At a time when the legal status of the corporate corpus is the subject of intense political debate, organizational entrepreneur Brian Robertson maintains that businesses aren’t acting human enough.
Brian Robertson: There’s a metaphor I like to use. Imagine if we rode a bicycle like we manage our modern company. It would look something like this: we’d have our committee meetings where we’d all stand around for a long time planning how to ride the bicycle. We’d analyze the path ahead. We’d look at everything that might go wrong and then we’d try to put in place controls to make sure everything went according to plan, lock it down rigidly, top-down. Finally, with plan in had, we’d get on the bicycle. We’d hold the handlebars rigidly at the angle we calculated was the right angle. We’d close our eyes and we’d pedal, and if that bicycle fell over somewhere along the way we’d get up and we’d say, you know, what went wrong? and why didn’t we get this right the first time? and probably, who’s to blame so we can fire them and get them out of the picture?
And, you know, we’d know what to do differently next time: we need more control, more upfront planning. We need to make damn sure this went according to plan.
So in contrast, the way we actually ride a bicycle is quite different. It’s not a process of predict-and-control. It’s a process of sense-and-respond. We have to stay present in the moment, eyes open, take in data continually, and steering becomes something we do every moment of the journey, not once upfront. We are present, conscious, aware, and we are in flow responding to reality through our whole system. We make minor course corrections constantly in every muscle in our body.
It’s a very different response, and the modern and historic predict-and-control approach we’ve taken to organizing and managing businesses has worked well enough back in the early half of last century - we had less complexity, less uncertainty. In today’s world the environment has shifted quite a bit. You face your environment today of increasing uncertainty, interconnectedness. The complexity has skyrocketed even in the past 20 years. The predict-and-control approach to management is straining to keep up. It is becoming obsolete.
If we want to be able to dynamically steer our organizations, we’re going to need to take advantage of everything that they can sense so that we can respond, and the biggest capacity an organization has to sense and respond to its reality is through us humans that show up within. The challenge is, how many of us truly show up in organizations feeling like everything we sense about our reality and that organization’s reality has somewhere to go to get processed into some kind of meaningful change? We sense reality is here and it could be here, right, there is some gap between our current reality and our potential future, and that gap creates a stretching or a sense of tension, and like a rubber band spread between two points there is energy in that. If we can truly show up in an organization and have it be true that any tension we sense anywhere in that organization’s reality sensed by anyone has somewhere to go to get rapidly and reliably processed in a meaningful change, now we have a source of energy to harness to evolve our organizations.
If we want to dynamically steer, we need systems, structures and processes distributed throughout the organization that allow anything sensed by anyone anywhere in the company to have somewhere to go to get rapidly and reliably processed in a meaningful change. We need meeting practices. We need decision making methods. We need a new way of controlling and governing the organization, a way that gives us a lot more real control than illusion of control, which is typically what happens when we try a predict-and-control approach.
I think overall you can say it takes a new operating system. In the same way that your computer has an operating system underneath of it, if we want to upgrade our organizations we need a new operating system that everything is built on top of.
Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd