Thinking and practice in the business world have been dominated by a mechanistic paradigm for the last few decades. While it might have served us in the industrial age, in the present context where we mostly rely on human creativity and “knowledge work” it has become a detriment. Over the last decade or so, thinking from the natural sciences has started spilling over into business, public sector and development contexts. Ideas that we have found particularly valuable are those emerging from the field of Complex Adaptive Systems theory.
When we see organisations as Complex Adaptive Systems, more similar to ecologies than to machines or even organisms it requires us to think differently about every aspect of our organisations, especially leadership, strategy and change.
“The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.”
― Stanley McChrystal,
Because these complex organisations are largely made up of human beings, we also believe that they should be “fit for humans”. Therefore, when we engage with organisations, we employ narrative practices. Narrative practices are unique to humans, and go beyond what is commonly known as storytelling. It focuses on the generative aspects of narrative and how human beings make meaning of their experiences, environment and identities through story. In a way, we are all authoring our current reality through the stories tell and the actions that flow from them. In organisations and societies, we are all co-authors of an emergent reality.
Applying these two lenses to organisations, we gain a very different perspective on leadership, change, culture, strategy and innovation. Realising that our customers are also part of a complex ecology also changes how we look at ideas like customer satisfaction, marketing and becoming “customer centric”.