the Greek Dark Ages was an entirely new phenomenon in history. This rougly homogeneous agrarian class was previously unseen in Greece, or anywhere else in Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean area. Their efforts to create a great community of agrarian equals resulted, I believe, in the system of independent but interconnected Greek city-states (poleis) which characterized Western cutlure.

The shifts indentified in this post, to me, point to a similar opportunity that the early Greek farmers had. Through their collaborative relationship of shared responsibility, together they created the Greek polis that remains as the model for what cities and communities are in the West.

The ascendency of the local will come as a result of these shifts. And with it a new conception of leadership as more personal, more collaborative, more focused on impact, will emerge to provide it descriptive power that inspires innovation.


Organizational Obsolescence

IMG_1161

Walk into most book stores, and look at the books on leadership that line the shelves, and you'll see very few that address the actual organizational structure of a business. If there are, the focus is primarily about measuring performance, not about how the business is structured.  As valuable as quality programs are, as change mechanisms, they are incremental at best if the real need is a reinvention of the culture and purpose of the business.

The chief problem affecting organizational performance today is not the ability of people to perform, but the structure within which they do so. 

This video is a snap shot of a conversation between two military officers. We have two cultures clashing in this conversation. One is the culture of the careerist who is a slave to the structure of the system. The other culture is of the leader who understands the organization's mission (which is not the perpetuation of the structure) and the leadership of the people who serve to achieve that mission.

If you are familiar with the HBO mini-series Generation Kill ( I highly recommend it.) you'll see these same two cultures colliding. You see the officer corps who are concerned about the unit's mission (which is in effect is reduced to their concerns about their own career advancement and longevity) and the NCO culture, where the concern is for the men who are charged with the dangerous mission that combat soldiers have.

The bureaucratic structure that constrains many large, complex organizations requires dramatic levels of change in order to function well in the future.

Network-Hierarchy Image
This image is one I've used before as a way to visualize a collaborative team working within a traditional hierarchical structure. Hierarchy does not necessarily exclude collaboration. Rather, when the system has turned in on itself to the point that the organization's mission is now the perpetuation the its structure, then you end up having the clash of cultures that is seen in the video.

The longer I work with issues affecting leaders the more convinced I am that structure is the last frontier of organizational development. There are three things to say about this.

1. The structure of an organization exists to serve the mission and the people who are employed to bring to fulfillment. 

It is a tool. Nothing more. To make it more brings it into conflict with the organization's mission. Yet, what I see is structure dictating what the mission should be, and how people are to function with in it. The structure of a business exists to facilitate the leadership of each individual member of the organization. By leadership, I mean the personal initiative that each person takes in collaboration with others to fulfill the mission of the organization. 

2. Structure is ultimately determined by leadership.

If a structure functions as it does in the animation above, then it is because the leadership of the system has allowed it to degenerate to that point. The relation between executive leadership and structure is a moral one. As a tool, structure serves a purpose. Just as a hammer can drive a nail into a board to build a house, it can also break a window to steal a briefcase from a car. The hammer remains what it is. It is the human use of that tool that determines its moral value.

3. Structures, not aligned with the organization's mission, and not open to the individual leadership of its members, will ultimately fail.

There is no such reality that a structure is too big to fail. They are failing all around us. Evidenced by the disparities in compensation, high unemployment rates, and the inability of many organizations to adapt to a changing economic environment.

The Leadership Question for 2011.

As we begin a new year, I want to raise some questions that we all reflect upon during the coming year.

Is your business structure obsolete?

Are your employees reflecting enthusiasm, independent initiative, collaborative decision-making and a passion for mission?

As the senior leader of your business, are you a liberating force for change or a careerist seeking to maximize your own personal benefit from a broken, declining system?

If any of these are true, then you need to take some time to consider what your alternatives are.

Every structure is just a tool. Resolve, then, to develop the very best structure to serve your business.

The challenge is before us all. The time to address these issues is now.


Fragmented and Compartmentalized or Connected and Aligned for Impact?

Circle of Impact

The Circle of Impact is designed to show how the Three Dimensions of Leadership work together.  It is a picture of connection and alignment that leads to impact.

Unfortunately, most of us don't think this way.

Our thinking is often fragmented, compartmentalize, lacking in meaningful connection and alignment. 

It was only through conversations with people where we were trying to sort through this fragmented, compartmentalized picture that the Circle of Impact came into being.

It could have been a long or brief conversation about a specific problem or something quite general and obscure, regardless, the issue had one of three origins.

Either it was an Idea problem, which could either be characterized as a thinking problem or a communication one.

Or, it was a Relationship problem, due to either a personality conflict, a difference in values or the lack of personal engagement.

Or it was an Organizational Structure problem, related to issues of governance, program, operations or resources. Later, it became clear that the Social Structure of an organization also can be setting for these kinds of problems.

In this week's Weekly Leader column - The Subversiveness of Gratitude, I write about the importance of connection.

What we are discovering, and the practice of gratitude is showing, is that truth is not in the discrete, isolated parts, but in their connection to one another. On a human scale, this means that our identity is not our position, title or place in a system, but rather the function that we have in connection. Collaboration and shared responsibility is the ground for understanding who I am within any social and organizational setting. The connection between the parts is where the action is, and the organization lives.

What is the connection between the Three Dimensions?

Ideas are the tools for connection.

Social and Organizational Structures are the settings.

Relationships are where connections are made, and the action is.

The Ideas that matter in helping people make connections are Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact. If there is a hierarchy of importance, it is found with Values. Our conception (Idea) of our Purpose or Mission, our Vision and definition of Impact are formed by our Values.

For example, my Mission is to help individuals discover and act upon a purpose for their life and work. The ideas that give meaning to my purpose are values centered in human purpose, potential and impact.

It is also true that social and organization structures are tangible expressions of the values that are either intentionally determined or become the default values through inattention. Those values maybe about order, productivity, respect, trust or integrity. Or they may focused on wealth creation or personal freedom. Whatever the values are, they are the ideological foundation for these structures. They are seen in the effect or impact of the structure on the people who work wihtin the organization.

The three dimensions are not equal, but complementary. Look again at the Circle of Impact picture.

Purpose is an idea that is connected to Structure. The key focus here is to align the structure with the purpose of the organization. Without that alignment, the organization works a cross-purposes with itself.

Vision is an idea that is connected to both Relationships and Structure.  The focus here is a picture of activity showing what it is like for people working within the structure of the organization to achieve the desire impact. 

Ultimately, what this means is that leaders are not interested in ideas just for the sake of the ideas themselves. They aren't interested in having healthy relationships just because their values say they should. And, they aren't interested in structure just because it is needed for a business to function. 

Instead, leaders are looking for ways to utilize Ideas to strengthen Relationships and inform how the Structure of the organization can be aligned with the company's Mission or Purpose.

The Impact of the Three Dimensions of Leadership should be better communication, collaboration and coordination.


The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.


The Stuff in Your Head

Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg wrote to several of us who are in an online community asking for feedback on a blog post.  He wanted some help to get the stuff in his head on to paper.

Here's  some of what I wrote.

1. The stuff in your head is your voice.

The more you write, the more you'll find what you really need to be saying. I started in blogging in 2004 at the same time I began writing a twice-monthly column for my local paper. The columns weren't bad, though not great. The blog posts were unexceptional until about a year and a half ago when I began to discover what I really wanted to say. What I discovered, in addition, is that I began to spend more time writing than reading. All my life I had been a consumer of other peoples' ideas, and through constant attention to writing, I am becoming a producer of ideas.  So, write, write, write and write some more.  As you do, you'll find yourself waking up at 3am, getting up, going to the computer, and spending five hours producing something that is personally meaningful, and takes you one step farther down the road of discovery and excellence.

