Thursday, June 08, 2006

Portrait of an Organization as an Organism

About a year ago I was approached by a journalist representing a leading newspaper, working on a theme for their 'Appointments' section. She sounded brisk and business like on the phone and, in a very no-nonsense tone, urged me to respond, urgently, to a few questions she would mail me later. I did all that, dutifully, but sadly never saw any of it published in any section of any newspaper, and never heard from her again, to this day. (What is it with some people? Do they really think they are so important that they can be as ill-mannered as they like and it won't matter?) Anyway, now that I have my own blog, and haven't written in a while, I thought I'd reproduce that brief exchange from my records, dust it a bit, let it breathe and be read.

So here it is ...

Q.1 Listening / Sensing / Seeing (how important are these values to your organisation?)

Context: We are looking for new and novel ways to think about these topics. We need new language, new examples, fresh approaches to communicating these ideas.

Q.2 Where do you go to listen and sense new ideas / trends / innovations in their embryonic stage?

Q.3 In your organization, is this done individually or collectively as well?

Q.4 What personal practices, non-work related, have you found enhance your ability to sense new and fresh thinking?

A.1 A tight, well-knit organization operates like a multi-cellular organism. If its internal nervous system is good, it is able to perceive, process and paraphrase its environment far more effectively than an organism whose senses are duller and/or whose nervous system is impaired (in the case of an organization, read that as: not cohesive, not unified in the pursuit of a common goal, not deeply networked internally to pass messages clearly and without distortion). Listening, sensing, seeing ... is the beginning. In a dazzlingly bright and noisy world, teeming with life and bursting with energy, it is important to develop faculties that can process inputs as fast as they arrive; important to develop a taxonomy that is broad enough and deep enough to allow categorization of even the most bizarre and unusual perceptions and sensory stimuli; and important to retain balance in the wake of the tsunami of change. Organizations that do not have a sense about their environment are likely to be ‘engulfed and devoured’ (just as organisms that do not adapt to their environment are bound to fall prey to predators and become extinct).

A.2 We don’t need to go anywhere specific. There is no secret place where change emanates from or disruptions originate from. It is all around us. Electronic media in the new world - in Marshall MacLuhan's global village - surround us and engage our attention (in some cases intrusively so). It is difficult to tear oneself apart from the new media, to isolate oneself in a cocoon of seclusion (how far can you go, to get away from email, mobile connectivity, SMS and instant messaging?). You can run but you can't hide - not for long. On the other hand, it is easy to get distracted by trivia, fads and shiny baubles of ‘information’ ... tales told by idiots signifying nothing. Focus helps where senses distract. Deep within the organization's sanctum sanctorum, there must be an unwavering sense of direction underlying its vision of the future and its own role in it.

A.3 In the portrait of the 'together' organization as a multi-cellular organism, this is done by the cells whose raison d'ĂȘtre it is do to it (e.g., R&D, Marketing, Corporate Planning), as also by other cells that come into contact with the external environment, for whom this may not be a day job. In an organized structure this is institutionalized and works like a clock-work system – messages are quickly transmitted to wherever there is a need to know. In an evolving enterprise, this could be the happenstance whose serendipity sparks a move towards purposeful and planned recurrence. In a chaotic company, this could be done individually and/or collectively but may serve limited purpose. Ours is an evolving organization and is moving towards implementing mechanisms that observe, analyze and synthesize relevant environmental change information.

A.4 Networking with industry professionals, accessing current research from some of the best knowledge / research providers in the world, being on the subscription list of key trend spotting services and news updates. Also, working on expanding and refining my world-view i.e. improving my taxonomy for classifying and understanding the universe (this is best done by pondering – a habit that it gradually losing traction among most people in today’s temporally challenged era). Simultaneously learning to distance myself sufficiently from all preconceived notions, ideas, thoughts and feelings, so that every new input is seen with as few filters as possible, so as to understand its true import.

Over the years, I have been studying, with interest and care, the interface between percept and precept, and have been trying to keep that interplay area clean. My goal is to reach a stage where the observed is taken a priori and assimilated into the system of thought and belief without the observer altering the observed, or distorting the observation to suit existing beliefs. Quite often, taking in observations a priori leads to intense questioning – sometimes radically so. The fear that some of these questions may challenge the foundations of one’s understanding of the world, is what prevents true assimilation, and the search for truth is once again thwarted. True seekers are not afraid of the truth. Their mind is without fear, and head held high. They will not accept compromises nor will they allow their minds, no matter how clever, to fool themselves.