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Leadership and the New Science launched a revolution by demonstrating that ideas drawn from quantum physics, chaos theory, and molecular biology could improve organizational performance. Margaret Wheatley called for free-flowing information, individual empowerment, relationship networks, and organizational change that evolves organically — ideas that have become commonplace. Now Wheatley's updated classic, based on her experiences with these ideas in a diverse number of organizations on five continents, is available in paperback.
Based on new science theories, this innovative management book sheds light on the issues that affect organizations most--order and change, autonomy and control, structure and flexibility, planning and innovation. The hardcover was considered the number-one management book of 1992.
Why is there such an epidemic of "poor communications" within organizations? In every one I've been in, employees have ranked it right at the top of their major issues. Indeed, its appearance on those lists became so predictable that I grew somewhat numb to it. Poor communication was a superficial diagnosis, I thought, that covered up other, more specific issues. Over the years, I developed a conditioned response to "communications problems" the minute they were brought up. I disregarded the assessment. I started pushing people to "get beyond" that catch-all phrase, to "give me more concrete examples" of communications failures. I believed I was en route to the "real" issues that would have nothing to do with communication.
Now I know I was wrong. My frustration with pat phrases didn't arise from people's lack of clarity about what was bothering them. They were right. They were suffering from problems related to information. Asking them to identify smaller, more specific issues was pushing them in exactly the wrong direction, because the real problems were big-bigger than anything I imagined. What we were all suffering from, then and now, is a fundamental misperception of information: what it is, how it behaves, how to work with it.
The nub of the problem is that we've treated information as a "thing," as a physical entity. A "thing" has material form; you can get your hands around it, move it from place to place, expect to pass it on unchanged. You can manage things.
For several decades, information theory has treated information as something this tangible. Information hasbeen referred to as a quantity, bits and bytes to be counted, transmitted, received and stored. Information is a commodity that we transfer from one place to another. We maintain this commodity focus even now when we evaluate the conductivity of a transmission line, or a computer's capacity, by calculating how much information it can hold. This strong focus on the "thingness" of information has kept us from contemplating its other dimensions: the content, character, and behavior of information (Gleick 1987, 255-56). Information technology still has as a primary concern the smooth, uninterrupted transmission of information. Engineers and leaders alike still hope that information can move virgin-like through the system, untouched by anything.
I believe it is this history with information theory that has gotten us into trouble. We don't understand information at all.
What's curious about our misperception of information is that we all started out on a much higher plane of awareness. Remember playing "telephone" and being delighted and amazed at how the message got distorted as it was whispered from ear to ear? At a young age, we were charmed by information's dynamic nature, by its unpredictable and constantly changing character. But when we entered organizational life, we forgot that experience. We expected information to be controllable, stable, and obedient. We expected to be able to manage it.
In the universe new science is exploring, information is a very different "thing." It is not the limited, quantifiable, put-it-in-an-email-and-send commodity that we pretend it to be. In new theories of evolution and order, information is a dynamic, changing element, taking center stage. Without information, life cannot give birth to anything new; information is absolutely essential for the emergence of new order.
All life uses information to organize itself into form. A living being is not a stable structure, but a continuous process of organizing information. A dramatic example of this, one that pushes our self-concept to the edge, is demonstrated by asking: Who am I? Am I a physical structure that processes information or immaterial information organizing itself into material form?
Although we experience ourselves as stable form, our body changes frequently. As physician/philosopher Deepak Chopra likes to explain, our skin is new every month, our liver every six weeks; and even our brain, with all those valuable cells, changes its content of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen about every twelve months. Day after day, as we inhale and exhale, we give off what were our cells, and take in elements from other organisms to create new cells. "All of us," observes Chopra, "are much more like a river than anything frozen in time and space" (1990).
In spite of this exchange of physical matter, we remain rather constant, due to the organizing function of the information contained in our bodies:
At any point in the bodymind, two things come together-a bit of information and a bit of matter. Of the two, the information has a longer life span than the solid matter it is matched with. . . .This fact makes us realize that memory must be more permanent than matter. What is a cell, then? It is a memory that has built some matter around itself, forming a specific pattern. Your body is just the place your memory calls home. (Chopra 1989, 87; italics added)
Jantsch describes the same phenomenon in all life, asking whether a self-organizing system is best understood as a material structure that organizes energy, or as information processes that organize the flow of matter. He concludes that self-organizing systems are better thought of as energy processes that manifest themselves as physical forms (1980, 35). And biologist Steven Rose develops important questions from the same conclusion: "Organisms have forms which change but also persist throughout their life's trajectory, despite the fact that every molecule in their body has been replaced thousands of times over during their lifetime. How is form achieved and maintained? What are living organisms made of?" (Rose 1997, 16)
Life uses information to organize matter into form, resulting in all the physical structures that we see. The role of information is revealed in the word itself: in-formation. We haven't noticed information as integral to the process of formation because all around us are physical forms that we can see and touch. These things beguile us; we confuse the system's physical manifestation with the processes that gave birth to it. Yet the real system, that which endures and evolves, is a set of processes. Information takes shape in different forms as a result of these processes. When the information changes, a new structure materializes.
In a constantly evolving, dynamic universe, information is a fundamental yet invisible player, one we can't see until it takes physical form. Something we cannot see, touch, or get our hands on is out there, influencing life. Information seems to be managing us.
For a system to remain alive, for the universe to keep growing, information must be continually generated. If there is nothing new, or if the information that exists merely confirms what already is, then the result will be death. Closed systems wind down and decay, victims of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The source of life is new information-novelty-ordered into new structures. We need to have information coursing through our systems, disturbing the peace, imbuing everything it touches with the possibility of new life. We need, therefore, to develop new approaches to information-not management but encouragement, not control but genesis. How do we create more of this wonderful life source?
Information is unique as a resource because it can generate itself. It's the solar energy of organization-inexhaustible, with new progeny possible every time information meets up with itself. As long as communication occurs in some shared context, fertility abounds. These new births require freedom; information must be free to circulate and find new partners. The greatest source of information is the freedom of chaos, where every moment is new. With so much spawning going on, scientists feel obliged to watch carefully a chaotic system's activity lest they miss something (Gleick, 1987, 260).
Of course, such freedom is exactly what we try to prevent. We have no desire to let information roam about promiscuously, procreating where it will, creating chaos. Management's task is to enforce control, to keep information contained, to pass it down in such a way that no newness occurs. Information chastity belts are a central management function. The last thing we need is information running loose in our organizations. And there are good reasons for our stern, puritanical attitudes toward information; unfettered information has created enough horror stories to justify frequent witch hunts.
But if information is to function as a source of organizational vitality, we must abandon our dark cloaks of control and trust in its need for free movement, even in our own organizations. Information is necessary for new order, an order we do not impose, but order nonetheless. All of life uses information this way. Can information, therefore, be used as a helpmate in creating greater order in our organizations?
Information can serve such an organizational function because organizations are open systems and are responsive to the same self-organizing dynamics as all other life. To foster these self-organizing capacities in our organizations, we have to work with information the same way that life does. We have to create much freer access to it, and become much more astute at noticing new information as it emerges. No other species seems to suffer from the delusion that they can manage information. Instead, they stay alert to what's happening all the time. It seems ironic that even the simplest forms of life often seem more self-aware than we humans do. In many fields of science, we glimpse how life uses the information it gathers not just to preserve itself, but to grow and generate new capacities.
Prigogine was stimulated to think about such issues when he observed a process of communication even in "non-living" chemical reactions. He came to the rather startling conclusion that in certain inanimate chemical solutions, the molecules were communicating with one another to generate new order. In the chemical clocks he studied, at a certain point the random mix of molecules becomes coordinated. A murky dull solution, for example, suddenly begins pulsing, first blue, then clear. The molecules act in total synchronization, changing their chemical identity simultaneously. "The amazing thing," Prigogine notes, "is that each molecule knows in some way what the other molecules will do at the same time, over relatively macroscopic distances. These experiments provide examples of the ways in which molecules communicate. . . . That is a property everybody always accepted in living systems, but in nonliving systems it was quite unexpected" (1983, 90).