2. Create a structure on which to hang your thoughts.

The easiest way to do this is write series of posts. Typically, in odd lots, of 3 or 5, or maybe even 31. Several years ago, when I knew I'd be traveling for most of the month of July, I wrote a series on questions that could be posted each day for the month. It became the 31 Questions ebook later. As I read through it today, I'm amazed a how much further my thinking has gone.

The basic idea is to create an ideological system for your ideas. It allows not only for people to follow your train of thought, but also for you to build an ideological system for influencing people in a sustainable way.  And if you are a very complex thinker like me, meaning your ideas tend to confuse people more than enlighten them, then you need ways to make it simple. That is why I started creating my one page conversation guides. The personal result is that I have a system for addressing a wider range of issues than I did before. I'm not suggesting you create diagrammatic charts. I am suggesting that you systematize your thinking so that people can get it easily, and you have an ideological platform for expressing the stuff in your head.

3. Write for yourself, your audience will follow.

The tyranny of the marketplace is that it is fickle and doesn't pay close attention. It does not follow but constantly finds you. The loyal audience will give you good feedback, but for the most part, if you try to build your writing around what you think other people are looking for, you'll not find joy and fulfillment in the process of writing. 

Writing begins as self-expression, and leads to connection and influence with others. We must not see it as a means to aggrandize ourselves with the public, but rather how we give to them in service and contribution.

Writing is a painful experience because it attacks us at our most vulnerable points. My suggestion for those who feel that they must get the stuff in their heads out on paper is to write. You can find support in the thoughts of writers like Seth Godin, especially his chapter called The Resistance in his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?, and Stephen Pressfield's Writing Wednesdays posts and his essential, The War of Art.

Lastly, while you may be writing for yourself, it isn't always about you. It is about expressing yourself in a manner that provides a context for connecting with the world outside your head. Write for yourself, but write to be read, so that the influence of your ideas may make a difference that matters.

Talent, Systems, Relationships - The conversation continues

In the previous post, Steve Roesler comments:

3. Relationships. This is also a word that isn't often used. 'Getting along with others' is seen as the measurement in this area; 'relationships' conjure up touchy-feely images for many. This is often a diagnostic signal that I am in the room with a group who tend to view people more on the 'commodity' side and would really prefer that the commodities just perform what they are paid to perform without causing any icky-ness.

He's absolutely correct. Read the whole comment.

What he points to is a deficiency that exists in the organizational structure/systems of businesses. They don't know how to deal with relationships, character, ethics and the multitude of tangents to those ideas.

Why is this? Is this a personal issue? Or is this a product of the design of the systems. Are we at the mercy of the systems, that they have some sort of self-replicating mechanistic function that pushes the human equation out of the picture? I may be over stating it. What I do believe is that leaders can make a difference in creating systems and changing structures to enhance the human interaction that takes place in business.

As I mentioned in the previous post there are two phenomena that are taking place which point to this deficiency. One is the rise of the Talent guru in corporations. I personally know a couple of these guys. Part of what is interesting about them is that they created the position and sold it to senior leadership. It was not some strategy derived at the board level or C-level. It rose from individual leaders seeing what needs to be done to improve their business. Based on what they are telling me, talent is increasingly the battle ground of all businesses.  It is because what I'm hearing on another front.

I recently talked to two different top-level leaders of businesses where I live who are telling me that they 1) recognize that they need to change their approach to customer relations, 2) know that much of that has to do with developing their people's ability to develop relationships, and 3) have little confidence that they have the people who can do it. So, they feel trapped in an environment where they have to get better, they know how to get better, and don't see a way to make it happen. Talking about a stressful situation. In one instance, last year was the worst year his company has ever had, and this year is going the same direction.

At what point do leaders realize that the world has shifted under their feet, and what they know is only about 30-40% relevant to what they need to do now. We can say, "Let's improve their relationship development abilities." And that would make a difference. But would it make a sufficient difference to warrant to cost of the training.  I'm not sure. Why? Because the systems of the company, the structure of the business has to change in order to support greater levels of team work.  Systems change efforts are huge endeavors. In many cases, we are talking more that a systems or structure change, we are looking at a culture change. To change a culture is to bring in a new set of values that unite people around a certain conception of who they are and what their business is about. Once again, does it make sense?

