Organization & People

The Control Revolution

The Crisis of Control It is clear that traditional organizational structures are struggling to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Yet they were once revolutionary, responding to the wave of change created by industrialization. Before the Industrial Revolution, businesses were small and a single individual could manage them. Until then, James Beniger wrote in…

Read More

Emergent Properties of Organization

  States of Matter We are all familiar with the properties of water. It transforms magically at different temperatures — from a solid to a free-flowing liquid, to a vapor that appears to have no substance at all. Scientists are familiar with another state of matter that exists only at very extreme temperatures – plasmas…

Read More

Commander’s Intent

No organization is a better example of command and control than the military. It’s a popular notion that is no longer true. Faced with the volatility and uncertainty of 21st century conflict, armies have turned to self-organization to increase their agility on the ground. The all-powerful, all-knowing, top-down military command of the past is now…

Read More

Crisis and Renewal

The Adaptive Cycle in Nature Nature responds to opportunities. Empty spaces fill quickly after a fire destroys a forest and leaves barren ground. Plants adapted to survive in harsh conditions arrive first. Once established, they pave the way for others. Early colonizers are followed by shrubs and trees. Over time, the ecosystem resettles into a…

Read More

Stone Soup

An Old Folk Tale You likely already know the story of stone soup. Versions appeared in France in 1720 and 1771, in England in 1806, and in America in 1808. Many countries have their own variations, and the tale has been told and retold in many children’s books. The story is universal. A search for…

Read More

The Social Operating System

Programming Complex Systems M. C. Escher was famous for his art, where foreground becomes background and background becomes foreground, alternately attracting our attention. His drawings change what we see by playing with perspective, We generally see things rather than the spaces between them. But it is in the interactions between things that higher systems emerge.…

Read More

Visualizing Collaboration

Creating Shared Intentions The Strategy Roadmap is a way of visualizing strategy that clarifies the purpose of a community or organization. Using this approach, I’ve had the opportunity to work with organizations in all sectors on some of their most daunting challenges. It continues to be amazing — even after 15 years of practicing this…

Read More

Intention Deficit Disorder

The Half-Life of Intention We are surrounded by failed intentions — like fallen leaves, torn and wind-blown. Organizations can’t stay focused, and it feels like the half-life of intention is about three months. I have come to think of this as ‘intention deficit disorder.’ Never mind the bravado at the start. Only half of the…

Read More

Where Are Your Stories?

Edward Chamberlin described a meeting between government officials and First Nation elders in British Columbia, Canada. The government claimed possession of land where aboriginals had lived for countless generations. “If this is your land,” an elder asked, “where are your stories?” Chamberlin – professor of literature at the University of Toronto and a researcher on…

Read More

How to Be a System Leader

The Challenge Building a business? Planning a community? Tackling a tough economic, social, or environmental issue? Whenever we deal with complexity we face a sobering truth. We can’t work in silos anymore. In her landmark paper “Dancing with Systems” Dartmouth College professor Donella Meadows encouraged us to engage freely with complexity instead of struggling to…

Read More