If a system has the capacity to process information, to notice and respond, then that system possesses the quality of intelligence. It has the means to recognize and interpret what is going on around it. Researchers working in artificial life suggest that intelligence can't be discerned from noting the constituent parts of an entity (See Kelly, 1994). An organism doesn't even need a brain in order to be intelligent. Intelligence is a property that emerges when a certain level of organization is reached which enables the system to process information. The greater the ability to process information, the greater the level of intelligence. Gregory Bateson (1980) specified similar criteria in defining "Mind." Any entity that has capacities for generating and absorbing information, for feedback, for self-regulation, possesses mind. These definitions offer us a means to contemplate organizational intelligence: why some organizations seem so smart, why others fail to survive for long, and why still others get stuck in making the same mistakes repeatedly. We can begin to see that organizational intelligence is not something that resides in a few experts, specialists or leaders. Instead, it is a system-wide capacity directly related to how well the organization can generate and process information everywhere.
Everybody needs information to do their work. We are so needy of this resource that if we can't get the real thing, we make it up. When rumors proliferate and gossip gets out of hand, it is always a sign that people lack the genuine article-honest, meaningful information. Given that we all need to be continually nourished by information, it is no wonder that employees cite "poor communication" as one of their greatest problem. People know it is critical to their ability to do good work. They know when they are starving.
We have lived for so long in the tight confines of bureaucracies-what Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller, describes as "the most superficial and fatuous of all relationships"-that it is taking us some time to learn how to live in an open, intelligent organization. This requires an entirely new relationship with information, one in which we embrace its living properties. Not so that we open ourselves to indiscriminate chaos, but so that we can facilitate effective responses in a world that is constantly surprising us. If we are seeking resilient organizations, a prized property of self-organizing systems, information is a key ally.
Think about how we generally have treated information. We've known it was important, but we've handled it in ways that have destroyed many of its life-giving properties. For one thing, we haven't been interested in newness. We've taken disturbances and fluctuations and averaged them together to give us comfortable statistics. Our training has been to look for large numbers, important trends, major variances. We live in a society that believes we benefit from defining "normal" and then judging everything against this fictitious standard. We struggle to smooth out the differences, conform to standards, measure up. Yet in life, newness can only show up as difference. If we aren't looking for differences, we can't see that anything has changed, and consequently, we aren't able to respond.
Even when we do notice new information, we too often rush in to kill it off quickly. Instead of appreciating the rich possibilities that could move us to new levels of understanding, we think we're wise enough to play Solomon. We don't want to dwell in confusion. We value quick decisions over wise ones. "Let's get this over with," we say, "Let's just make a decision." We aim our efforts dead into the ground, away from the exploration that would move us toward the light of new, richer understandings. For so long, we've been engaged in smoothing things over, rounding things off, keeping the lid on (the metaphors are numerous), that our organizations have literally been dying for information they could feed on, information that was different, disconfirming, and filled with enough newness to disturb the system into new possibilities.
We do not exist at the whim of information; that is not the fearsome prospect which greets us in this world which feeds on new information. Our own capacity for meaning-making plays a crucial role. We, alone and in groups, serve as interpreters, deciding which information to pay attention to, which to suppress. We already are highly skilled at this, but we would benefit from noticing just how much interpretation we do, and how we might develop new lenses of discernment. We can open ourselves to more information, in more places, and seek out that which is ambiguous, complex, perhaps even irrelevant. I know one organization that thinks of information as salmon. If its organizational streams are well-stocked, they believe, information will find its way to where it needs to be. It will swim upstream to where it can spawn. The organization's job is to keep the streams clear, so that information has an easier time of it. The result is a harvest of new ideas and projects.
Another organization changed its approach to information by changing its metaphors. Instead of the limiting thought that "information is power," they began to think of information as "nourishment." This shift keeps their attention on the fact that information is essential to everyone, and that those who have more of it will be more intelligent workers than those who are starving.
Information is always spawned out of uncertain, even chaotic circumstances. This is not a reassuring prospect. How are we to welcome information into our organizations and ally ourselves with it as a partner in our search for order, if the processes that give it birth are ambiguity and surprise? In a profession that has raised the practice of "no surprises" to a high art, sponsoring such processes reads like a macabre prescription for self-destruction. Few things make us more frantic than increasing ambiguity. And although we say we've come to tolerate ambiguity rather well over the past years (because we had no other choice-it wasn't going away), it often appears that we don't tolerate it as much as we shield ourselves from it. We have a hard time with lack of clarity, or with questions that have no easy answers. We move hurriedly out of these discomforts by focusing on one element, coming up with a narrow solution, and pretending not to notice everything else that's not getting dealt with. We feel safer with blinders on, fearing that if we open our eyes this will only add to our distress, even though our experience suggests that when we keep ourselves blinded, we are more frequently "blindsided.".