The problem isn't simply having an ethical, character-based, relationship philosophy and the systems to support that belief. It is also attracting the people who will fit into this system. It is a talent question as well.

This week I heard two stories about the food service industry that illustrate this for me. Yesterday, I heard about a chef in a nationally known food chain. She is in her second career. She went back to school to get her culinary degree.  She took this job to support her family, with the hopes that one day she would have either her own restaurant or catering business. The company has organized the kitchens as self-organizing teams. She says it is chaos because no one in the kitchen believes in team work. They see their work as a job of tasks to get done and get out of there. So, if the team is to form, it requires no only someone taking the lead, and no one has that assigned responsibility, but also people who desire to be a team.  That is a character issue. It is a mess.

In the other story, the chefs in the kitchen in this hotel used to be at each other's throats all the time. It devolved to the point that knives would get thrown.  The company changed its policies, added some training, resolved the system issues within the kitchen, and now the kitchen is a standard for others in the region. One of chefs recently commented to one of the hotels managers after attending a conference, "How can those people work like that?" The manager responded, "You all used to be like those kitchens.  And now you aren't.  You just don't remember."

Both sound like Hell's Kitchen.

Here's my point. Businesses get stuck in the trap of circular reasoning. They believe the Idea that how they do things is how they should always do things. When things go bad, or don't work, they don't look deeply into their system or structure for the cause. They look at the people, or the externals of the business. They think the cost of changing is so high that it is a last resort. When they finally decided to change is often too late. They are correct that change has a cost. But not changing has a larger cost connected to it. It is called irrelevancy and extinction.Circle_3d_connectors

This is why we need to address the three dimensions of leadership in an integrated manner.  Steve's clients, and mine as well, may never want to talk about mission, character or relationships. I can understand this. They either think the question has already been answered, or that it is irrelevant to their core business.

The reality is that each dimension contributes to the strength of a business. If you are not clear about who you are and where you are going, or not going, you'll try every quick-fix on the internet and find an accelerating decline in performance.  Looking for the quick fix is a character issue. Developing the relationship dimension opens up the business to ideas that were hidden or unknown. Addressing the questions of systems and structure allows for sustainability to develop.

The problems are multitude. If you don't treat them in an integrated fashion, you don't really find the progress you need.  Having been engaged with a wide variety of organizations and leaders for over thirty years, this is what I've come to conclude.

In the economy we are in now, a real separation is taking place. A separation of the committed from the time-servers, check collectors is happening. It is a time of cleansing.  This is why this discussion is so important for so many people and their businesses.


DO Systems Trump People?

Steve Roesler raises a provocative question when he asks "If Systems Trump People, Then ... Why Worry So Much About People?" Make sure you read his posting and the comments that follow. It is an important question.Circle_3d_connectors

My take on this question follows from what I've concluded about leadership functioning in three dimensions. This diagram provides a visual way of seeing this.

Steve says,

If systems trump people, then should organizations be spending more time identifying honest employees and job candidates who simply have the minimum skills necessary to operate the system and not go so crazy focusing on the “best and the brightest”?

I agree with Steve and see two issues that continue to crop up in my conversations with leaders.

Finding the people like Steve describes is not a simple process. It is partly a talent question and partly a character question. They may have talent, but lack the discipline to be an exemplary employee.

Also if the system doesn't support the work of people, then it is destructive to the organization's success.

My experience has shown me that all three dimensions of an organization need to be functioning in a coordinated fashion. The system or structure needs to be designed to not only provide a platform for people to do their best work but also be congruent with the mission of the business. If the mission and structure are out of whack, then people will find the organizations a frustrating place to work. In essence, everyone is working at cross-purposes to one another.

So, if systems and people are playing a Zero-Sum game, then everyone loses.  They lose because they get the impression that their work is nothing more than an activity to complete prescribed tasks, instead of them taking initiative to make a difference that matters for the organizations and its clients.