The shape of the world is shifting, pretty dramatically and quickly, right now. Are we ready? Are organizations and systems ready? These questions have completely captured my attention fueled by the conversations and places I’ve been in lately.
I’m not sure we are ready and I’m not sure we will ever actually be ready for the shift that is emerging in the world right now. Systems and organizations are designed to be self perpetuating. Threat and opportunity are viewed through the lenses and structures of the system or organization – we usually believe that we only have a certain amount of scope within which to bring about change – we can only get certain people’s attention for brief periods of time, we need to work within the system, within the structures, because there are some things you cannot change, some things that will not work. They may reflect current reality but they are also limiting beliefs and as long as enough people buy into them, radical change will be stalled. Yet radical change may be what is lurking right around the corner, ready or not.
What gives me hope? One is the conversations I’ve been in lately around the 2 Loops of Systems Change with my Berkana friends and beyond. You can read a bit about it here and you can find my own hand drawing of the model here: 2 Loops of System Change
This model shows that in the peak and the beginning of the decline of the mature systems, there are alternatives already beginning to appear. These alternatives need space to find their way. Some will grow stronger and some will fail. The ones that do grow stronger need to begin to connect with each other to grow collective and individual strength and capacity. There are people in the mature system (stewards or sometimes called “toxic handlers”) who see and understand the importance of this work and who hold the space and clear the way for these alternatives to grow.
The alternatives do tend to fly under the radar and are often not widely known, but they are there. Maybe they will be ready in the event of collapse of the old systems although it is hard for me to fully imagine what a collapse of the old systems will look like. Maybe we are already seeing it but just not recognizing it for what it really is.
While existing organizations are entrenched in their structures and processes, newer, usually smaller organizations have greater flexibility, resourcefulness and resilience and the greater capacity to totally rethink how they are structured, how they deliver their goods or services to the world. They often can do this at less cost because they don’t have as much “bricks and mortar” in place as larger organizations and it feels less risky because they have “less to lose”, or so it might seem.
What has me excited is the possibility of new business models that can emerge now. I have found myself sharing stories about networks – the Art of Hosting network, World Cafe, Berkana to name a few – because these networks recognize themselves as networks, organic and emergent. They trust in the capacity of people to self-organize and are held together and flourish because purpose and principles are clear. They have a minimum structure and sometimes struggle with how to live models of organization that are outside of traditional structures, particularly because in times of stress people push for what they already know and are comfortable with. They are open source, openly sharing knowledge and new learning in recognition that this sharing grows the body and field of knowledge.
I share what I know about these ways of organizing with businesses and other organizations I am in conversation with, not because I think they should adopt the specific models, but because I think there is wisdom in these ways of organizing that could inform new business models – especially business models that see the value in operating from a place of openness and open heartedness – which I seem to be running into more often lately.
More than ever, I feel we are on the brink of unprecedented social change around the world and I have a greater awareness of just how connected we all are. I can’t imagine what exactly it looks like but I continue to grow my comfort and skill working at the edges of my own not knowing – thanks to collaborative relationships with people I am privileged to call friends.
Are we ready? I don’t think we really are. Does it matter? This shift will happen whether we are ready or not. Our greatest path to readiness is to grow our own capacity for resilience, dealing with chaos, complexity, simplicity and not knowing.
My next posting will look at some of these new models of organization to see what we can learn from them and maybe, just maybe, grow our level of readiness even just a tiny bit.