We fear both ambiguity and surprise in management, I believe, because we hold onto the myth that prediction and control are possible. We still believe that we can control every part of the machine. We still believe that we can (and must) know what's going on everywhere. We still believe that what holds a system together is us, our leadership. It is our intelligence—not the intelligence distributed broadly throughout the organization—that brings order to everything. When things start to feel confusing or ambiguous, no wonder we get anxious. Ambiguity asks us to contemplate even more variables, confusion asks us to say that we don't know, and how can we possibly keep control of even more, stressed and stretched as we already are? Our span of control seems to pull away from us elastically, and, suddenly, we feel snapped into unmanageability. Under such pressure, it's no wonder that we want to shut out newness, that we blindly hold onto the few things that worked in the past.
But there is a way out of the great overwhelming fear that ambiguity engenders. It requires that we step back, refocus our attention on the system as a whole, and realize there are other processes at work. Beyond our leadership skills, and often in spite of them, the system is self-organizing to accomplish its work.
This is such a remarkably different perspective, and it calls for new skills in us. We all have to learn how to support the workings of each other, to realize that intelligence is distributed and that it is our role to nourish others with truthful, meaningful information. Fed by such information, everyone can more capably deal with issues and dilemmas that appear in their area. It is no longer the leader's task to deal with all problems piece-by-piece, in a linear and never satisfying fashion. It is no longer the leader's task to move information carefully along restricted pathways, shepherding it cautiously through channels, passing it on guardedly to someone else. This was how leaders were taught to manage in the past. And mechanistic models of brain function reinforced this as the correct approach. Earlier brain physiology described information as moving step by step from one neuron to the next, just as methodically as leaders learned to do. But brain function is now described with imagery that bears no resemblance to these mechanistic notions of the past. These new ideas offer many possibilities for imagining more open and liberated ways of distributing information.
In newer theories of the brain, information is widely distributed, not necessarily limited to specific neuron sites. In mapping areas of the brain to determine those that relate to specific signals (for example, those related to hand movements), neuroscientists have found that these "sites" do not correspond to any particular neurons. Instead of a specific physical place, they observe a more fluid pattern of electrical activity. Instructions, such as those for a particular finger movement, seem to be distributed through a shifting network. And memories, it is now thought, "must arise as relationships within the whole neural network" (Briggs and Peat 1989, 171). If information is stored in these networks of relationships among neurons, damage to a particular area of the brain will not result in the loss of that information. Other areas in the network may retain that information in some form.
These neural nets were first simulated in meager degree in computers by assembling upwards of 60,000 machines and linking them together to do parallel processing. Zohar describes them as a "rather messy, higgledy-piggledy wiring design, where everything seems randomly connected to everything else" (1990, 72). In our brains—and the computers that can never hope to mimic them-complex information travels across broad expanses, never organized into neat pathways, yet capable of organizing into memory and functions.
Instead of channeled flows of information, neural nets give us images of information moving in all directions simultaneously. How this rather "higgledy-piggledy" system works is not clear. Scientists can neither precisely track nor control how such random distribution of information achieves a sense-making capacity. But we each live inside bodies where we rely on the effectiveness of these processes.
Several years ago, a major long-distance phone company discovered that telephone calls could be routed more efficiently and effectively anywhere on the globe if the routing was not controlled by a centralized unit. In place of centralized decisions, they created the technology to support a rapid exchange of information among the various switches. Each call could find its own best route by quickly scanning what was going on in the system. However, as one manager sadly reported, at the same time that his company was discovering how well this worked for technology, it had yet to trust that similar processes also would lead to far improved functioning at the human level among employees.
We have many other organizational models that rely on open access to information in order to contributes to self-organized effectiveness. The literature on organizational innovation, creativity, and knowledge management is rich in lessons that apply here; and, not surprisingly, they describe processes that also characterize the natural universe. Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Knowledge grows from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated by individuals, but is shared. Information-rich, ambiguous environments are the source of surprising new births.
Buckman Laboratories, a U.S. manufacturer of specialty chemicals, tells many powerful tales of increased capacity resulting from their open, distributed approach to information. In one such story, an employee who was trying to land a new contract in Indonesia put out a request for technical information, using the company's intranet. Within hours, he received eleven replies from six countries, and credits the information he received with his success in winning the contract. His request also stimulated conversations among the different respondents that kept going; once they found each other on the Net, they realized there were more technical issues to explore together (in Willett, 1999, 7). These types of stories abound in organizations that have developed means for employees to connect with one another and to share their knowledge and experience.
A very different process of how new and abundant information can facilitate self-organization is found in work being done described as "Whole Systems." (****add references) One example is "Future Search," a whole systems planning model now in wide use (see Weisbord 1987, ch. 14; 1992; 1996). The intent is to gather the whole system in the room to develop a desired future for the organization. People from all parts of the organization, including those "outside" the organization who in truth are very connected to it, work together to generate information on the organization's history, present capacities, and external demands. The first day is spent bringing to the surface the information contained in the organizational neural net-opinions, interpretations, and history carried within all the different people in the room. Information is generated in deliberately overwhelming amounts. In the presence of so much information, people often feel temporarily powerless and disheartened. They don't know how to make sense of it and they are in that terribly uncomfortable state of feeling confused. But as information continues to proliferate and confusion grows, there comes a memorable time (usually during the last quarter of the event) when the group self-organizes, growing all that information into new, potent visions of the future. Rather than basing agreements on the lowest common denominator, the whole system that is present at the conference has self-organized into a new creation, a unified body that has set new and challenging directions for itself.
Although overwhelming levels of information are intentionally created in these sessions, it is never the volume that matters. It is only the meaning of information that makes it potent or not. Information that is identified as meaningful is a force for change. In the system's networks and feedback loops, such information circulates and grows and mutates in the conversations and interactions that occur among the participants. This process seems to be the way nature creates the well-ordered and diverse beauty that delights us: information is generated freely by the system and fed back on itself so that it continues to grow and change.
For example, it is just such a process that gives birth to the ineffable beauty of fractals (see pages xxxx). These geometrical forms are generated by computers from relatively little information that is expressed in a few nonlinear equations. The equations are not there to be solved just once; instead, each solution is a contribution to the creation of a complex pattern. As one solution is found, it is immediately fed back into the equation so that another, new solution can develop. This process has been termed "evolving feedback." As the equations are fed back on themselves, evolving a new solution with every iteration, elaborate levels of pattern and differentiation are created. These patterns never end; as long as the iterative process continues, the patterns will continue to evolve into infinity.
Fractals are. . . complex by virtue of their infinite detail and unique mathematical properties (no two fractals are the same), yet they're simple because they can be generated through successive applications of simple iterations. . . . It's a new brand of reductionism. . . utterly unlike the old reductionism, which sees complexity as built up out of simple forms, as an intricate building is made out of a few simple shapes or bricks. Here the simple iteration in effect liberates the complexity hidden within it, giving access to creative potential. The equation isn't the plot of a shape as it is in Euclid. Rather, the equation provides the starting point for evolving feedback. (Briggs and Peat 1989, 104; italics added)
The process of fractal creation suggests some ways to encourage organizations to work with the paradox of developing greater openness as the path to greater order. A fractal reveals its complex shape through continuous self-reference to a simple initial equation. Thus, the work of any team or organization needs to start with a clear sense of what they are trying to accomplish and how they want to behave together. (I think of these agreements as the initial equation. See also Chapter Seven) Once this clarity is established, people will use it as their lens to interpret information, surprises, experience. They will be able to figure out what and how to do their work. Their individual decisions will not look the same, and there is no need for that level of conformity in their behavior. But over time, as their individual solutions are fed back into the system, as learning is shared, we can expect that an orderly pattern will emerge.
Everywhere in our organizations, at all levels and for all activities, we need to challenge ourselves to create greater access to information and to reduce those control functions that restrict its flow. We cannot continue to fearfully circumscribe employee access to information through information technology and management systems that serve as gatekeepers, excluding and predefining who needs to know what. Instead, we need to evoke one another's contribution by trusting them with the freedom to decide how best to make sense of the information, based on what they know their job to be, and the purpose they are working to support. Restricting information and carefully guarding it doesn't make us good managers. It just stops good people from doing good work. Many studies over many years have demonstrated that people are most effective when they self-manage their responsibilities. Jan Carlson, former head of Scandinavian Airlines and one of the pioneers in the customer service revolution, said it clearly: "An individual without information cannot take responsibility, but an individual who is given information cannot help but take responsibility" in KM book, Willett, p. 2). Free flowing information provides true nourishment that enables people to do their jobs responsibly and to develop innovations that contribute to the organization.
We only create the capacity for growth when we invite in newness. Such newness is only found in something that is different or surprising. Although such situations often make us uncomfortable, they truly are to our benefit. We need to search out difficulties and surprises, bring them into focus and allow them to grow large before our eyes, because then we are creating the conditions for new order to emerge. We need to support people to sit with unsettling or disconfirming information, and provide them with the resources of time, colleagues, and periods for reflection. For several years now, we've seen the value of this in certain processes in scenario planning, quality programs, and participative management. People are encouraged to look for variances and newness, to travel far afield and bring in disturbances. Other processes support reflective conversations among many different parts of the organization. Through these different processes, new information is spawned, new meanings develop, and the organization grows in intelligence. I am intrigued by the thought that these programs work well not simply because they invite employee contribution and involvement, but because they generate the very energy that helps order the universe—information.
Jantsch, as a scientist, urges managers to a new role, that of "equilibrium busters." No longer the caretakers of control, we become the grand disturbers. We stir things up and roil the pot, looking always to provoke, even to disrupt, until finally, things become so confusing that the system must reorganize itself into new forms of organization and new levels of performance. If we accept this challenge to be equilibrium busters, if we begin to value that it is disequilibrium that keeps us alive, we will find the task quite easy. There is more than enough confusion and ambiguity in our lives to work with. We don't have to worry about creating more, only about how to work more gracefully with it.
And the times are insisting that we learn to inhabit these places of not knowing. Who doesn't feel confused these days, or overwhelmed and overloaded by so much information? I'd like us to take comfort in recognizing that we are only infants when it comes to knowing how to deal with all the information that technology makes available to us. The analytic thought processes we learned in school and business have not prepared us to deal with the volume of information that bombards us from all directions. Many creativity teachers suggest that we use such a small part of our mental capacity because of our insistence on linear thinking. We can't use those lovely neat and incremental methods to make sense of the world any longer. We need to be experimenting with thinking processes that better suit our incredible brains, those that are associative, non-linear, messy, relational. As we develop these, we will find our way through the mass of information that too often overwhelms us now. As we learn to deal with information on its own terms-open, free to circulate, promiscuous, and uncontrollable—we will come to treasure it as the essential partner that it is.
It is not only individuals who have to become more creative and think "outside the box." Organizations too must move beyond the boxes they have drawn to describe roles and relationships. Many organizations are experimenting with new organization charts that describe more fluid patterns of relationship. While none of these quite succeed in describing the true complexity of the relationships, each attempts to communicate the dynamic networks and processes by which information moves and work gets done. Francis Hesselbein, Chairman of The Drucker Foundation, believes we are again learning "to manage in a world that is round," a world not of hierarchies but of fluid partnerships (Hesselbein and Cohen, 1999, Ch 2). Buckman Labs relates their journey as moving from "a chain of command to a web of influence" (Willett, 1999, 2). Gore Associates, manufacturers of GoreTex describes itself as a "lattice organization." At Gore, roles and structure are created from need and interest; relationships, exchanges, and connections among associates are nurtured as the primary source of organizational creativity and success. One observer noted that the issue was not who or what position would take care of the problem, but what energy, skill, influence, and wisdom are available to contribute to the solution (Pacanowski 1988).
Many organizations are struggling with how to use information to become more intelligent. Thinking has become an acknowledged precious skill, and not just at higher levels of management. It is now recognized that many more workers need to be smart in interpreting complex information. To access this knowledge, information and thinking skills that formerly were the purview of the leader are moving deep into the organization. This work comes under different banners: Learning Organization, Business Literacy, Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management. (***add footnote) Each assumes that intelligence must be broadly distributed. As Gifford Pinchot states: "The measure of organizational intelligence is quite straightforward. It's one brain per person." (Is this in his book?***) When Buckman Labs set out to develop greater organizational knowledge, they defined their challenge as creating access to the information that was distributed across more than twelve hundred minds working in twenty one different countries. (Willett, 1999, 2).
An organization's most critical competency must be to create the conditions whereby new knowledge is generated, and then to find ways for such knowledge to be freely shared. More and more, there is an acknowledged benefit to sharing information within and beyond the organization, to doing away with the gates and blockages, to moving past the hoarding and the fear. Does this mean we can expect greater organizational intelligence?
My own faith that organizations are evolving to greater intelligence comes from my understanding that we live in an intrinsically well-ordered universe. As I read further into new science, I recognize that living systems engage with life differently than we do. We struggle to carefully build order, layer upon layer, while their order emerges. We labor hard to hold things together, while they participate together openly and self-organized structures emerge. Jantsch contrasts our traditional approach of building block by block, level by level, to nature's process of "unfolding" (1980, 75). From the "interweaving of processes" new capacities and structures emerge. Order is never imposed from the top down or from the outside in. Order emerges as elements of the system work together, discovering each other and together inventing new capacities.
We need to learn more about these pathways to order. In ways we have never noticed, systems possess the capacity to self-organize themselves, self-managing as a total system. As we learn to recognize these processes, our attention will shift away from the parts, those rusting holdovers from an earlier age of organizing, and focus us on the deeper, embedded processes that create effective organizations. "What is needed," writes Bohm, "is an act of understanding in which we see the totality as an actual process that, when carried out properly, tends to bring about a harmonious and orderly overall action, in which analysis into parts has no meaning" (1980, 56).
In quantum physics, a homologous process is described as relational holism, where whole systems are created by the relationships among subatomic particles. In this process, the parts don't remain as parts; they are drawn together by a process of internal connectedness. Electrons are drawn into these intimate relations as they cross paths with one another, overlapping and merging; their own individual qualities become indistinguishable. "The whole will, as a whole, possess a definite mass, charge, spin, and so on, but it is completely indeterminate which electrons are contributing what to this. Indeed, it is no longer meaningful to talk of the constituent electrons' individual properties, as these continually change to meet the requirements of the whole" (Zohar 1990, 99).
This is an intriguing image for organizations. It is not difficult to recognize ourselves as electrons in organizations, moving, merging with others, forming new wholes, being forever changed in the process. We experience this when we say that a team has "jelled," suddenly able to work in harmony, the ragged edges gone, a sense of flow to the work. We all have experienced things "coming together," or been in team efforts that far exceeded what we could do alone, but these have always felt slightly miraculous. We never understood that we were participants in a universe that thrives on open information and that works with us to self-organize into systems of great effectiveness.
In organizations now we speak about more fluid and permeable boundaries; we know that organizations have to be more open and resilient to meet the pressures for change that seem unending. The notion of permeable boundaries has sparked both hesitation and curiosity. Perhaps if we understand the deep support we have from natural processes, it will help dispel some of the fear. It is not that we are moving toward disorder when we dissolve current structures and speak of worlds without boundaries. Rather, we are engaging in a fundamentally new relationship with order, order that is identified in processes that manifest themselves only temporarily as structures. Order itself is not rigid or found in any one structure; it is a dynamic organizing energy. When this organizing energy is nourished by information, we are given the gifts of the living universe. The gift is evolution, growth into new forms. Life goes on, richer, more creative than before...
|About This New Edition|
|Introduction: Searching for a Simpler Way to Lead Organizations||3|
|1||Discovering an Orderly World||17|
|2||Newtonian Organizations in a Quantum Age||27|
|3||Space Is Not Empty: Invisible Fields That Shape Behavior||49|
|4||The Participative Nature of the Universe||61|
|5||Change, Stability, and Renewal: The Paradoxes of Self-Organizing Systems||75|
|6||The Creative Energy of the Universe - Information||93|
|7||Chaos and the Strange Attractor of Meaning||115|
|8||Change - The Capacity of Life||137|
|9||The New Scientific Management||157|
|Epilogue: Journeying to a New World||171|
|About the Author||195|
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